An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 220

Clinton Howell Antiques - February 13, 2023 - Issue 220

An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture

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

The conversations I had at the Winter Show were, for the most part, quite interesting. I met a woman, Julie Rauer, who has begun what she calls "Art Science Complex",, which you can see if you follow the link. Her artwork melds science and art--all kinds of art including music and she draws it small with watercolors. Her stuff is quite cool and fun to look at. I also met a young woman who went to England to study upholstery--I am happy to pass her name around to anyone who wants traditional upholstery done on their English antique furniture. I don't know the  level of her craft, but she certainly talked intelligently about the subject. Another conversation was about finishing, a subject dear to my heart as I studied finishing at the London College of Furniture. Finishing is a tricky subject in that there are people who are adamant that shellac was never used, traditionally, as a finish for antique furniture--mostly English, English furniture dealers. For those of you who have followed my blog, I strongly disagree with that assumption as a) no one really knows what was used on furniture, b) shellac is an excellent surface when applied skillfully and c) it dries really quickly and gives a very nice shine. But the "skillfully" aspect of what I am talking about is the most important of the three premises as poorly applied shellac is the bane of any piece of furniture. I have seen a lot of it in my lifetime.

There are, of course, people who came onto my stand to opine about the death or re-birth of brownwood furniture. This might be irritating to some, but not to me simply because it is neither--it will never be as popular as it wastwenty years ago and it will never be a "dead" market--it's too interesting to ignore. What is dead is mediocre furniture and you have to know something about furniture to differentiate what is mediocre from what is good. Yes, the good pops out at you, but no, the mediocre can often look pretty good, particularly if you are unfamiliar with the way a really good piece should look. If anything, it is connoisseurship that is under assault and that is what is getting in the way of any sustained interest in walnut and mahogany furniture. When you are unaware of what the best looks like, you are happy with something that seems to be the best as far as you know. Of course, this is why buying from an experienced dealer makes a substantial difference. It is also what auction houses cannot do as their job is to sell what is on the auction block--good, bad or indifferent. I had this conversation at least once a day on my stand.

I thought my stand this year was as good as any I have had for quite some time. Some of the items were new to my inventory such as a lovely gallery top tripod table with great color that I don't think anyone looked at once, let alone twice. If anything says traditional English furniture, that table does. (And it is the type of tripod table that is great, not good.) But what was most fun was leading a tour of ladies around the show and asking dealers to talk about their goods. This is the true value of the Winter Show as, on the tour, I will ask the awkward questions of the dealers for my group and I have to admit that all of the dealers I asked rose to the occasion. Red Finer of Peter Finer Arms and Armour, Dominic of Robert Simon (old masters) Scott Defrin of European Decorative Arts, the crew at A la Vieille Russie all answered tough questions. The ladies loved it and so did I. As I mentioned last week, stories are the crux of just about anything, you might want to buy. I will not forget the Finer coat of arms of Henry the VIII made from a tree cut down in 1406! Quite amazing!