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The Next Collecting Style
( Originally Published 1913 )
In the year 1893 Monsieur Teodor de Wyzewa wrote for the Revue Bleue what, being translated, amounts to the following:
There are still in Paris two or three of those old fashioned curio-dealers who love the antique things which they buy and sell. They dwell within their sombre old shops happily-happy when they have sold something, because they can then buy something else, perhaps more delightful still; and happy when they have sold nothing, because they have not been separated from the old things which they love so well. And when I asked the wisest of these old gentlemen, the other day, how he explained the sudden rage for Empire furniture among collectors, he answered me thus.
Empire Furniture. Sir, the public collect Empire furniture because Empire furniture can still be collected. For fine old Louis XV and Louis XVI furniture has disappeared from the market; the few bits left on sale have become terribly dear, and the forgers have imitated it to an enormous extent. So the collectors are turning their attention to something else, more feasible. In ten years or so, when "Empire" furniture has all been collected, and has become shut up in public and private collections, people will have to turn to something else. At present they pick up " Empire," not because it is more beautiful and attractive than the earlier styles, but because the earlier styles are out of their reach, The "wisest of these old gentlemen" was not quite correct in his "ten years or so" forecast. Plenty of Empire furniture still awaits the collector even now, fifteen years after his prediction. When in Paris the other day I saw great stores of it in the dealers' windows. But in substance he was a wise prophet, and his words contain a lesson for us over here.
In this Country. For a parallel movement has gone on in England. When fine "Chippendale" had become as rare as snow in harvest, "Sheraton" must be taken up. Then, "Sheraton" becoming scarce, "Hepplewhite " was seized on, and then "Adam" (which was really an early "Empire" style; the brothers Adam may almost be regarded as the originators of "Empire").After that came a harking-back to "Queen Anne" walnut furniture. Then the finest work done by Ince and Mayhew, Copeland and Shearer and Mainwaring began to be hunted for. There is now a tendency to collect " Gillow." Old English oak furniture, too, is being exhausted. Even roundlegged, brass-inlaid "Empire Sheraton" is hunted for now.
As forging of furniture increases, the collection of "Chippendale" and "Sheraton" becomes the more difficult, and the many frank modern replicas of "Chippendale" and "Sheraton" are causing a reaction, for every drawing-room can boast what to all but the initiated seems "Chippendale" or "Sheraton" right enough. And the question for a collector of old furniture now is, "What is likely to be the next collecting style?" Because the wise collector is always in advance of his hour.
Early Victorian. I fancy that "William IV" and "Early Victorian" furniture will have a run for collectors' money. It is customary to ridicule the furniture made in England during the twenty years immediately prior to the Exhibition of 1851, and I by no means say that it was artistic and beautiful. But I say with much probability that it is furniture which people will shortly begin to collect. The "Amboyna" walnut and "rosewood" used in it were beautiful in grain and polish, and some of the sideboards, chests of drawers, etc., were simple and pleasant in shape. Wood of that quality in grain and colour seems not to be procurable to-day. Some of the bookcases and other furniture used in offices in the neighbourhood of Bedford Row and other quarters where lawyers congregate were fine enough to adorn even the most artistically decorated library or study.And pieces of furniture of this date and style may still be had "for a song." Moreover, there is no forger at work upon such pieces; whatever you see of them for sale is genuine, and that is a comfort to know.