An Antiquarian's Tale Issue 13

Clinton Howell Antiques - October 30, 2017 - Issue 13
An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture
A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts
Technical background notwithstanding, there were a number of things I did at the London College of Furniture that, like my attendance at the Tatty Bogle drinking club or lunch with David Kenrick, were not in the service of learning about furniture. I was, for example, made President of the Student Union. That led to a number of confrontations with the Secretary of the Union who was a hard line Communist. We had no time for each other.  I was also part of a march on the Ministry of Education. There were marchers from all over the UK wanting to increase the grant money paid to students for going on to higher education whether it was college, polytechnic or university. I suggested to one of the men leading the march that we get into the back of the building and find the Minister of Education to have a chat. He said okay and we set off and, when I got to the back of the building (which was wide open) he was gone. I took an elevator to the floor that the Minister was on (don't know how I figured that out) and proceeded to wander about, unhindered for a while until I found the Minister's office. I thought about knocking, but then I thought it would look rather silly for an American, who took no grant, to be pleading for higher grants. So, I decided to leave and lost my chance at meeting Margaret Thatcher and also, probably, for arrest and deportation.

Poliitics in England in the early 1970's was pendulum-like, only that the arc was limited to a few degrees left, then several degrees right. People like Michael Foot and Tony Benn on the left and Enoch Powell and Ian Paisley on the right were usually marginalized. The centrists would seesaw between Labour and Tory. Foot was my favorite of the group because he was smart and spoke with fire. That Margaret Thatcher would become PM and alter British society so profoundly was impossible to contemplate while I was in London. What is even more surprising to me is how public works continue in the UK regardless of which party is in power. The M25, or London's orbital road, was being constructed in the early 1970's although it was almost never debated as far as I remember. (Road works are a national past time in the UK, I might add.) We did hear about the train to Paddington, but that seemed so far in the future as to seem unbelievable. That the Channel tunnel was completed, given the UK's sclerotic government is almost incredible. Maybe I am too used to how things are (not and never do) get done in the US. 

Looking at Furniture

Part of the pleasure of dealing in the decorative arts is in finding items that are just too wonderful to pass by. "Smalls", the items used to flesh out the larger items in the gallery, are usually highly desirable. As a rule, dealers pay too much for them and are reluctant to sell them as they don't wish to ask crazy amounts for such things as it looks just terrible to the clientele. Usually, when we do get something that is terrific, we want to hold on to it as it will only make everything else look better. 

The lion shown below was a great small but it was so compelling that I was happy to move it on. Part of the reason was that it was big enough to command the eye. Indeed, it was large enough (17" long, approximately) that when people saw it in my shop, they didn't see the things around it. (This is the complaint dealers have about having flowers on their booths.) It is a wonderful lion, probably dating to the second half of the 17th century, although, stylistically speaking, this form is typical back to much earlier times. It is carved in oak and was either ecclesiastical or part of a carved crest made for a family or guild. Whatever it was originally intended to be, it has great character.