My son recently sent me a book by Edward Luce entitled, “Time to Start Thinking”. It is about the US government and its dysfunction and it is scary. Luce is the bureau chief from the “Financial Times” in London and his view point is non-partisan. He sees too many duplicative committees, too much money, too little knowledge and too little compromise in Washington. As an independent, I take no offense at his lampooning either party. In essence, he reveals that they lampoon themselves.

The English furniture business has fewer dealers at this time than ever before. One might say that the business is dying, but I know that not to be the case. Today’s buyers are the savviest I have ever met and they don’t object to price when the object is worth it. They know that fashion is fickle and that their purchases today will be worth a great deal more in the long run if they buy well now. The diminished trade is only a facet of current economic conditions which will, in time, alter and cause a re-analysis. Great furniture, after all, will always be great.

The future is not determined by the past, the past just serves as a reminder that mistakes are a part of life. Our sclerotic government doesn’t seem to see this, however. Fortunately, those of us in the English furniture business do and we have adapted. The government’s answer is to set up a committee which will be influenced by lobbyists who will water down proposals and ultimately end up being wasted time and effort. I await the committee that will study the end of committees. Hope springs eternal.

Gerald Stiebel, a highly respected fourth generation art dealer, wrote a blog the other day entitled, “The Spring Show–Another Art Fair”. His review of the fair was tepid although he noted several high lights. The ennui was evident just the same and his review would have cooled my ardor if I was thinking of attending the show.

The quality of the Spring Show NYC is not really an issue, in my opinion. We have some great dealers and some dealers that are not so great. What I will say is that many dealers don’t really like attending fairs just because there are so many of them. They can be tedious in the extreme. Having said this, I would also say it is a dealer’s job to attend fairs. This is what we do since you never know what you may find.

Fair goers, on the other hand, will attend fairs for reasons known only to themselves. A free ticket, an advertisement, word of mouth or the zeal of a collector are all reasons that drive attendance. There are no guarantees if the attendees will buy, but it is proven that they do and they will. Quality is only an issue if the person is in the mood to buy. It is much more the experience of the fair that matters to these people.

Lastly, from the dealer’s perspective, real estate is getting expensive and more and more dealers are going private. These dealers have chosen not to be on street level because of expense and need a venue other than their own home, warehouse or whatever. Fairs make a great deal of sense to such dealers and it is a proven way to meet new clients.

Like Mr. Stiebel, I thought there might be too many fairs. I have changed my mind. There can’t be too many fairs. They are necessary to the trade and they will live or die according to the experience they offer to the fair goer. If it is positive, it will survive because fair goers will remember that experience. The Spring Show NYC has that vibe. I only wish that Mr. Stiebel would come and join us. He just might enjoy doing the show.

In reading Penepole Treadwell’s book on Johan Zoffany, the German painter who emigrated to England in 1760, I came across an interesting fact that pertains to one of the pieces in my inventory. Eighteenth century England, and Europe for that matter, was filling up fast with clubs. There were eating and drinking clubs, science clubs, literary clubs, fraternal orders, charities, etc. Zoffany, apparently, was a Freemason and a number of his clients were as well. To wit, he painted portraits of them that included numerous symbols of Freemasonry.

To quote Ms. Treadwell (p.131) in re to the black and white tiled floor in the portrait of the Earl of Sandwich. “….and, above all, introducing a pattern of black and white floor tiles. This is perhaps a common enough element in Italian and Northern European paintings, but it is much less so in British art. On the other hand, it plays a crucial role in the iconography of Freemasonry. Together with the Volume of Sacred Law and the Compasses, the Square forms part of the Three Great Lights, the universal sympbols without which, unless they are present and displayed, no Masonic Lodge is allowed to operate.”

It just so happens that I have a bureau bookcase in my inventory that has such a pattern in the central section of the bureau which also happens to pull out to reveal a locked door with drawers behind it. Peter Lang, who used to work at Sotheby’s was interested in the patterned floor as he told me that he came across several other bureau bookcases with the same parquetry floor. He said that he was almost certain that all of the bureau bookcases were by Gillows of Lancaster, but he did not know just what it signified. Now we do.

The semiotics of any given secret society are always interesting to those not in the society as they represent something hidden and potentially, something powerful. They are also somewhat like a rebus offering clues about that society and, in an odd way, represent an elitism that is seldom justifiable. (I refer to Groucho Marx on that score.) What is interesting to me is that my bureau was undoubtedly bespoke which accounts for the oddities of it, the Gothick arched glazed doors, the neoclassical urn and the fact that it is solid mahogany, not veneered. The power of those symbols is largely lost today, but it certainly makes for interesting history.