An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 277

Clinton Howell Antiques - March 11, 2024 - Issue 277

An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture

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

Chatting with a group of current and former dealers is one pleasure of aging. I wish I wasn't aging so fast, but there are some incredible memories that we have about clients and competitors which are both a little bit wry and wistful as well as hilarious. The cast of characters that have dealt English furniture are Shakespearean in their variety--there are Falstaffs, Prince Hals, Bottoms, Merchants of Venice, etc., and their vanity and humanity is endless fodder for story. I would venture to say that being a dealer is a kind of calling that brings together a uiquely disparate group--people who love people, people who don't like people, people with black hearts and people with great hearts. All of us, no matter who, have distinctive quirks. But I met these people only after I became a dealer and was living back in the U.S.

But there was one dealer I did get to know while I lived in London who had a shop on the Fulham Rd. He focused on superb color and he also had an exceptional collection of armchairs in his home. The trade, up until the 1980's, regarded single armchairs like pariahs, or perhaps like divorced single women in the 1950's.--they were largely ignored. This dealer bought them when he could and they were fabulous--I immediately realized that a single armchair, though not as symmetrically or economically valid as a pair was a worthwhile purchase. I was still living in London when I realized very quickly that I would like to own at least one which was probably the very first moment of dealer-like thoughts in my head. 

Another action that I did not get into while living in the UK was auctions. There are two places where the trade interacts--auctions and fairs. Fairs were part of the firmament, but auctions were constant. When I was in the UK, I didn't go to fairs or auctions--I never thought I would be in the trade. Some of the restorers that taught at the college dismissed the trade as toffs living off their labor, but that jaundiced view was really the class system rearing its head. When I got back to the US and decided to become a dealer was the moment I started to fully integrate into the antiques trade and that's when I realized just how weird and also wonderful, the players in the business were. And, it was exciting--uncovering some gem that was being overlooked in some remote (or not) sale, restoring and putting it on the market--it is just so satisfying. And after all these years, I may be just a little stooped, but I am still upright.