A lady approached me at a recent antique show in Chicago. After complimenting several of the pieces she saw on our booth, she got to the point. She looked me in the eye and asked directly, "How much does a Sheraton table cost these days?" Well, in my terminology, a Sheraton period table could take any number of different forms. It might look like this:
Or it could look like this:
Or even this:
Her demeanor made it plain that she thought I was a total incompetent (or worse) for not knowing what a "Sheraton table" is, but I persisted. After a round of questioning and lots of flipping through of photos on the iPad, I learned that the table she was talking about had drawers and flap-leaves. However, it was not what I call a Pembroke table:
After a bit more digging, BINGO! We had hit upon the object in question. It is what I have always called a "sofa table." As in:
In spite of the barrier formed by our common language, we had solved the mystery. But now it was on to the riddle: so how much does a "Sheraton" (or sofa) table cost? I answered her question in the only way I know how: as honestly as I could. So I told her a Sheraton period sofa table can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $80,000. She was completely aghast. She made it very clear that I was no longer an ignorant fool as she had previously thought. I was now considered an outright affront to my profession. It was the lower end of my estimate that shocked her. She chastised me and told me that I should never have said $2,000 and that I should never tell that to anyone ever again. She explained how she had bought one of these tables 40 years ago for 25,000 pounds and that it was beyond the pale to suggest that there might be some examples floating around at such a meager price. So I turned to the iPad and pulled up several sofa tables online. Within seconds, I was able to show her one priced at $2,000 and another priced at $75,000. She must have thought I had conjured up some kind of black magic. She didn't want to hear what I was saying and stormed off in a huff. I was a bit surprised, because I would guess that there are many more people walking around an antique show who would be offended at the upper end of the estimate given.
The whole incident left me baffled. Amongst ourselves, many antique dealers will complain about show patrons seeking "free information" with no intention of buying. While I understand where they're coming from, I don't share the sentiment. As an antique dealer, I fully accept that part of the job is educating the general public in the hope that they will one day become buyers. In the case of "young people" (defined in our field as anyone under 60), those potential purchases may be many years in the future. But I'm patient and happy to talk to anyone, especially at the smaller shows we do which tend to have long periods of quiet time. So I must admit that it left me frustrated to provide an honest answer only to be met with such hostility.
I don't think her question was stupid. The layperson has no idea the ins and outs of the antique trade. That's why I recommend that they seek out and develop a relationship with a dealer that they trust. However, to illustrate the complexity in answering, consider this question: How much does a car cost? I think most people would understand that the answer depends on whether you're looking at a McLaren P1 or a Nissan Versa. While many of us would be surprised at the price of each of these cars, most of us will recognize that there are many factors that contribute to the pricing of each. I think we would each grasp that there are valid reasons for the wide fluctuations in pricing of cars or antiques or tea in China. In most cases, the old cliche holds true: you really do get what you pay for.
When you bring a 15 1/2' long breakfront to a show, you hear this question a lot: "How did you get that in here?" The video below should give a little insight into that process. It will also show the amount of work that goes into setting up one booth at an antique show. At a show like the Philadelphia Antiques and Art Show last week, this process is replicated 59 times across the floor as each dealer prepares their space for the public. Even before this can happen, carpenters work to build the plywood walls and electricians must run power. In the case of Philadelphia, which takes place on the Marine Parade Grounds in the Navy Yard, a floor is laid and a hard-frame tent is constructed. The work involved for our booth took place over the course of 48 hours and is compressed into this 14-second video.
Returning to the bookcase, it really is an attention-getter and not just because of the great size. Almost as impressive is the fact that all the primary wood is yew and nearly all of that is burl yew. The cabinet doors are veneered in strips that are beautifully figured and reminiscent of the veining in a great piece of marble. All the astragals and other moldings are fashioned out of solid yew. The only other yew wood breakfront we've ever seen sold at Christie's Simon Sainsbury sale in London a few years ago.
