An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 47

Clinton Howell Antiques - March 5, 2019 - Issue 47
An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture
A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts
I remember being so very excited when I first started to find 17th, 18th and early 19th century pieces in junk shops around London. I would have a few "junk" shops that I would stop in on every other day. These shops were all different, usually a distinct portrait of the owner of the shop in one form or another. Some of the shop owners were quite serious about their business and cultivated people like me to come often. Others just piled stuff high and let you pull the stack down and re-stack the way you wanted. I didn't often find good antiques in such shops, but I did find things I could make a profit on--mostly items that were made of pine and needed stripping. In the 1970's, pine furniture was very hot and the King's Rd. had numerous stripped pine shops that sold things for very handsome profits. I sold a set of boxes that were sort of like babushka dolls although they did not fit into one another as the proportions changed a tad with each larger box, the largest box being about 22" by 11" in length and width and about 20" tall. They looked terrific lined up in a row. In any case, I sold them, polished and ready to sell, for twenty pounds. As it happened, I took a client into the shop several weeks later who was interested in the boxes which were now selling for two hundred and fifty pounds. The owner was praying that I wouldn't say anything and I didn't, but he treated me exceptionally well after that. 

It was, however, furniture that I was interested in and even though I enjoyed making a profit, I was far more interested in owning some bona fide walnut or mahogany furniture. One of the dealers I knew who had been in business for a very long time had a wonderful collection of open armchairs which I envied sinfully. He told me that he bought them cheaply because they were "orphans" meaning that they were without the second chair that made them a pair. I never did find any, but in the 1980's, I was at a Doyle's sale in New York when a mahogany open armchair with a solid back and the original needlepoint seat came up for sale. I went way over the top to buy it, about $28,000 all in if I remember correctly. It was a  very high price for the time and I feared I would own it until doomsday. However, within a year, I sold it for $52,000. Oddly enough, I felt some regret as prices continued to climb at this point in time and I felt that I would never be able to get another comparable chair. This all sounds ridiculous given the softening of the market, but I would love to have that chair back. It is still a superb item, one of the best of its kind that I have seen. But then, I would probably just sell it again.