There are numerous services on the internet that will inform you of just what is happening in the art and antiques markets. The primary source for content are press releases, but some offer the latest numbers of what items sold for in auction. The primary focus of these services are the fine arts since they are easier to track because of the name associated with the work of art. Antique furniture is seldom signed and is not as wealthy a market and is thus less focused on.

The value of these services is debatable but their presence is inevitable. Wherever there are markets, there are services that will promote and analyze the market for signs of strength and weakness. The art and antiques market is fascinating to investors because there are no rules. There are no price earnings ratios and there is, essentially, a limited product. It is the Wild West, a casino that entices only the strongest of stomachs and most disciplined of participants.

In short, the market is a lottery for investors. It would be hard to ignore how Warhol, for example, has gone up so hugely in value. Indeed, you might consider a Warhol silk screen a blue chip investment if, of course, you have the right one. And this is the rub. Which is the right Warhol to own and if you buy secondary Warhols, will they increase in value? It is a game and it is a very high stakes game. To some extent, it exists in the antiques’ world as well. It is perhaps a shade more nuanced.

Is investing in art and antiques a game of musical chairs? The last person sitting ends up with what, the painting or the money? This is, of course, the question. What does our society see in art? Do we see investment, do we see beauty, do we see power or is it all a massive delusion? The internet art services are specifically about money, a topic that I don’t associate with the love of beauty, but I guess that answers all my questions.

The Roman Catholic Church of America commissioned a report, at the cost of $1.8 million dollars, to determine the cause of the extensive number of cases of abuse that have beset the Church over the last forty years or so. The culprit, as outlined by the report, is the culture of the 1960’s. Apparently there was a general lack of oversight of priests at that time. Exonerated by the report were homosexuals in the priesthood as well as the rule of celibacy of the Catholic Church.

As a child of the 1960’s, I want to blame a few other decades. There was the Roaring Twenties through which my parents matured and there were the Gay Nineties through which my grandparents matured. The obvious lack of oversight in both those decades obviously had a deletorious trickle down affect on my upbringing. I obviously wasn’t the only one as the newsworthy Monsieur Strauss-Kahn, Bill Clinton, W (his alcoholic years) and a passel of priests were equally affected.

Let’s go back into history a ways. The sons of George III were notoriously louche. They sired so many out of wedlock children that they had a hard time having children with their spouses. Charles II’s libertine court is famous for its debauchery, the French courts of Louis XIV, XV and XVI being equally amoral in their affairs. And think of the term, droit de seigneur which originated in the middle ages where the lord of the manor was given first crack at all the virgins in his demesne.

The Catholic Church has picked the most blameworthy thing in sight, an era that will go down as the quintessence of self absorption. It is said, however, that if you remember the 60’s, you did not live the 60’s. For my part, at the age of 11 1/2 in 1961, I knew that I had a decade of no homework, drinking, smoking, drug taking and free love. The problem was that when 1971 struck, I knew I had to pay the bill. And yet, I learned from that decade that all I had to do was put things off. Sounds like the U.S. Congress.

In an article by Nicholas Wade in the NY Times yesterday, he writes that homo sapiens and Neanderthals never actually integrated. New carbon dating techniques suggest that the two groups did not co-exist in the same areas at the same time and that any gene sequencing that shows Neanderthal heritage actually dates much farther back in time to before Neanderthals and homo sapiens became two distinct species.

One aspect about English furniture of the 18th century that is a little mystifying is how and why new styles just seemed to pop up out of nowhere. Pedestal dining tables, for example, became the preferred dining table by 1760. When was the first pedestal table? The Pembroke table was at first a supper table with a lower shelf and wire mesh. By 1785 it was a standard, but without the lower shelf.

I spent about two months reading James Joyce’s, “Ulysses”. Joyce is someone that I could imagine being able to drop into the 21st century without a hiccough. He seems so keenly aware of everything, so facile with the world. Change seems imperceptible on a quotidian basis, but it isn’t. Did Joyce see this? I doubt the Neanderthals did. I don’t think most of the rest of the world does either. How could they?

I suggested in a recent posting that history cannot be tailored to fit an idea, in specific David Barton’s attempts to prove that America was founded as a Christian nation. In another posting, I suggested that every problem, particularly social problems, needed to be assessed on a case by case basis, in other words tailoring a solution from the specifics of the situation. Am I contradicting myself here?

The interpretation of history certainly changes. When I took American history, the Civil War was said to be about states’ rights, not about slavery. In fact, the war was about the right of the slave owners to have runaway slaves returned to them from anti-slavery states. Slavery was the fundamental issue therefore. Mr. Barton is searching hard for clues from the founders that they intended for America to be Christian. As far as I can see, if they had wanted that, it would have been put into the Constitution. There is nothing more to be said on the subject.

Social problems are intrinsically difficult. For example, it was long thought that poor academic performance was entirely IQ related. However, it is much clearer today that economic factors play a very big part in how a student performs. And yet agreeing on this principle will not diminish the argument since it is a nuanced position. Some poor people will do well academically and some will not. The truth is that academic success is based on a number of things, few of which are easily analyzed, particularly on a quantitative basis.

I went to buy eggs the other evening and realized that there were no small eggs for sale. Every egg buyer knows this and I am reminded of it every time I buy eggs, but isn’t it ridiculous that there is no such thing as a petite egg? They are large, extra large, jumbo and maybe one or two other over sized categories. Marketing is, without doubt, a strange universe where you can never admit to anything as being less than superb, even if it is smaller or less sophisticated or just cheaper.

In the 18th century, people buying bespoke furniture, or more aptly their agents, knew quality. They understood what made a piece of furniture great and nothing was ever accepted by a client that wasn’t of a superb standard. If it wasn’t, it wasn’t paid for and even if it was, payment was always a distant matter of a year or longer. I can’t imagine the tension a cabinetmaker would feel on the delivery of a shipment of furniture to a client in those days. Nerve wracking to say the least.

The marketing of product has become more important than the product itself. This is a parlous state of affairs when you think about it since every product most likely has a complaint ratio that is built into the calculus of cost. In other words, there is an acceptance of a lack of quality. In certain products, like cereal for example, that may not be so bad, but what about TV programs, or newspaper articles or, heaven forfend, politicians? Quality is not really a standard anymore, it is an illusion.

I have looked at close to two thousand pieces of furniture on auction websites today and have not found one piece worth bidding on. I would think it amazing save for the fact that this is not an unusual occurrence. It isn’t that the furniture is bad or ugly, it is just mediocre. I will buy furniture from any period as long as it is well designed. I will not buy mediocre furniture.

The NY Times had an article on a man called David Barton this morning. His intent is to search history to find proof that the U.S. was supposed to be a Christian nation. Personally, I find this offensive. It is clear that the Americans of the 1770’s saw the United States as a safe haven that was above the religious strife of Europe. This cherry picking of historical data is a form of tailoring history.

The best thing about the decorative arts is that they are what they are. Most fakes reveal themselves with time just as re-working and improving items does. Our tactile history is absolutely revelatory. When I think of the antique dealers I have known who have sold faux antiques, things that look the part, I know that history will come down on them hard. Infamy or ignominy are the only options for those dealers. That is what I like about my business.