An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 37

Clinton Howell Antiques - July 30, 2018- Issue 37
An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture
A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts
As much as the desire to own "the English look" grew, the understanding of it, at least for a great many households that I saw, waned. Too often would I find someone wanting the rare or even non-existent piece--something with unusual dimensions, for example--that, if I found it or something close to it, was rejected. Of course the clients needed to want what was shown and if they wanted satinwood over mahogany, that is fair enough. But such rejections were often followed up by, "oh, we'll find another one". One time I had the satisfaction to say to a couple that had walked away and come back, that I had sold what they looked at, but more often than not, the clients just moved on.

Being a dealer is fraught with moments like the one that happened to a friend of mine who convinced a client to buy something at auction and, when he went one bid over the cap (this is what is called a plus one bid, because the amount is agreed upon with discretion to go plus one) he was excoriated. Again, this is understandable unless my friend was totally secure about hearing his client agree to the plus one bid. The question is, however, if the piece was the right size and a really good piece, doesn't the dealer deserve a little discretion? I must add that he was offered a profit on the piece of furniture by another dealer at the sale. I wonder what would have happened had he sold it?

This sounds like sour grapes and it is to some extent. It is also the truth of what dealers have to live with. The dealer's job is to deliver hard truths about how good or bad a piece is. I say tries because I will swear on a stack of bibles that there are no breakfronts that are six inches deep, but then one will turn up. My friend will swear up and down that the piece he is looking at is the best example he has seen in years and then one will turn up that is better in the very next sale. The hubris that dealers adopt to help them convince a client to purchase something will inevitably bite them in the rear end sooner or later. And with the downturn in antiques and the severe value drop that has taken place, that hubris looks like a fatal flaw. It is time to fall on the sword and swear to always serve the client's extraordinary whims and not assume anything. In return, I think most dealers (the competent ones, that is) would appreciate a tip of the hat that they know what they are doing.