The modern lives of Antiques………


Antiques are almost always misunderstood. Indeed, how many of us ever really get past the date that object was made and its relevance to us right now. But objects, like humans, hold a continuous story. One that starts at its birth in a certain era, by a certain maker, for a certain client but that over time gets passed on: sold, bartered, donated, bequeathed, until it finally enters our possession holding a log of untold stories written (sadly) in invisible ink.

A small number of objects lead very static lives. They live in national collections or on walls of stately homes that never pass them on. On one page you can plot their life story…..but this is not the norm. Most objects enter instead a tireless circle of adoption, and readoption, passing from one hand to the next in relatively quick succession. Each owner invites it into their life, however briefly, because it speaks to them in some way or fits some need, before being passed on again.

To give you a real example let me tell you the story of a box. I have a client dealer whom I sometimes supply with 19th Century campaign boxes and because of this I make a point of picking them up when I can. Last year I came across a suitable box, reasonably priced and not far away. I drove over. The owners told me they’d picked it up from a dealer some months back but were selling to make way for a better example. I thanked them, brought it home and within a week or two duly sold it to my client. After a short time he too passed it on, then low and behold only a week or two ago, I see that self same box reappear and sell on ebay (having tidied it I know it was the same one).  Presuming the initial dealer had purchased it also, within the space of about 12 months that poor box had been rehoused 7 times! Each owner, including myself, had seen something worth investing in it before moving it on again. Yet for the item, which had been made back in the 1880s, this short episode may have been an all too common occurrence meaning it had already experienced dozens of owners and countless rooms! If there were psychological counselling offered for antiques, my box may have been a contender.

Just like you register ownership of your car and dutifully keep a log of its services and parts (so the new owners can see its history) wouldn’t it be great if people kept a common log of their treasured antiques!  I used to collect early books and my excitement for finding someone’s 17th century annotations in the margin often outweighed the printed text. Even now, when I remove a drawer from a table and find someone’s name or address scrawled in pencil- it reminds me I’m just another link in the chain for that object.

If a log book is too troublesome, at least be bold and learn to deface. Take your prized object and a pencil and scribble your name somewhere. As in the future another owner may just stop and consider you for a moment or two also.


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