An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 40

Clinton Howell Antiques - Oct. 8, 2018 - Issue 40
An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture
A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts

It is hard to imagine that I have done forty of these mailers or blogs, but The Righteous Brothers got it right when they sang, "Time goes by so slowly, and time can do so much...,". It is a pleasure for me to try and remember all the things that have led me to this point in my life and I am grateful for those people who enjoy reading about it. Unlike one of my heroes, Edmund Wilson, however, I have refrained from naming names for the most part. This is such a small business that I will be stomping on toes with the first name(s) I might mention, even if I am in the process of praising that dealer. To wit, when I was writing for "Art & Auction" in the 70's, 80's and 90's, I was often vilified by the trade for writing up the auctions and yet everyone wanted a profile written about them. No one ever seemed to see the hypocrisy of such a double standard. I also remember one auction house expert say to me upon his elevation to head of the English furniture department say to me, "I don't like you and I don't like your magazine." We became reasonably good friends after a while, but this kind of aggression was fairly constant. My comeuppance came at the first International Show I did in the Armory in New York City where the vetting committee threw out several items that were perfectly okay. It was an initiation ceremony, one that palled with repetition, particularly as one English dealer who had a great deal of sway, would aim at me year after year. This is not a persecution complex on my part. I understood what it was all about, particularly when one of the lots they vetted off my stand was purchased by him. There was no such thing as a straight line in the business in the 1990's--the dealers were capitalizing while they could and if it meant being a hypocrite where they could earn some money, they would. 

In essence there was a roguish quality to the trade when the business was hot. The question that is constantly floating through my mind is whether other businesses, say banking or construction, or retail clothes, architecture, etc., were similarly beset? Clearly, the man who figured out how to bundle home mortgages knew that some day they would blow up? Or maybe he thought he was creating a service? None of that seemed to matter as high end banks jumped into the fray to grab their share of the profiteering that was going on. When you think about the 1990's, it is hard to ignore the fact that the numbers that were being bandied about then seem quite large as compared to now--the same numbers. In other words, $10,000 was a number that did not resonate with dealers when they were paying rent that required sales of $100,000 per month. If you spend some time thinking about this, you will realize that this is why you see so few dealers on the street anymore.