An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 184

Clinton Howell Antiques - June 7, 2022 - Issue 184

An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture

A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts

I think most everyone would like to be able to fly. How can one not want to when you can see what birds can do, let alone bats, butterflies, bees, flies and even the rather stolid bumble bees. I expressed this desire to a friend of a friend and, as one thing often leads to another, the friend gave me a hang gliding lesson for my birthday. (It was my 25th, I think.) The English countryside lends itself to hang gliding with lots of gently rolling hills called downs in England. (Go figure!) And there is almost always wind, but clear warm days are not all that common, particularly when you get past the month of September. Hence, as time rolled on from my birthday, it was logical to try and book my lesson for sometime in September. It wasn't possible, but we did book (my brother joined me in the adventure) for the middle of October.

Learning is always easier if your natural curiosity is piqued. Antique furniture aroused my interest not only because it seemed to have so many interesting dimensions and directions, but because it seemed accessible. You could go into a junk shop or attend a small auction and buy something that was two hundred years old. Although my occasional forays at buying and selling items in junk shops and then on to dealers were occasionally successful in a minor way, it wasn't really dealing as I really didn't know what I was doing--it was what most people call picking. My focus was on the obvious and I never spent nor made much money. My visual memory for antique furniture was only just being stocked--I did not have what second and third generation dealers learn through being continually exposed to furniture from the past. (Oh what I probably walked by!) But curiosity makes up for a great deal as you are always in the position to learn, particularly in a place like London.

Curiosity, however, should have its limits. Even Daedalus knew that as he warned his son Icarus about flying too closely to the sun. But the day that we finally went for our hang gliding lesson turned out to be glorious, lots of wind and bright sunshine. Our teacher eschewed his normal teaching grounds and led us to Beachy Head on the Kent coast. The ridge line of the downs formed a bowl and there was a field below, a rather large field, and beyond that the chalk cliffs of Kent. I was the first to fly and as I soared up, I realized that the strength of the wind was going to make me stall--I remember that adrenalin rush as the fear was absolute--I can still taste it. Fortunately, the wind dropped at just the right moment and I sailed on to the field. The teacher had not told us that you gained control by lifting your legs to pull the nose of the kite down into the wind. A simple concept that my panicked brain did not figure out. I did go again--the result was marginally better, but my curiosity about flying was cured. I stand with Daedalus, fortunately.