Antiques is one of the few areas where it is celebrated to be old. The older the better – the greater the age the more forgiving we become. You see pieces of furniture going up for sale and the vendor expecting hundreds and hundreds of pounds because it came from the Georgian or early Elizabethan age. Yet, a similarly knocked up piece on the High Street is being sold for fifty quid and that comes without knocks or scrapes or handles missing.
The first argument in defence of the OAP of the furniture world is that craftsmen really knew how to make good cupboards. The mere name “craftsmen” invokes a romantic image of a man with his chisel labouring over a cornice, shaping the perfect curve. We become wistful and we yearn to stroke the shapes created in the mind’s eye of a genius at work. Exaggerated tone aside, there is something uniquely pleasing about a well-constructed joint, like a castle turret, inter-locked in perfect symmetry.
Then, there is the idea in the buyer’s mind of the history of the furniture. It is wonderful to imagine the rooms the furniture has lived in and the hands that have reached into drawers – searching for the little black key to the hidden garden that lives behind the ivy. You can almost hear Thomas Hardy in the corner of the room reciting verse about the hay in the field or the pollen in the trees. The furniture belongs to a gentler, kinder time and some of its delicacy is transported into our lives. Then, in times of pure fantasy, we imagine ourselves as heroes, saving some of the past for the future generations…
But, then there is the truth that for the furniture to have lasted so long means it is made by the best hands in the best material and therefore its cost reflects the product. Gold inlay, rare woods, ivory carving: it is likely that antique furniture is more than just old. Plus, with inflation and the changing value of money, there is every possibility that these pieces did cost less more then than they do now – it is just that our wealth has increased and our understanding of what money means is different. Investing in furniture is a highly speculative business and with passing fashions high prices come and go. Therefore, maybe the value placed on age is merely an illusion we create to justify buying something that has captured our heart.
Still, when we listen to the auctioneer and he says the immortal phrase: “Come on now, this has good age!” we know this is a rallying cry to covet something precious and raise our hand again and again.