Whitehall Blog

Archive for July, 2013

Authenticating English and Continental Furniture Seminar

Monday, July 29th, 2013

After the wonderful two days of learning about American glass, glass making and the history of glass development, it was time for Elizabeth and me to teach.  The first course, Authenticating English and Continental Furniture from 1700 to 1840, was two days of class and hands on small group work.  Then I taught a course for one day on the 19th century with the impact of all of the modern mechanical developments on both the “new” and revival styles.  Finally Elizabeth and I taught a one day course as an intensive seminar studying 30 pieces as viewed through our eyes–why we view it as meritorious from style through construction to authentication–particularly fun as we again divided the group, this time in two parts, so that each group heard about all 30 pieces from each of us.

One of the important characteristics of 18th century French furniture is the quality of the gilt bronze mounts.  Here Elizabeth is pointing out the superb mounts on a Louis XVI commode and noting how the parquetry (geometric inlays) relate to the bronze mounts and also noting the fine, thick marble typical of the original marble tops of the 18th and early 19th centuries.  While copies of quality may indeed have fine marble, a thin piece is a dead give-away to replacement or a revival piece.

Elizabeth prepared a set of terrific hand-outs that everyone loved–”cheat sheets” for everything from dating to authenticating clues, including the all important reminders of authenticity.  Great reminders whether shopping for the collectors, buying for the dealers or appraising for the appraisers in the classes.

Here I am discussing a piece made in London of a time almost identical to the French commode Elizabeth was discussing.  The form is more chaste but the veneering brilliant and flamboyant employing satinwood, satin birch, harewood (dyed sycamore). touches of rosewood, etc.  I am also pointing out the fact that every piece of veneer and inlay is shrinking over time, as the woods beneath the veneers have also shrunk.  This leads to everything from substantial cracks to minute cracks as well as gaps between every single piece of the veneers and inlays.  ALL wood shrinks over time, even the tiniest pieces of inlay, so always look for tiny gaps now filled with wax and grunge!

We had a wonderful array of pieces of wood, hardware, and construction examples to share on this first day of lectures–hands-on always are a real help both to understand each point and to not simply lecture with power point photos–a much livelier day!

With these samples we could easily examine one of the two principle methods of joinery from thousands of years BC to the present day–the contrast between mortise and tenon construction (in use by the Egyptians with furniture found in tombs dating to 3,500 BC) and doweled construction in regular use by 1830.  While the chair parts are newly made they are all mortise and tenon construction whereas the ball and claw foot and rail on the right were joined with machine turned dowels.  The importance of this–and the keys to spotting one or the other–cannot be emphasized enough.  And we also examined the evolution of the second essential technique of fine joinery–the dovetail joint (simple, blind, blind mitered, slip).  Again this joinery was in use for thousands of years, then lost from the end of Rome to the mid-17th century when the Dutch claim credit for its discovery (actually re-discovery).  Agin we examined all of the 19th century mechanical substitutes for hand dovetailed joinery.

The history of hardware on an antique as well as the evolution of the styles and making of hardware is also important and again we had lots of pieces to share.

In all of the lectures other tools–hand and mechanical-were examined.  While I obviously cannot share all of it, here are some pieces of wood which show hand plane marks and the lines left by machine planers when they develop little nicks in their blades.  Can you tell which is which?

Here a group looks at some hardware bits with me:

Here students from Oregon, California, Texas, Florida. Connecticut and North Carolina gather around an array of hardware with me.  We were particularly thrilled that this year three new students to our courses were in their mid-20s and just beginning their careers as appraisers!   The opportunity to share information and learning opportunities with folks from around the country is an invaluable part of our annual seminars.

Here are some shots from day two as in groups of three they all explored a variety of pieces in the morning–every group studying every piece–and then joined together as Elizabeth and I explored with them their insights into each piece.

Examining a Scottish William IV Sideboard

Are those Pembroke leaves the right width?

Are the pulls original?

How's the color when the drawer is opened? Looking at oxidation issues.

The smile says it is right! Natalie coming up for air after a crawl under!

Is the table talking yet? It does--they all talk!

Every piece shared the story of it’s creation and it’s history over several hundred years of use.  It is so much fun to “hear” their stories revealed by oxidation patterns, patination, sharp edges of little repairs, and so much more.

Everyone left excited for next year–some wanted to pre-register as we will be bringing in a brilliant teacher on prints and paintings from Texas, Brenda Simonson-Mohle while Elizabeth and I will teach a two day wood identification course.  As soon as the third course is selected (or third and fourth if we do two one day seminars like this year) we will be letting you know the details!

