An Antiquarian's Tale Issue 11

Clinton Howell Antiques - October 16, 2017 - Issue 11
An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture
A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts
Two years into the London College of Furniture and my brother and I were finding more and more odd jobs. For example, we found a fellow in North Carolina who wanted all the stained glass we could send to him. But because Wilson was re-elected Prime Minister, there was a halt on the flow of mass demolition. Labour was on the side of conservation, Tories were on the side of new construction. We also started collecting tools, mostly the old molding planes used by joiners. For the most part, made of beechwood, the old tools were often cleaned by their owners with raw linseed oil and most of the tools were a lovely orange yellow. Put them against a polishing wheel for an instant and they looked just beautiful. We advertised to buy them and I found myself driving around the country buying boxloads of these old planes along with many other things besides.

I remember receiving a call from a joiner in North London who wanted to sell all his old tools. He looked like Popeye with massive forearms and bowlegs, short but very powerful. He was absolutely delighted that I wanted his old tools as he had been close to burning them! This was a similar refrain with a number of homes I visited. I shudder to think of how many items were lost this way. The most adventurous purchase we made was a Holtzappfel lathe. In the 19th century, decorative wood turning became known as the "hobby of Princes" as the royal households of Europe all flocked to this marvelous invention that made the creation of geometrical decorative objects relatively simple. Holtzappfel lathes were considered among the finest engineered of these lathes. (The Smithsonian has one, but whether or not it is still on display as it was in the 1970's is a mystery to me.)  To find out more about decorative lathes, I attended the annual meeting of the Society of Ornamental Turners in London (you can find out more about them quite easily). I have to say that it was one of my favorite days in London as every one in the room already knew who I was before I even got there. They also knew that I was selling the lathe on and regretted that it was going to America but that they looked forward to adding a new member to their group. What an amazing group of people!

To all my subscribers, I would like to offer tickets to either the San Francisco Fall Art and Antiques Show being held at Fort Mason from Oct.26-29. I am also doing the AADLA Fair in Wallace Hall located at St. Ignatius Loyola, located between 83rd and 84th Streets on Park Avenue, running from Oct. 27-30. I will be taking the red eye back from San Francisco in order to be at the AADLA Fair final day. Both shows should be really superb.

Looking at Furniture  

The base of a tripod table must, above all things, be elegant. Fortunately, most are, if only because the tripod form has such good tension. But some tripod bases are more elegant than others. This particular tripod table dates to circa 1765 and was, without doubt, created by a top firm, probably in London. This base can be seen on several known Chippendale examples and it would not be too long of a stretch to attribute this table to his workshop. There are a few characteristics that he used such as the pads under the scroll feet, the scrolls themselves (he did both inward and outward scrolls on the feet) and the somewhat unconventional molding of the legs that has no bead. By having no bead, I mean that the molding runs to a sharp edge at the sides of the legs. Finally, as you can see in the bottom photo, the timber of the top is extraordinary. It is a very special piece of what is known as "plum pudding" mahogany. Basically, plum pudding describes all mahoganies that do not have the typical wavy grain. It describes a grain that swirls and interlocks and that looks, for lack of a better word, mottled, but mottled in a kind of pattern.  It was among the most highly valued of mahoganies particularly at the time when this tea table was made. I should also note that this table was used, not just for tea, but for dining on. The large dining tables that we know were only used for company. As a rule, two or fewer people would eat at a table such as this. I will have this table at the San Francisco Fall Art and Antiques Show at the end of October.