Stool Pigeon?

Not really, for the one illustrated is the genuine article, not a commercial decoy.  Stools are among the earliest forms of seating, but those made to be mechanically adjustable specifically for the better playing of musical instruments did not come into general use until the last half of the 18th century. These had a round upholstered seat supported on a wooden central screw threaded column, raised or lowered simply by turning the seat.  By the early 1800 the wood, which was prone to wear and collapse, with sometimes disastrous results, was superseded by a metal mechanism for the more expensive models. So how do we know that this is in fact the real thing, the top of the range, from the late Regency period.                                                 

Firstly, the high quality of timber and carving, then the design, which research into design books of leading makers will reveal its prototype.  This is important; like everything that becomes the height of fashion in an exclusive coterie, it is copied cheaply to be made available to a mass market and quickly loses its desirability. Just so with antique English furniture, and in particular that of the 1815 - 1835 period.

After that later date it was no longer commercially viable to produce and there were so many new designs appearing all the time to win favour. So here it is the discovery of a page of illustrations in the 1827 edition of George Smith's   'A Collection of Designs for Household Furniture and Interior Decoration', which shows a stool with such close similarity as to dispel any doubts of authenticity when allied with the features just mentioned.  Smith was an important and well established designer, cabinet maker and the Prince Regent's 'upholsterer extraordinary' and this and his other two publications are a constant reference to high-style furniture of the time. By the way, when used in conjunction with pigeon, the word stool may come from the old early  'stoale' or tree stump where a decoy bird might perch, or my favourite, which is the French word 'estale' meaning a pigeon set as a decoy to trap a hawk.

Every Good Seat Deserves a Good Caning.

Sir Robert Walpole was First Lord of the Treasury, Leader of the House of Commons and Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1721 – 1730. Among his many innovations the one most pertinent to the antiques trade was his advocacy of the bonded Warehouse.  Were it not for them we would not have the enormous amount of fabulous wares from all over the world which we now consider to part of our national heritage. Plus of course the luxury items for immediate consumption like exotic spices which changed our way of living forever.  Of the more mundane materials to be arriving in bulk since their earlier controlled supply in the late 17th century was cane.  When spliced and interwoven across a wooden frame it created a light and  more comfortable seat and back for a chair than had ever been known.   So exclusive was it to begin with that only His Majesty King Charles II could afford to have a set of folding and caned chairs for his tents on Hounslow Heath when he went to view the horseraces.  The earliest canework will show quite large holes, around 1.5cm, whereas by the 1690’s the work was much finer with holes reduced to .75cm.  By this time the demand for cane had spread and the craft of weaving it was starting to grow into an industry, only to be thwarted by the introduction of webbed upholstery much as we know it today.  So from the 1730’s cane seats and backs were rarely seen on sophisticated chairs until the classical period of the last quarter of the 18th when delicate seating demanded lightweight supports for cushions.  From then on, and indeed until the 1930’s,  we see complete sets of settees and chairs with all-round caning to seats, backs and sides.  Out of fashion again in the 1950’s, mainly because so many extant examples needed repair – by its very nature it was prone to damage – it is gratifying to see that once again the craft of weaving cane is coming back to prominence in both creating the new and renovating the old.  Every good seat deserves a good caning.   

How to Avoid Desserting your Pudding!

And so dear reader once again we hear the call for a dry January. I shall respond in time-honoured fashion by taking no more than two Dry Martini cocktails of an evening. This is really an excuse to bring in my drinks tray, laden with the necessary bottles – such a lovely holly-green colour – ‘v’ shaped glass, mixing jug full of ice, the strainer and a long-handled stirring spoon, and place it on the coffee table in front of the fire.  Even before beginning the ritual of preparing the drink I feel better just watching the sparkle of reflected candle and fire light in the worn but still-bright surface of Old Sheffield Plate.  Oval or rectangular, silver or plate any such tray will create the same effect.  In summer I like to use an 18th century mahogany one, with a brass banded border.  These also come in all shapes and sizes, ages and price range, and the deep brown timber can look so evocative of the past in the early evening light of the garden.  Trays have been with us for a long while and can give us a fascinating insight into our social history as far back as pre-Tudor times when they were called Voiders, sometimes spelt with a ‘y’.  This was because formal meals in great households were held in the main Hall followed by dancing, and the time it took to clear the dining accoutrements was called the ‘void’ – Old French for ‘empty’ – and the trays the staff used took their name from that.  During this interval the revellers would take their sticky pudding, also known as ‘the void’, and stroll around the house  or walk along the roof tops depending on the season. And here we come to the point. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I we adopted the New French vocabulary, wherein the term for ‘empty’ was translated as ‘dessert’.  What with Entrée and Dessert it’s a wonder we don’t have a French word for Menu. Anyway my first drink today will definitely be an English Dry Martini, as an aperitif naturally.

