Author Topic: "Acme of Perfection" Philadelphia PieCrust Tea Table Up for Sale at Sotheby's  (Read 17712 times)

rich

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they evidently prefer a topsoil finish

dkeller_nc

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Ha!  That's a great turn-of-phrase.  I'll have to remember that one.  It wouldn't at all surprise me that it's factual in some cases - Nora Hall was a guest teacher at my carving class. 

She's an elderly woman that worked as a carver with her father in Amsterdam during WWII, and she described how her family carved gothic and religious objects out of new wood, buried them in the garden for 6 weeks, then dug them up and sold them to German officers as authentic antiques.  Very funny, but I don't think I'd have the guts to bury something I spent months on in the shop to give it an "antiqued" finish.

That antecdote, though, brings home that the idea that the high-end antiques collector market has that a grungy finish means "authentic" is utter foolishness.  I guess if you're going to spend a miilion dollars on a decorative object you seek comfort in whatever reassurances the dealers can come up with, whether based in fact or not.
Period Furniture & Carving as a hobby - about 20 years woodworking

HSteier

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I have a different spin on this. I think that the American collectors' insistence on leaving old grungy finishes intact is "An Emporer's  New Clothes" phenomenon. Somehow they have been duped by the high end antique vendors and agents into believing that grungy is beautiful when in fact grungy is only grungy. The art world regularly maintains and "refinishes" paintings. Why doesn't the decorative arts world do the same to furniture? Paintings aren't devalued when they are cleaned and touched up. Why should furniture be devalued when the same is done?
I can understand the interest that museums have in original finishes; there may be an academic value in studying them. And sometimes an original finish has held up well and has a lovely patina (the Affleck chest on chest at Colonial Wmsbrg comes to mind).  But I can't understand why, when a highly carved masterful tea table looks like a piece of cr*p because the finish has deteriorated, it shouldn't be refinished to restore it's beauty and thereby enhance it's value instead of devaluing it.

Howard Steier

dkeller_nc

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Another good example is the antique car market - A well-restored example of a 57 chevrolet is worth far more money than a 57 chevrolet with a worn interior and rusty body panels.  A 57 chevy stored in a humidty-controlled warehouse that's in perfect original condition might be worth slightly more, but only slightly.  And that goes to Howard's point - the 57 chevy in perfect condition doesn't have a "patina" (rust and wear in this case).
Period Furniture & Carving as a hobby - about 20 years woodworking

Mark Arnold

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Howard,

You make a good point about American furniture vs fine arts restoration. There is a difference in the way that furniture is restored/preserved in America and how it is accomplished in Europe, for example. There seems to be general concensus that stripping is to be avoided, but there is no such agreement when it comes to touching-up and cleaning a piece. Perhaps due to the relative youth of America, collectors were taught (or led) to believe that the older it looks, the better it is. An original finish is kind of like a time capsule--it is the visible result of decades of use and abuse as well as proof that what is under it is authentic. In Europe, however, fine antiques are subject to "cleaning", i.e. re-polishing shellac or a little turpentine and a cotton swab. In their book, Hidden Treasures, the Keno's recount the story of a Lannuier pier table discovered in Italy that was "cleaned" by the Milan dealer before it was shipped to the States (pp142-147). The table eventually did sell, but for only a quarter of its uncleaned presale estimate.


I'll be the first to admit that I am not too knowledgeable about the restoration end of things. Perhaps someone who does restoration work would care to weigh-in here?
NBSS '96, Partial to the Federal Period.

msiemsen

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To my knowledge this cleaning up of old finishes is also a mater of  when the piece was made, Federal pieces are often leaned up so you can see the inlay and veneer work. Age of a piece is better judged by the unfinished areas underneath and on the backs. It is hard to fake dry old black wood.
Mike
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There are II kinds of people in the world. Those that can read roman numerals and those that can't

HSteier

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Mark
I too read the Keno book and the story of the Lanniuer table. To a large extent this supports my "Emperor's New Clothes" conclusion. The rest of the world sees the piece as dirty and unattractive and cleans it to bring back it's original beauty. The American collector is lead to believe that grungy is beautiful in an effort to jack up the price and the 10% commission.

