An Antiquarian's Tale Issue 23

Clinton Howell Antiques - January 8, 2018 - Issue 3

An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture

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

I have decided to change the format of these emails, essentially breaking apart the, 'Looking at Furniture" section and the "Antiquarian's Tale" to run separately. I will be posting weekly, I hope, as usual, but they will have their own titles. I enjoy remembering how I became subsumed by the study of English antique furniture, but I have to admit that, post London, it altered. For example, there is furniture and then there is English history. How do they relate? I have to admit to not knowing that much about English history, even at the end of five years in London. And, to my eyes at least, I find the confluence of social and political events to both dramatically and subtly change what was happening in the furniture world. The most obvious example of this is the evolution of the middle class which began to burgeon in the 1750's (many historians believe this is the starting point of the industrial revolution) and which I have mentioned before. The sudden demand spurred on the capitalist urge to compete with the big furniture making firms by small entrepreneurs and this changed the furniture industry altogether. And, you have to realize, that furniture making was a little like the American car industry of the 1950's--a dominant economic engine so this was a fairly dramatic shift. My study, which always included going to country houses and museums, amplified in scope therefore and one of the first ways it did so was in a trip around the world looking at trees. I set out on this trip in March of 1976 and traveled to Africa, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and Brazil. I ended up taking photographs in botanical gardens (which is why I know there are a lot of great botanical gardens in this world) and found myself again in London in early September. A friend suggested I meet with the publishing firm, Mitchell Beazley, and when I went there, I found that they had just published a book on woods with a slightly different concept to what I had in mind. Alas, the trip was not for naught as I learned a lot about a lot of different things en route. And, I learned that I better start earning a living again. At this point, I had no thoughts whatsoever about being an antiques dealer. It doesn't mean I didn't keep reading about furniture, etc., it just meant that I thought I could earn money and then buy furniture. It wasn't meant to be. After nine months in Washington, D.C., I moved to Bedford, NY and started an antique restoration workshop. The die was finally cast.