2013 Whitehall Antiques Seminar

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

The first two days of the 33rd annual Whitehall Antiques Seminar were wonderful–eight lectures by the charming and fascinating Jane Shadel Spillman, recently retired curator of American Glass at the great Corning Museum, America’s preeminent museum on the study of glass from around the world.  From 3,500 BC to the 1920′s, Jane swept us on a fact filled study of the history of glass making with a major emphasis on glass of the past three centuries and particularly the American experience.  Not surprising for the author of fifteen major books and over 100 major articles on glass in America!

Here she is examining a study piece comparing the history of handle attachment on blown glass pitchers.  Did you realize that about 1870 a shift occurred from first attaching the handle at the top of the piece to first attaching it at the lowest point for the handle?  The starting point for attaching the molten glass handle is the largest point on the handle and the ending is the smallest point.  Prior to 1870 this gave all handles a slightly less elegant and well proportioned appearance.  Here is Jane with two examples–a clear ewer from about 1820 and a deep purple example from the 1880′s.

And here are the two pitchers to compare.

Having the strongest point lower on the body gives the sense of a far more durable and safe to handle product as well as a more graceful profile.

We also learned that America accounts for one of the two most important inventions in glassmaking–and the Romans the other.  About 100 BC the Romans invented the blowpipe which transformed glassmaking–speed, size and range of products increased instantly and exponentially.  Two American firms working simultaneously (and contentiously) account for the next great advance–pressed glass.  Again speed of production increased exponentially–and again the market for glass spread beyond the wealthy.

The blow pipe took glass from the ruling few to the wealthy where it remained for 2,000 years until America in the 19th century made glass available to the middle and working classes!  These c. 1825 glass pressing machines also transformed who could make glass.  To blow glass was an art that required 7 years of apprenticeship.  To press glass took six months of training!  One of the inventors at the time said he could take a man right from the fields and make him a competent glass presser in six months–and he could earn far more than in the fields.

This next photo is a lesson I can only describe.  Simultaneous with glass for the masses all sorts of fine glass was made.  In America from the 1880′s to World War I, what we call brilliant cut glass was one of the rages.  Both the large and small bowls in this photo are Brilliant Period American Cut Glass.  However there were two ways of making the blanks–the clear lead glass bowls and other popular forms of every type.  While only about five factories made the blanks, hundreds did the cutting of the blanks.  Either the blanks were hand blown or mold blown.  To tell the difference, slowly run your hand across the middle of the bowl, up the inside of a cream jug or pitcher, and so forth–if it is incredibly smooth it was HAND BLOWN.  If you feel undulations, it was made in a mold!  Usually the finest cutting is found on the hand blown pieces, as they were of course a more costly product to acquire for cutting.

The smaller of these two has far crisper cutting even though both are of the same time period and both are hand cut.  When you run your hand through the larger you feel gentle undulations.

Now go play with your own cut glass and see what type of original blanks your collection includes.

Final Report from Paris

Monday, July 15th, 2013

This is my final report from Paris and it contains both the shocking changes in the Parisian antiques market over the past year or two as well as some fun shots of sights, people and stuff!

The markets generically called Marche  aux Puces in the Clignancourt area of Paris date back well over 100 years and include literally thousands of dealers in small flea market stalls, more elegant small shops and a secret wholesale market for dealers only.  We have been shopping there while in Paris for over 30 years and have watched sea changes in inventory as well as easy of using the facilities.

We have progressed from using small holes in basements for toilettes to clean, modern facilities–some even free and maintained by the management of the largest complexes!  We have progressed from carrying wads of cash in total fear with our shipper ten feet behind to take our purchases to their truck–because if they did not,  the dealers would ship you an entirely inferior piece and sell your fine piece again–and perhaps again!–to using a buyers contract with each dealer, photographing and labeling each part of each piece, and knowing what we have bought is what we will get.  The shipper brings a check the following week and picks up the purchases.

A warning if you go–pickpockets are everywhere as are purse snatchers.  Also ruffians who cause trouble–all teenagers–and the occasional stabbing during robbery attempts demand that one be alert, dressed casually with little jewelry and for the ladies only fake LV is recommended (yes they know the difference!).

While the markets have always been flooded with fakes–that has not changed, it is very buyer beware–some things have changed.  While the furniture and accessories were predominantly 18th and 19th century country and formal design, one could find almost anything in the markets.  Once perhaps only ten or so dealers carried Art Deco and Art modern–and that was considered quite avant garde.  Then over the last ten to fifteen years Art Deco became an important part of the market with perhaps 20-30% devoted to that era. Now the market is heavily dominated with the furnishings of the mid-20th century, c. 1950-1980.