Howard Steier

dkeller_nc

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Mike - Speaking as someone with a chemistry background, it does take some effort to fake "dry old black wood", but the procedure is straightforward.  The surface appearance of a 200+ antique is a combination of wear, dirt (soot, skin oils, tallow, beeswax, etc...) and - oxidation -. 

This is the point I was trying make (though not very eloquently).  Contrary to what the Keno's allude to in their book, and the antique collector's community seems to be convinced of, the "grunginess" of a surface, surface checking, and aging of the wood does NOT garantee that a piece is authentically old.  Far from it, in fact, since the process by which a finish ages and the wood discolors is oxidation, and that oxidation can be greatly accelerated by elevating the oxygen content of the surrounding atmosphere and the temperature.  This accelaration isn't linear - a 100% oxygen atmosphere will turn a fresh, green poplar board to the "nut brown" color often seen on the backs of colonial furniture in less than a week.  It will do the same to eastern white pine, and vastly darken mahogany to the deep chocolate color seen on antiques.  Cherry is even more responsive.

This same oxidation process can be combined with UV light exposure from a metal halide lamp to "alligator" a natural resin varnish finish, and do so very convincingly such that the finish under the brasses will be relatively untouched.

Finally, the end-grain checking on the bottoms of chair legs that the Kenos seem to be convinced is an indicator of authenticity, is relatively easily produced by alternating application of wetted fabric and a dry atmosphere.

My point here is that the grunginess, wear, oxidation and wood failure (checking) is fairly simple to produce, and all without resorting to dyes or stains that leave tell-tale indicators.  This sort of treatment will even stand up to sophisticated (and expensive) micro-analysis with fluorescent dyes.

Knowing this means that authentication to high confidence can only be accomplished by researching a piece's history and method of construction, and even that is not 100%.

My conclusion is that there is no reason whatsoever to leave a period piece in a state of deriorated surface finish covered in grime.  My personal opinion is that it's an insult to the artists that designed and constructed it.
Period Furniture & Carving as a hobby - about 20 years woodworking

rich

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if you have ever read about the great Brewster chair hoax  Armand La Montagne, really messed with the minds of the eleatest in the museum
world. when he made his "very rare chair " it really faked them out !

K A R

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Not on subject at all but:

La Montagne also carved the Woodcraft Indian - "The First Woodworker" back in the 70's when Woodcraft was a Woburn, MA only operation.  La Montagne, as I recall, was featured on some of Woodcraft's early informative catalog covers - with the Indian Carving and also a house he build with one end entirely of stone incorporating the fireplace.  Anybody have these covers and who would be willing to share scans with me?

Kent Ryan

cbentzley

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Kent,

I have a copy of an article from "Yankee" magazine, Jan. 1978, an article from "Early American Life" magazine, October 1979, and the Woodcraft cover from Spring/Summer 1978 with the Indian carving. I can scan any of these if you'd like. Let me know.

Craig

rich

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Kent,
I have all that plus many articles on the sports and other figures he has carved,if you want them let me know .  you ought to get the video of him it's called splendid splinters...............wonderful !!!!!!!  I have watched it probably 50 times. but then I'm really in to sculpture .

K A R

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Rich & Craig,

Thanks for the offers - I will contact you off the Forum.  I think the guy's work is very broad and pretty great and made all the better by his outfoxing some of those "furniture experts" with his Brewster chair hoax that he let go just so far!

Hey Craig, do you have page #13 from the 1937 issue of The Magazine Antiques?  I don't need it; I just thought I would ask!  That would be the first issue in 1937 - (January?)

Kent
« Last Edit: January 27, 2008, 11:58:44 AM by Kent Ryan »

gvforster

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   I think I remember an article on La Montagne and his stone ended house in an early Fine Homebuilding - late 1970s

johnjesseph

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okay, passing along an unsubstantiated rumor...    I guess Sotheby's or whoever spearheaded the sale of the table allegedly made a grave error at the time of the Christie's auction last October by bringing the "Acme" table and putting it next to the other table for comparison.  I heard the "Acme" table paled in comparison, with sanded and mushed over details from a bad refinish.  Might have been interesting to see them side by side.  Other suspicious stuff about it anyway...  One picture in the catalog shows the table in an entryway, and the table has no casters.  The rest of the catalog shows the feet with casters, proud of the feet and not inset as I guess would be expected...