Why do we call things what we call them?

This business is full of words...we have touched on jargon and other topics on this blog, here we go again…

Working off of our last post, we discussed how in the general collector population a chair can be a “Sheraton Side Chair” but that almost always in auction catalogs and in formal cataloging that same chair would be referred to as a “George III Side Chair”. Is it just people in the business trying to be fancier than the clients?

Not really. This all comes down to attribution. If you think about a painting by a famous artist there are some facts that clearly connect the painting to the artist... signature, dating, inscriptions on the back, inclusion in the catalog raisonne...things that immutably link the work to the maker. The furniture world, especially in the 18th century, is not so cut and dry. Take our Side Chair, Thomas Sheraton’s The Cabinet Maker and Upholsterers Drawing Book,

first published in 1791, was a guide. In fact, when the book was published, he did not have a workshop, he was a designer. There simply is no way to attribute that chair to Sheraton’s personal or corporate handiwork. There are examples, especially with Chippendale’s works, where a piece can be specifically attributed because the household that purchased it clearly notes where it came from, these pieces are few and far between. Attributed furniture is generally found in either longstanding collections with immaculate records or in rare cases, specifically signed by the workshop (Goddard and Townsend in Newport, RI as an example).

In the auction business, your word is everything. So when items are titled and described, the cataloger needs to be absolutely certain that the piece is exactly what it is, without excessive elaboration. So a Sheraton Side Chair becomes a George III Mahogany Side Chair. Often the reference to the designer is even left out of the description unless it is a nearly perfect match to a design in one of the published books. In everyday practice, the luxury of looking up designs in old books rarely is afforded.

So we are not trying to be fancier than you, we are being honest with you and let you know everything we know for certain about the piece.

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