Big and Little History in Three Parts

Part III

In the first year or two of “The Antiques Road Show”, the hugely popular PBS show that encourages people to bring in their treasures for valuing by “experts”, there was an episode in Seattle where a man brought in a highboy, I think it was from Connecticut or Massachusetts. It glistened like a new penny and the owner was clearly delighted with himself for the condition it was in. However, the expert informed him that, without the original finish, which the owner had stripped, the value of the high boy was far less, from a high of $100,000 to around $35,000.

I tell this story because the most important lesson that I learned at the London College of Furniture was to do as little as possible to a piece of furniture—don’t remove anything and make sure that whatever you may be adding is reversible. This is the philosophy behind all conservation and it is not an easy one to maintain. At times, conservation can seem like the opposite of restoration, at least in the minds of the customer. But philosophical conversion is easier when you relate the story of the man from Seattle. And that is where you are led when you focus on a subject—you develop an understanding and a philosophy which will be a large part of your life.

David Christian’s “Big History” demonstrates how history is whatever you want to make it, not in terms of re-writing it, of course, but as a porthole to engagement. You can stop off at any point in the history of the earth and be fascinated by the steps that led to us being here now and you can even try to glimpse the future as he does in his TED talk. I found the fascination of history by starting small and branching ever outwards into more and different areas that in some way related to the history of antique furniture. Frankly, I feel that I only skimmed the surface, that the potential for exploration into why things are the way they are is, well, limitless.

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