1) When you are looking at a piece of antique furniture and thinking of buying it, get to know your dealer. Are they a member of an accredited trade association like LAPADA, CADA or BADA. They will have needed to prove to the boards of these associations not only that they have expert knowledge but that they are of good standing within the antiques trade and are reputable dealers.
The dealer should have a wealth of knowledge which they will be happy to share particularly when discussing an item. Naturally they will praise their own stock but don’t be afraid to ask questions about an item and have them satisfactorily answered. The age of any piece is of course very important but just as vital is the way it has been treated over two or even three hundred years. The vendor should be able to tell you, using their expert knowledge what restoration, if any, has been done over the centuries.
2) It is almost unheard of for a piece to have survived from say 1750 without undergoing any conservation and if you seek a piece which looks brand new then you should not be looking to buy an antique. Remember however that when these pieces were made, they were useful pieces of everyday furniture made to be used every day of their lives. The methods of construction and the materials used back in the 17th, 18th and 19th. centuries by the incredibly skilled cabinetmakers allowed for servicing of these pieces in much the same way as a we all accept the servicing of the modern-day car. Don’t be put off if the conservation is in keeping with the life of the piece.
Drawer runners are often replaced in order to maintain the free running of the drawers and if the handles on a piece have been replaced as they wore out or fell off, that is not the end of the world provided they have been replaced with suitable handles in keeping with the originals and not replaced with something much fancier in order to enhance the supposed value of the item. I make it an absolute rule not to buy pieces which have important elements missing i.e. a drawer missing from a chest or a leg missing from a table. No matter how good the restoration, the value of the piece has been compromised.
3) There is a lot of chatter amongst dealers and clients about patina and original finish. The character of these pieces is that they do have occasional marks in the surfaces and the accretion of dirt in hard to dust places or in carved elements. Most items of furniture will have had many years of wax polishing and occasional remedial work to the surface finish. This is part and parcel of the enduring delight these can bring to almost any home. Accept them with their faults and buy from a knowledgeable dealer who is there not just today but into the future.
A good dealer will want to build a long-term relationship with you, his client and look after your collection for future generations. That is why I am today dealing with the second and third generations of some of the families my Father dealt with nearly 70 years ago. But it is not a one-way traffic either. I am purchasing pieces back that he sold 60 years ago as friends’ needs change and they move home or whatever.
David Harvey is a well known Antiques Dealer who owns WR Harvey & Co (Antiques) Ltd, in the bustling Cotswold market town of Witney, Oxfordshire. He has a life long passion for fine antique furniture and works of Art. You may very well see him at prominent Antiques Fairs up and down the UK but you will always be more than welcome to call in and see him at the shop. His other passions include rowing and down-hill skiing.