Here starts a series of photos of this change:

Modernism Booth/Shop

Very cool but don’t think that orange lacquer is original!

The dog is real for sure!

Shop dogs and shoppers with their dogs are equally welcomed in the markets.  You will notice here the sense that these large market buildings are in a sense an antiques show that never ends–each week dealers are bringing in newly acquired merchandise and redoing their spaces to catch the eye of the shoppers from around Paris and around the world.  This is in sharp contrast to the wholesale secret areas which are a jumble of goods–and where great finds are made!

A wholesale dealer's space

From this dealer for years we have purchased 18th and 19th century country pieces–just last year a brilliant walnut armoire for instance–this year, nothing made before 1950 in the entire 2,000 square feet!  He is next door to the photo above where we in fact found several glorious pieces including a fine armoire and a handsome vaisselier–he had just bought an entire estate and he had a bit of everything from mediocre to bad to great.

In the markets with small spaces are many specialists–this charming woman has always featured items associated with the kitchen and casual dining–we bought some wonderful sets of knife rests in lucite, silver plate and majolica!

Lane Acclaim Tables in Paris

The markets are filled with American made mid-century pieces such as these Lane Acclaim tables priced so an American dealer buying them, shipping them and taking a normal (small) mark-up would need to sell them for $8,500 the pair!!!!!!!!!!!  My partner Paul is opening Studio Design Gallery (www.studiodesigngallery.com) in The Courtyard on West Franklin in August and offering the same pair of tables for $1,200.  So again, buyers in Paris beware!!!!!!!!!!!

And of course no visit to Paris is complete without wandering the streets of the Drouot where views of Sacre Couer are truly splendid.

And finally, more fun for our family–this time a carrousel in The Tuileries.

We had a fascinating visit to the museums of The Invalides and here yours truly tries on a real helmet and holds a quite genuine sword.  One was also allowed to hold and aim various 18th and 19th century guns–a great way to add interest for kids.  If we still had these guns, mass murders would not be possible–so much sometimes for “progress”.  The fastest shooter could reload and shoot three times in a minute as long as no one bothered him.

I will return to the theme of soldiers–lead English ones–and French real ones in their encampments in an upcoming blog.  You will find it fascinating!

Nelson Becomes an Art Collector and more news from Paris

Friday, July 12th, 2013

Yesterday after Elizabeth and I hit the wholesale resources at the crack of dawn, we joined Nelson and Jeffrey for an afternoon of pizza (good hand made stuff!) and some exploration.  Walking from our hotel to the Eiffel Tower  by way of the Arch of Triumph, Nelson discovered an artist and bought two prints of his works–one a human skeleton which evolved into the Eiffel Tower.  It was a new direction for him from toy soldiers, Legos, books and puzzles!

Algerian artist selling his work to Nelson

I also made a discovery–at least new to me–when I finally saw the trees instead of the forrest!  There are some mega gardens atop a number of posh residences.  I am used to nice urban gardens, but somehow on my visits to Paris I never noticed the gardens (perhaps 100 to 200 feet wide and deep) with towering evergreens of exotic beauty atop a number of residences.  You can make out several in this next shot of the Arch as they are on the northeast and northwest sides of the circle around the Arch.  One is seen straight through the Arch and one to the right appears at first to be trees behind houses but look carefully–it is a dense evergreen garden atop a vast residence.

Our water tour began at the foot of the Tower and included the next several delightful vistas among many.

We also discovered two of the many small parks designed for little ones scattered throughout the city as we walked around this region of the city–Nelson loved them, we took turns around 6 pm at one drinking a bottle of wine just outside the garden with one staying to watch the kiddos all romping around, and Jeffrey met a couple of interesting Sri Lankian cab drivers also resting beside the park.

This park just above the Trocodero on Ave. d’Iena is dedicated to American-French friendship and has this marvelous bronze–one of many in the park–devoted to the friendship of Lafayette and Washington.

Walking back to the hotel after a delightful outdoor cafe dinner in a pleasant residential neighborhood, the light of Paris was perfect on the Arch–about 8:30 is magical as the west sun strikes most of the great monuments and Sacre Couer in stunning light (it is not only incandescent light that makes paris the City of Light).


Day Two in London

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Wondering where the pictures of antiques shopping are for London?  There are non–we shop the countryside (where the London dealers shop) and we just have fun in London.  And this morning was no exception–a visit to the beginning of the changing of the guard at the Whitehall parade ground followed by a stroll through St. James’s and on to Westminster, the playground in the park for one last romp and then on to St. Pancras to catch the Eurostar to paris!

