An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 216

Clinton Howell Antiques - January 16, 2023 - Issue 216

An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture

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

I would like to offer tickets to The Winter Show (Jan. 20-29, 2023) which I will be happy to mail to you, or which can be picked up at the show (the "will call" desk) when you come. If you would like them mailed to you, please supply me with your address. Otherwise, I will leave them in an envelope with willcall. I have a bunch of things that no one has seen before and as I write this, I am praying that my restorers get everything finished on time. In particular, I have a really good 1730's mirror with an antique plate--Greek key, shell and dart--no pediment, but a lovely item. Also a great mahogany bench dating around 1850 with great color, a very good tripod table with gallery and a rare occasional table that is Irish with four modified cabriole legs terminating with ball and claw feet--all with good color. There are more new items, but better to just come and see.

The actual finding of things appropriate for The Winter Show is a year round process, sometimes even longer. I bought a wonderful pair of gilded Chippendale open armchairs this summer with the hope of being able to get them restored in time for the show (it opens this Friday!!!!) this year, but that will not be happening. The vicissitudes of scheduling, particularly when it involves multiple disciplines such as gilding, cabinetwork and upholstery can just be too hard to juggle despite the many months one would seem to have to prepare. There is an intense amount of detail involved, particularly with upholstered pieces as you need to purchase fabric on top of everything else. Fabric is the icing on the cake and you really don't want to choose one before you see the chairs gilded. I often end up with Granny Smith apple green silk, but it isn't always available, it's expensive and also likely to be changed by a new owner. Now, I tend to be more price conscious and, hopefully, more creative.
Gilded frames, something I have a lot of (8 or 9 at this year's show) have their own peculiar set of needs. I have purchased frames that have been in pieces, for example, and they are a challenge. About thirty years ago, I bought an Italian frame that was in a box--by that I mean it was broken into pieces and stuffed in a box. It was a baroque frame with large carved leaves with carved husks running through the leaves--which was fortunate as they offered a clue as to how the frame went together. It was also close to 72" in height so there were a lot of pieces. Not everything that I buy is in that kind of condition, but I will say that even when there is a good gilded surface, I want to investigate to see if it can be made better. The finish used by gilders in London in the 1960's, 70', 80's and 90's, is wonderful, but I am a much greater fan of dry stripping, which I talked about several blogs ago. I usually steer clear of pieces that have that London finish as more often than not, the frame was stripped to the wood and re-gilded, meaning that the die has been cast and that there is no original surface to uncover.

The peskier jobs such as hardware replacement also take time. Often, a drawer will reveal the outlines of what would have been original hardware so you have a rough outline of what an original handle would have been, but finding a set of those handles might not be so easy. Brass rims on furniture pose their own unique problems, not to mention brass inlay. Wood shrinks with time, but the process is not one where it shrinks and stays shrunken--it continues to move with the humidity. Hence, spring and summer see expansion and in the fall and winter, central heating causes contraction. No restorer enjoys re-sizing brass rims on trays simply because you have to be a competent welder and as most rims are held with nails whose heads have been beaten into the brass and then polished, you need to do all that again. The number of hours that a restorer can spend on a brass rim of a bucket or tray can curdle your desire to ever own anything with brass inlay or with brass nailed in place. If you want to know why trays or buckets with brass rims are expensive, that's why. Of course, coordinating all this is what dealers do--it is our job--cajoling restorers to get the job done is the hurdle. I will elaborate further when you come and see my booth at the show.