The spring thaw is a good time to get the shop back in order, incorporating some of our new stock and dislodging some of the resident dust bunnies in the process. For at least a few more days until we load up for the Philadelphia Antiques and Art Show, we will have our best foot forward and be ready for any company that may drop in. Have a look below and feel free to visit to see it all in the flesh.
We consider ourselves to be timber junkies. If you've ever gotten lost gazing into the patterns and colors found in the grain of old wood, then you know may be one as well. It can be as captivating as picking out patterns in the clouds of a summer day. We're constantly on the prowl for furniture that satisfies our habit, and we've had some recent luck with the two following dressers. The first is a potboard dresser with shaped and beaded apron:
This desirable form is associated with Montgomeryshire on the Welsh/English border. This example has particularly graceful, turned legs and the unusual feature of fluted pilasters flanking the drawers. But what really sets it apart are the gorgeous burr oak boards used in the top and drawer fronts. We've had a few Montgomeryshire dressers in the past, and we've had a few burr oak dressers also, but we've never seen the combination of the two. The result is a real beauty of a dresser.
This cupboard dresser is built of yew wood, mostly burr yew. This timber is even more unusual to find on a dresser than the burr oak discussed above. Yew wood is the very strong yet pliable wood that was used for the Irish long bows of medieval times. In furniture, yew is probably best known for the spindles, back-splats, and bent-wood components of Windsor chairs. While it is unusual to find larger pieces like this built of burr yew, we actually also have a 15' long breakfront veneered entirely in burr yew.
As enthusiasts of wonderful woods, we're excited to see such beautiful grain and warm color. Unusual timbers and grain can elevate a more ordinary form of furniture to something out of the ordinary. Please click through to the links for the pieces above to see more detailed images of the wood grain that sets these pieces apart.
Our collection of eel spears are popping up in media all over thanks to the marketing team at the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show and Tucker & Marks. C Magazine cleverly juxtaposed them with a vibrant Seba print from Arader Galleries (Perhaps there's an eel among those snakes?).
The spears can also be found in the October issue of Art and Antiques magazine along with a sampling of other pieces that will be on display at the show.
The diversity of shapes and sizes among the spears or gigs or gleaves creates a strong graphic impression and lends itself to a striking presentation on the printed page or in a wide variety of interiors. They certainly caught our eye when we first saw them.
As an exercise, let’s compare cricket tables. The term “cricket table” refers to a country table with three legs and typically a round top (although you will find one below with a hexagonal top, and we once had one with an 11-sided top). This form predates and should not be confused with the tripod table which you’ll see most often in mahogany. The three-legged design allowed the table to rest with stability on uneven dirt and stone floors. The oral tradition offers a few different explanations for why the label "cricket" is applied to these tables. The first is that they were brought out on to the lawns for use by spectators as they watched cricket matches. The three-leg design would have been well-suited for use on outdoor terrain. There are several examples in 18th Century art showing indoor furniture that has been dragged out onto the lawn. An alternative theory is that the three-legged form resembles the three stumps and bails of a wicket in the game of cricket. This seems plausible. The third (and least likely) explanation I’ve heard holds that the 3-legged form resembles the insect we call a cricket. Of course, crickets have six legs. I’m not buying it. In any case, we may never know the true origins of this vernacular term.
Back to the matter at hand:
This first cricket table is about as typical as it gets. It’s made of oak, stands on straight legs connected to an apron just below the round top. This could be considered the standard form of cricket table. The color and surface are good but not great. There is nothing at all wrong with this table, but there is also nothing special about it.
This table starts to branch off from the norm in a few ways. We will award a point for the top being a single board (even though it has a repaired split); another point for being walnut as opposed to the more common oak tops. The legs are not only splayed but partially turned with a central baluster shape and bun foot. The turned stretchers are arranged in a Y-shape that is less common than those arranged in a triangular or T-shape. And the turned roundel in the center where the stretchers join is a lovely little flourish.