While the Queen was still in residence we missed her–only this photo op at Hamley’s–yes she too is made of Legos!

The Lego Queen

The “boss” for the changing of the guard today was a young woman and the members of the guard exceptionally diverse.  When I said to Jeffrey “the one in charge is a lady” he instantly quipped “She certainly is!”  Think about it for a minute–very true and very funny.

This fellow set it all in motion with a loud shout:  Make way for the Queen’s guards!

Momma and her fuzzy babies–sygnets if I remember correctly.

And for the music lovers–another touch of history:

No doubt the fireworks scared the hell out of the pelicans that had been peacefully enjoying the waters for 85 years when GII’s Handelian disaster occurred!

While The London Eye–the vast ferris wheel–looms over the entire city, my favorite symbol of London remains unchanged:

Fun in London

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Driving today to London, Elizabeth and i decided to re-explore the town of Hungerford–even found a few antiques!  But the loveliest part was the canal bridge and the peaceful view of the barges:

And with only the minor hassle of dropping the car at Heathrow and train-taxi to our hotel we met up with Jeffrey and Nelson for an afternoon in London.

The view from in front of our hotel is delightful–especially on a mid-80′s day with lots of sun and a breeze.

Walking towards Trafalgar Square with Nelson’s namesake peering into the distance:

Elizabeth and Nelson at the base of Lord Nelson’s monument.

And at Hamley’s the Lego Royal Wedding celebrants wave from the 5th floor balcony.  Nelson had an hour or so of unmitigated toy overload!


Life in BBC’s Cranford–the real Lacock

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Because I love Lacock so much I thought I would share a few more photos.  This is a must stop for anyone visiting the Bath environs or the Cotswolds, just to the north.  We were buying in the entire region today, finding great period brass, wonderful boxes, superb chests of the Georgian period, an  exceptional little late 18th century sideboard, mirrors, garden ornaments, a delft rack and much more.  However, except for a shot of one warehouse, this is a visual treat for those who love the beauty of England.

Lacock will be instantly recognizable to all who love BBC dramas such as Cranford with Dame Judi Dench and her female buddies who dominated the town as well as those who love Harry Potter.  One of the most perfectly preserved towns in England, it spans in living buildings filled with ordinary folks over 8 centuries–with many of those 13th century buildings still in use (I am writing from one).

Beside the George Inn in the garden of the local doctor is what at first appeared to be a stunning tree in full bloom–but it is actually an old apple tree buried by an enormous climbing white rose!

A topiary castle in the garden with the rose beyond.

Get rid of the cars, put down dirt and straw and you have Cranford in the 19th century.

While half of the village is 13th-14th centuries, half is 18th century Georgian well represented by this view.  The entire village consists of four streets each a block to perhaps an eighth of a mile in length each–really tiny!

If you know the history of WWI–or have seen War Horse–this next photo will be no surprise–50% of the young men of the village killed during that terrible war, as was the case throughout England.  This is their monument.

One of my favorite free standing cottages in the village.  There are very few compared to the connected structures.

And the Lacock bus stop!

Next the warehouse of a dealer we have visited since the 1980–now in his mid 80′s and here I am turning 65 this month–how time flies.

And stepping out the door–a few flowers–all of the English seem to love pottering about in their gardens.

My next post will be from London for a bit of fun as my son-in-law Jeffrey and grandson Nelson meet us (I am writing this from our hotel a block from Lambeth Palace with views of the Houses of Parliament).

Another Adventurous Day

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

Today we worked more in warehouses, shops and private dealer’s homes in the West of England–here is a sampling of what we saw!

Can you spot in this great pile the one thing worth buying and the one thing we thought might be worth buying?


The elm and beech wheelback windsor was worth buying–the upside down 18th century chest with ivory escutcheons looked good.  Alas when pulled from the stack the sides were pine–original, but deadly in the American market where some provincial English furniture is simply not understood.  The front and top and feet of mahogany, the sides mahogany stained pine to save money in the 1780′s.

In the same warehouse we found and bought a wonderful Holland and Holland leather double shotgun case with completely labeled interior–no guns of course–and here it is (come see the new shipment to see the interior!)

We also found and bought Regency and Georgian furniture among the piles of dreadful stuff–and we encountered wonderful 1950′s-70′s furniture!

This set of dining furniture–solid teak–is “G Plan” furniture by England’s most important maker of modernism furniture of solid teak, crafted to the highest standards, each piece invariably stamped–a 7′ buffet with fascinating bells and whistles inside, a table with concealed leaf, 8 incredibly comfortable chairs and even a pair of tile inset end tables–al from the same home and the original care instructions included!  See the next photos.

