An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 121

Clinton Howell Antiques - March 29, 2021- Issue 121
An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture
A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts
The Queen's Gallery is, as you face Buckingham Palace from the Mall, around to the left, on the Victoria Station side of the Palace. It is home to a small, superbly run museum that has exhibitions from the Queen's collection. They are always worth checking out. What is interesting to me is a) why so much stuff was acquired and b) how they have managed to keep so much of it from the days of Charles II onwards? The answer to the first question is a little easier than the answer to the second in that Royal Patronage was of immense importance to craftsmen and, later, shopkeepers and so the Royal family were on the receiving end of lots of freebies. Hard to imagine that not only does your client get a ridiculously good price when they pay, if they pay, but that they get free merchandise as well from time to time to keep them sweet. That particular practice, I am fairly certain, has largely fallen by the wayside--I would hope! As for the warehousing of goods, I have a couple of stories about both.

My father was one of the earliest executive recruiters. He started his business in 1951 and, at the time, there was only one other man in the field, but that man was not just focused on executive search. Dad went into the business because McKinsey and Company, his employer, decided that recruiting was a conflict of interest for them. Dad decided to leave McKinsey to open an executive search business. It went fairly well and by 1965 he decided to open an office in London. He had a crew of three associates who ran the office and they were in charge not only of getting business, but getting the Brits more attuned to the concept of executive search. As it happens, the Crown became one of their first clients--they wanted someone to be in charge of the inventory of the Royal Household. And they found someone! However, someone in the halls of Parliament heard about this and gave a speech saying how scandalous it was to hire an American firm to find someone, particularly someone who might not be a Brit, to look after the Royal Household. Both the firm and the man they found for the job were summarily fired.

The Crown knew how hard it was to get good personnel through experience. After the Second World War, Britain remained on rationing until 1954. It is hard to imagine that it took the country so long to get back on its feet, but I know that the last building affected by bombing raids in London was finally razed in 2003, a full 58 years after the war was over--the building was near St. Paul's in the City of London. The 1950's were a period where just about anything could happen as the norm of British life had not reset itself--call it a version of post traumatic stress disease or PTSD. In any case, the Crown had a lot of stuff, particularly a lot of three dimensional stuff like furniture in storage and the manager of the Royal Household in the 1950's, made the unilateral decision to deaccession stuff to save on storage and reduce the inventory. Apparently, some quite rare and even unique items--I happen to know of one that lives on Park Avenue to this day--were deaccessioned. The Queen found out about the deaccessioning too late to save a number of things from being sold--her statement to the soon to be fired manager who thought it might be good to reduce inventory was that the Crown does not sell things! It is clear why the Crown needed a new inventory manager and it is clear that they knew what they were doing when they hired my father's firm. That it has all led to such a good exhibition venue for that "idled" inventory is to our benefit. Sometimes there are happy endings.  The catalogues of the exhibitions held at the Queen's Gallery.