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Tony Grist

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Old Things [Mar. 23rd, 2010|10:18 am]
Tony Grist
My grandfather collected antiques. His taste ran to the florid: Louis Quinze stuff- rococo- lots of inlay, lots of ormolu. When he died what was left of his collection, which had been thinned down through successive moves- went to auction- and most of it turned out to be not Louis Quinze at all but 19th century reproduction. I wonder if he knew- or would have cared?

It was sold because none of his descendants shared his taste- though I wish I'd held out for those two late 19th century German plates of his- with their paintings of Graeco-Roman rude girls.  My parents bought some nice pieces on their own account- and their taste was for the unfussy and English. That's my taste too- broadly speaking. I like honest farmhouse furniture, manor-house furniture.  Politics comes into it.  I'm a William Morris socialist- and that 18th century French lumber- with it's shouty ornamentation- is all about grinding the faces of the poor.  That's why I hate Faberge too. Faberge is the reason- in little- why the Russians had to have a revolution.

I'm fussy about the dead people I choose to associate with.

But of course I've never had the money to buy proper antiques.  Our stuff is a mix and match of Ikea and hand-me-downs and things from junk shops.   

But supposing I did have the money? I love the Antiques Road show and its spin-offs. I envy those guys. Because  what could be more agreeable than to roll around from antique shop to auction- with a big greasy roll of banknotes in the pocket of one's ratty, tweed jacket- spending one's life among old things?  I emphasize the word  "old". Oldness is what's it's really all about. If I'd been my grandfather I'd have been furious to find that my Louis Quinze was actually Napoleon III. Dealing in antiques is dealing in history. It's time travel.  If I had my life over again- and know what I now know- I'd do one of two things: I'd train as an archaeologist- or get a job with an auction house.

[User Picture]From: upasaka
2010-03-23 11:29 am (UTC)
Do you get the American Antiques Roadshow over there? We get the British one here.

I grew up in a Victorian house full of Victorian furnishings, most of which I really don't like very much and all of which I will inherit eventually. I've learned since my father's death that it was mostly his taste and not my mother's, but he wasn't going to argue.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-03-23 12:38 pm (UTC)
The American Roadshow is available. I've seen it on occasion.

I like some Victorian furniture- anything Morrisy and arts and craftsy. Sadly that stuff- which you could once pick up for a song- is now exceedingly expensive.

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[User Picture]From: veronica_milvus
2010-03-23 01:05 pm (UTC)
I love collecting antiques, none of which have cost a lot. One of my favourites is a small but exquisitely painted Chinese tea bowl which I picked up for £17 at an antiques fair at Alexandra Palace. Two other pieces are a Chinese inkwell, and a Cranberry glass jug, for £80 each. We also have a Chinese celadon egg-shaped vase that could be a thousand years old but cost £120. Maybe you could ask for money for your next birthday and spend a day at a fair somewhere like Buxton or Stafford, enjoying choosing your prize. I always haggle at antique fairs too!

Have you ever been to the National Trust house at Standen in East Sussex? A wonderful Arts and Crafts house, well worth detour from one of your forays into Kent.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-03-23 02:08 pm (UTC)
That's a good idea. I'll have to think about it. My mother usually gives me a sweater for my birthday- and I'd far rather have a Chinese vase.

I haven't been to Standen. I must look it up in my NT handbook.
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[User Picture]From: wlotus
2010-03-23 09:03 pm (UTC)
I like watching Antiques Road Show on PBS here in NYC. It's interesting to hear the history of things and marvel at what some of that old stuff (some of it rather ugly) is worth.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-03-24 09:01 am (UTC)
There's a spin-off show running at the moment called Antiques Road Trip- in which various antiques experts, drive round the country, buying antiques and selling agaian at auction, in a competition to see who can make the biggest profit. It's on every weekday evening- and I'm an addict.
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[User Picture]From: drox
2010-03-24 01:47 am (UTC)
I'm a William Morris socialist- and that 18th century French lumber- with it's shouty ornamentation- is all about grinding the faces of the poor.

I can see that. But I take the opposite response. I have a lot of fancy and delicate antique (and just plain old) stuff that I love the look of. Probably none of it is exceptionally valuable, but all of it was bought for pennies on the dollar, mostly at auction. I see it as just a bit subversive that these once upper-class frou-frou items are now in the hands of regular working-class me.

Dealing in antiques is dealing in history. It's time travel.

Amen to this.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-03-24 09:15 am (UTC)
I know what you mean.

My grandfather was a boy from the slums who made good. There could well have been a touch of class revenge in his taste for very flamboyant, very aristocratic antiques.
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[User Picture]From: michaleen
2010-03-24 10:35 am (UTC)
I'm fussy about the dead people I choose to associate with.
Then I should avoid genealogy, if were you.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-03-25 07:00 pm (UTC)
I have a fair idea who my mother's people were. More recently they were Quakers and other kinds of nonconformist. Further back they were Earls of Stafford. I'm sure a lot of them were highly obnoxious- but that's family, innit?
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