In another warehouse on the airfield grounds–the English dealers love cheap digs in abandoned RAF airfields–this one has seen three generations born and raised!–we found three 18th century chairs and a nest of delicious teak and handhammered copper inset tables–again by Gomme with the G Plan labels.

Behind the wonderful tables and between two period chairs–a dreadful 1950′s “Regency” coffee table–what a lot of mental editing to separate the wheat from the chaff!

Also really stylish but by an unknown maker is this c. 1960 serving cabinet with lighted interior bar in the right cabinet, sliding glass doors, etc–teak and very smart!

And here it is closed up!

A few hours later we were in this garden of our finder of historic pub signs, just as England won Wimbledon Men’s for the first time in about 70 years!  But we were more entranced by The Dun Horse–isn’t he handsome and headed to Chapel Hill once he has a new frame (the pubs only sell the holders when they go out of business–not when they change a name or refresh a sign).

And tonight we drank and dined in this garden of the 14th century Sign of The Angel Inn in historic Lacock–more photos to follow another day!  It is midnight here and the sun set at 10:30.  Even with nine hours sleep last night, I am pooped!

View from my room.  And here is Elizabeth at 9:30 after dinner as we left for an hour’s stroll through the 14th century town of Lacock with its great tythe barn, etc–the entire town owned by the national Trust and often the setting for great BBC works featuring favorite actresses like Judi Dench and Maggy Smith–but that is another night of writing!


Two Days of Fun on the Chase for Antiques! (AND A RARE PEAK INTO BRITISH HISTORY!)

Saturday, July 6th, 2013

Here are a few photos and comments about the chase yesterday and today, from antiques warehouses that were once home to a mushroom growing enterprise to a car boot sale in the Southeast of England to an old hangar on another airfield in the Southwest of England–all in 28 hours time, not counting getting to England etc.  We are pooped but very very happy as today ended with the finding of a treasure trove of sophisticated Regency and Georgian furniture including chests, breakfront serving cabinet, center table, bookcase secretaire–one of the most unusual we have ever found–and much more.

But here are just some silly fun shots!!!!!

A tower of trunks and a Gatsbyesque camelhair vintage coat!

Piles of fantastically light weight aluminum luggage and trunks from the early days of flying when every ounce counted!  All polished to a bright as new sheen–not our thing but really fascinating!

7:30 am arrival at the car boot sale where everything from kitchen glasses to granny’s canning jars to genuine antiques turn up every week!  See the Whitehall Antiques facebook page for more finds at the boot sale (car trunk sale in America).

And here is what can be found–sadly only half of the original piece–but true and rarely understood history from the era when the sun never sat on the British Empire:  the case into which a campaign chest was fitted for transport to war or to run the colonial empire.

Here are photos of the case open and closed with the owner’s name on the front (apparently for someone in government service, as there is no military rank associated with the name of the owner).  Into this plain pine case was placed HALF of a two part, elegant brassbound campaign chest.  There was another case for the other half of the piece.  It is believed from old documents, paintings and photos of the 19th century that when camp was set-up, these cases were used as well as the chests removed from them–they became augmenting storage space.  You will see the side carrying handles are not the gorgeous brass found on the chest within–only heavy duty iron to be subjected to the various abuses of travel while protecting the elegant contents with its fine wood and flush mounted brass hardware.

This is a very rare part of campaign furniture history as most of these have been lost.  My daughter and business partner Elizabeth owned for a number of years the only complete one we have ever found–she even loaned it for the major exhibition of Campaign Furniture mounted by Nicholas A. Brawer.  Sadly it is not photographed in his magnificent book as he only learned of its existence after the book went to press.  Even more sadly, probably no one seeing this knew its use and no one will want only half a piece of history–only a museum would understand its value as a relic of a lost era.

July–It Must Be England!

Saturday, July 6th, 2013

Unbelievably we have brought glorious sunny weather to England!  Everyday for our buying trip highs in the upper 70′s and zero rain–same is predicted next week in Paris.  I will put up some photos soon, but am falling asleep now and the camera is still not ready to download into the computer to share the first photos.

Today we attended our first ever car boot sale–think junk to antiques out of the trunks of cars covering an entire retired airfield.  We had so much fun and found wonderful small items from a period regency child’s chair to a bamboo canterbury, from a lovely Imari plate to a fabulous snoozing cast stone garden gnome, from antique tools for carpenters and furniture makers to the best horse brasses we have seen in years.  These events happen all over England and on a day like today, a couple of hours (we got up at 6:45 am to do it after flying in the night before–can you say zombies?) is a blast!