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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Gray Matter: Antiques or just used furniture?

Monday, June 5, 2006

Is this an antique or just a piece of used furniture? To some it's all the same; to others of us there is a world of difference.

I am not quite certain where my interest in antiques originated. I only have a couple of chairs that came from my family, and we had just a rocker and an immigrant trunk from my husband's people. Still, because he and I shared a passion for lovely old pieces, our home is almost totally furnished with things we collected over the years.

I don't know that we ever thought of it strictly in the monetary sense, but we did learn something of the differences in value from the experience of a family close to us. This couple retired early, moved into town, and built a lovely home which they furnished nicely. At the estate sale a few years later, after the untimely deaths of them both, the house sold well, but we were all shocked at the mere pittance the furniture brought. Good as it was, it was merely "used furniture." Antiques, on the other hand, always seem to appreciate in value.

Shortly after we were married, my spouse bought a small lady's walnut desk at a local estate sale. A cane-seated chair, which I had inherited, went with it perfectly. That was probably where our addiction started.

That chair had an interesting history. It was one of a pair which had belonged to a cousin of my grandmother's. She had told of how they and their two best friends had been married just a few weeks apart. Seeking to furnish their new households, the two couples had gone to a sale where each bought six of the dozen dining chairs from that estate of people who had celebrated their 50th Anniversary. A few years later, my dad remembered this when he bought the two surviving chair at the cousin's own estate sale. That story was the provenance needed to prove them true antiques -- over 100 years old at that time. My sister and I each have one.

Now I will conclude with the story of what is probably my favorite object of all -- my china closet. They say the greatest value of an antique piece lies in the quality of its materials and the master craftsmanship of its maker. In the case of my cupboard, it is none of the above. Here, a very talented amateur took all the walnut he could find and fashioned the front of the cabinet. The glass upper doors are framed with beautifully arched wood. Below them are two nicely grooved drawer fronts; at the bottom are more shelves behind two solid doors. All of it, or most of it at least, is of walnut.

So far, so good. But on closer inspection, the true ingenuity of the workman becomes evident. Behind the lovely walnut facade, the rest of it is pine. The glass isn't actually in the frame; instead, it is secured from the back with thin, carefully nailed laths. The latch is a roughly hewn wooden turn-buckle. The lower doors don't really match, but I'll wager he counted on people's attentions being distracted by whatever treasures were displayed on the top shelves, so any minor discrepancies below would go unnoticed. Though the term probably didn't even exist in his day, I'd say the guy was a "psychologist" as well as a craftsman. He made do with what he had, and it worked. I love it !

As I've said before, I wish Gray Matter were interactive. I'm sure everyone of you antiquers out there has scads of fascinating yarns to spin that we would all enjoy.