Over £25,000 raised from our charity art auction!

The ‘Ken Howard and Friends- The Auction' in aid of Kids for Kids, the charity helping the forgotten children of Darfur, raised a remarkable £25,000 at last month’s 50/50 auction in our gallery. 

Ken Howard invited his friends and top artists to join together to help raise funds for children in Darfur. With the funds received by Kids for Kids we will be able to provide 207 goats for 34 families – saving over 200 children from malnutrition.  In two years time, kids from those goats will help even more children.    

The paintings were displayed amongst our antique furniture and lit by chandeliers, turning it into an unique Exhibition of works by exceptional artists.  Many of the artists joined us and Ken Howard at the Private Views and the Auction, including Tom Coates, Mary Jackson, Salliann Putman, Sue Ryder, Toby Ward, Patrick Cullen, David Parfitt and Melissa Scott-Miller.  An event with this many artists of such a high calibre coming together is rare, and we were absolutely thrilled to have such wonderful pieces to Auction. 

Patricia Parker MBE, Chairman and CEO Kids for Kids said:  "We are grateful to the artists for their incredible artwork, and for supporting Kids for Kids and to all those who helped us in organizing this fabulous event: John and James Bly letting us use the John Bly Gallery and their expertise in hanging the paintings, which was integral to the success, and the magazines and online platforms for helping us to publicise the evening (with special thanks to The New English Art Club for their support!)!   “Art turned into healthy children – what a wonderful success”.


Hope for an Elegant Game.

The earliest known definitive reference to Chess was in 600 AD and by 1000 AD it had become widespread across Europe and Russia thanks to the Moors introducing it to Spain and Sicily. What we recognise as the modern game was established by the beginning of the 16th century and so we find records of Tudor furniture inlaid with chequer boards of contrasting colour woods and other materials.  As the range of household furniture and the timbers and styles of their manufacture increased so did the variety of pieces with game boards as integral accessories. Some tops were reversable thus providing a double use, others were made to be visible displays of the wealth and taste of the owner.  Although there were professional chess players in 1600 it was more than a century before games were recorded as they were played, and it was from this period that furniture both grand and eccentric can be found to include a chess board.  A fine example is the table illustrated, made to a design by one Thomas Hope, whose name is synonimous with the most recognisable Neo-Classical movement of the English Regency period which stylistically ran from 1784 - 1830.  This was when George, Prince of Wales and later George IV was the chief arbiter of taste and style to his coterie of cognoscenti and fashionistas.  The hugely wealthy Thomas Hope 1769 - 1831 is best known for his book of designs entitled 'Household Furniture and Interior Decoration' published in 1807, in which can be seen his drawings of the interiors of his London and country homes, in Duchess Street and The Deepdene near Dorking. Both were altered to house his collection of antiquities from the Greek, Egyptian and Roman ages with furniture designed by him to complement their display.  The publication helped to further his taste among a wider audience and became what we recognise today as being the ultimate Regency style.  This table faithfully follows that with its inverted baluster end supports, classical bronzed mounts and of course an inset chess board of 32 different types of variegated marble.  Which is why we need Hope for an Elegant Game.


Ivory or Not to Be.

Decoration of any object for the purpose of beautification rather than camouflage has been used for thousands of years. As time went by the degree of sophistication of such enhancement and the range of media used advanced almost beyond belief.

To take one example I have chosen the craft of inlay; where the surface of an object is excavated in a pattern to receive alternative and contrasting coloured materials to accentuate that pattern. On furniture of say walnut structure the inlay may be of ebony, pale boxwood or sycamore dyed green with oxide of iron.  Or it might be ivory.  Throughout the 16th to the late 19th century this decoration was highly prized but the raw material was hard to come by. In such a situation cheaper alternative materials are always found.  Here the produce of molluscs came to the rescue in the form of the armour of the Pinctada, the Haliotis and the Caenogastropoda to be supplemented by Ivorine (celluloid) in the 1850’s. Importantly for the craftsmen the difference between mollusc and ivory is indistinguishable to the naked eye and therefore it is obvious that not all that was described as ivory was in fact from a noble tusk.  By the late 18th century, when collecting fine furniture from an earlier period became fashionable, those handling the sales, later to be known as ‘antique’ dealers, were keen always to declare the use of ivory to further its appeal and increase the value. This practice continued until 1st July 1975, on which day there came into force legislation called CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. So now the export of ivory across the globe is strictly controlled if not forbidden, but trade in the humble periwinkle is not.  Get your abalone here ….but you’ll need a scientifically verified certificate to prove it, one way or the other. How things have changed.