An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 54

Clinton Howell Antiques - June 17, 2019 - Issue 54

An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture

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

I am in the middle of reading "Alexander Hamilton", by Ron Chernow. Hamilton's life is an extraordinary tale, but in the middle of it, I stopped to read "Educated" by Tara Westover. There is some similarity to this pair of autodidacts, the great difference being that Hamilton's parents were absent and Westover's parents, her father in particular, were quite the opposite, her father an uber patriarch with a deeply religious/apocalyptic bent. It is hard not to be amazed by Hamilton as he did so much for our country and yet was more often vilified than lauded. Westover, who first saw a classroom at 17, overcame extraordinary hurdles, including a mental breakdown, to gain a Ph.D at Cambridge University. I have watched some interviews of her and been quite impressed at her ability to talk about her life and about the people who wittingly or not, held her back. It is a study in the spirit of curiosity and the desire to know more.

When I first started to learn about antique furniture, I wasn't certain that I could know all there was to know. Believe me, there is a lot. For example, one should know all of the major Adam commissions, One should know all of Chippendale's major commissions. One should know and be able to identify all the timbers used in the 17th-19th centuries. One should be aware of all kinds of symbolism. One should know how any piece of furniture is put together. I am just getting started with this list--it is extremely long. The funny thing is that if you care and if you continue to have curiosity, you will never stop learning. I don't believe for a moment that what I have learned approaches in any sense what Hamilton or Westover did, but I do know the same sense of curiosity that carried them forward. In fact, I am almost suspicious of people that do not have that curiosity because it is essential, in my opinion, to a well lived life. Ultimately, that is why I like collectors--they may do other things and they may have other loves, but they are always curious about something else.