An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 25

Clinton Howell Antiques - Feb. 5, 2018 - Issue 25

An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture

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

Restoring furniture is a great way to make a living, but I was a true proselytizer in those days and wanted to get the word out about both English furniture and restoration so, along with my brother and sister-in-law, we started the Antique Furniture Newsletter. The newsletter had modest success, but I have to admit that, along with restoring, it all became too much to juggle. By 1980, after four and a half years, I ended it and started to concentrate on restoration and buying and selling. The first piece that I sold was a gate leg table that had very pretty Spanish feet. Soon thereafter, I rented a shop in Pound Ridge, NY in the commercial area known as Scotts Corners. The town was known for dealers, particularly two shops, The Red Crow and Alan Roberts Antiques. Although both were importers, I saw an opportunity to sell pieces that were less compromised by their date of manufacture and true to period. (Antiques are defined as being 100 years old by the US government, so many 19th century reproductions were antique, but they may not have been made in the first bloom of the style. Chippendale's furniture was copied well into the late 19th century.) The early days of my shop were often dismal, but I will never forget returning from a trip to England and my wife telling me that I had sold a considerable group of pieces from the shop to one person. At that point, you realize that being in the business opens you up to endless possibilities. 

Inventory became my next big problem, partly because I didn't have a lot of money and partly because I was unclear about what the best things to buy would be. Consequently, I went searching for things I could restore and put on the floor. The answer was in the NY sale rooms (auctions) and any other auction that I could get to that was near to me. But, as I was still restoring, I found that I wasted time to, for example, drive to Massachusetts to view a sale, come home and then bid and have to drive back to pick the lot up. By 1983, I realized that I had to stop restoring and concentrate on dealing. There wasn't enough time to do both.