Is There Wrong Furniture?

Every industry has its share of jargon. Unfortunately, a lot of times this serves to separate those in the know from those just learning. Let's stop some of that today.

A few months ago, I was looking at a piece of furniture with a friend who is also in the business and one of us (probably me) said, “I think it’s right”. I heard a whisper behind me from two nice ladies... “Can furniture be wrong?”

When someone says an object is “Right”, they mean that it is of the Period. Wait, that's still confusing…. Let’s take an object, say a “Buroe Table” from Chippendale’s Directory. The Directory was essentially a subscription catalog, where people of means could order furniture in the latest tastes and designs of the day. So Sir John would order one from Chippendale, it has bracket feet, a kneehole, and carved drawer faces. If that piece, Sir John’s, shows up in an auction today, it would be “of the period”... or right. It was made when the style was first en vogue, its an antique, its 250 or so years old. It would be cataloged for auction as “George III Mahogany Kneehole Desk” and the description would probably start “From Chippendale’s Directory (Plate#)...

The thing is, none of those design elements were owned by Chippendale. In fact, some of the designs are so popular, they are recreated today. Now if we see a kneehole desk that has all of the same design elements, but obviously was constructed at a later date, it would be cataloged as “George III Style Mahogany Kneehole Desk” and the description may start “In the manner of Chippendale….”

Is there wrong furniture? No, there is not. These attributions are based on the fact that there are indeed pieces in circulation that are 250 years old, and they need to be identified as such. More importantly, the pieces made at a later date need to be clearly identified as not of the period. That does not make them wrong, it just makes them constructed at a later date. Since price and collectibility generally trend higher the older a piece is, its an important distinction.

The best advice for those buying any objects is to buy the best example of a form that you can comfortably afford. If you are starting a collection, buy what you can now with the idea of trading up as your interest and budget allow. This serves to minimize buyers remorse and give the collector ample opportunity to grow their knowledge and expertise.

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