This table departs even further from the standard in many pleasing ways. First, the table is made of sycamore which is why it has such a lovely, paler color and a very fine, hair-like grain pattern. The top is very thick (at least 2.25”) which allows the legs to be joined directly into the underside and eliminating the need for the rails that form an apron on other tables. I find this lends the table more of a sculptural form. In addition, this thick top is turned to have a slightly dished top and incised rings around the outside. The shelf is also similarly thick and also similarly turned. Contrast this with the more typical triangular shelf that you’ll find and I’m starting to lose track of all the points I’ve awarded to this gem.
While this table is out of oak, it has several features that I have never seen on a cricket table. To name three: the William and Mary type of ball turning on the legs; the flat-shaped stretcher connecting the legs; the three flap leaves that drop to form a triangular top. While you can certainly find each of these features on other pieces of furniture, I think you’ll find it difficult to turn up a cricket table that has even one of them. This form appears to be an evolutionary dead end in vernacular furniture. Usually discovering these dead ends, it is obvious why they were never reproduced. However, I find this one to be completely charming and beautiful.
The exercise above deals mostly with obvious issues of form. Many of the finer points such as quality of construction, timber, patina, and color are just not readily apparent in a picture. Furthermore, the subtleties of proportion and overall aesthetic can be more elusive. However, if one pays close attention (as Albert Sack has encouraged within his field of American furniture), the differences should make themselves known.
We are still working to finalize our new website. We'd love to hear what you think out there. From suggestions to bugs discovered to slaps on the back, all comments are welcome.
One of the hoped improvements we've made with the new site is the ability to slot a single piece into multiple categories without producing duplicate pages for the same item. While classifying an entire inventory of antiques and accessories, ambiguities crop up frequently. For instance, is this piece a table or something else entirely?
Is a bedside cupboard, such as the one below, a cabinet or a table?
At what point does a large round tripod table become a small breakfast table and no longer an occasional table? Should sideboards be categorized under tables or cabinet/case furniture? Sometimes there is no better option than to file something under et cetera.
Once we get all the old stuff sorted, we hope to add several new pieces which we've been buying recently. Keep an eye on the site, and please let us know what you think.
We were disappointed to discover a few weeks ago that a storm had ripped the roof off our neighboring tobacco barn. The disappointment turned to sadness as our landlord informed us that the cost to rebuild the roof is just too great and the barn will be coming down. More than just losing a place to store our old crates, we feel like we’re losing a connection to our collective past. Much of the job of an antique dealer is to act as a preservationist; encouraging the appreciation of old stuff, finding new uses for it in the modern world, and teaching people how to care for it. As such, we are always heart-broken to lose forever an old friend.
With each passing year, more and more of these tobacco barns are lost to the dustbin of history. In the years since the federal tobacco settlement, the once common sight of fields teeming with the leafy green crop is becoming rare; and so too the sight of the auburn leaves hanging in the iconic black barn to dry. While we hold no nostalgia for the days when the health dangers were unknown, we must admit a bit of the pastoral character of Kentucky is certainly fading with the disappearance of these barns. Which is why it has been refreshing to see several of them repurposed for a new generation to enjoy. There are numerous barns that now serve as charming wedding venues. The Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill has started a world renowned and well-reviewed chamber music series in one of their old tobacco barns just a few miles from our shop. And in the case of the most dilapidated barns, the timber will almost always find new life. The reclaimed lumber industry is booming as builders seek out the personality (not to mention thicknesses) that can only be found in old wood.
Much like Kentucky’s tobacco barns, the supply of antique furniture is a finite resource (“They ain’t makin’ any more of it”). We take very seriously our responsibility to help preserve that resource by creating new markets for these pieces in today’s interiors; by helping to foster an enthusiasm for owning and cherishing these pieces as artifacts of our human past; by recognizing the importance of things that were built to last, especially in the current world of dwindling resources.