Embellishment > Long Live Antiques!
While antiques are meant to be admired, they should also be used, says Judith Miller, author of more than a hundred books on the subject (see her recently published Miller’s Antiques Price Guide 2009 and Miller’s Collectibles Price Guide 2009) and a collector since her student days at Edinburgh University in the 1960s.
Miller, whose eye is keen and knowledge of the field encyclopedic, uses everything in her collection at home—with care, of course. “These pieces stand the test of time,” Miller says, “and they are also incredibly beautiful and useful.” She doesn’t understand how her daughter has “gone for Ikea,” which she believes is headed for “the skids, whereas my eighteenth-century pieces will be here for another two hundred years.”
For any purchase—new or old—Miller advises people to “think about how something is made.” Using the example of a ball-and-claw foot, she says “you can get a very ordinary one, or you can get one with an open talon, or one with sinews on it and even one with little hairs on it. Every time you have to think, ‘That is more difficult to do,’ that is [the work of] a more skilled craftsman, and you’ll see the quality of the work.”
Looking at pieces shown on these pages—which are in the collections of Ed Weissman Antiques and Northeast Auctions’ owner Ron Bourgeault (both in Portsmouth)—Miller concluded during her visit last fall that “these are really spectacular and really lovely.”
In addition, pieces such as these are getting more difficult to find at auction. “A lot of people desire the American pieces,” she explains, adding that while their craftsmanship is on par with those made in England, American pieces are more rare and more valuable because far fewer were produced.
Judith Miller looks at Ron Bourgeault’s sideboard made in Portsmouth in 1800 or 1810 from mahogany with bird’s-eye-maple inlay. The blue-and-white dishes on top are from Canton (now Guangzhou in China). Above the sideboard is a girandole, which is convex and amplifies light from candles.
Ed Weissman found this Hepplewhite chair and its mate in Savannah, Georgia, owned by a family whose ancestors settled in Manhattan from Holland in 1640. “The pineapple carving is quite rare and is, without question, the reason for half the chair’s value,” Weissman says.
Judith Miller, who is working on a book about chairs, proclaims this one “fabulous. I’ve noticed how many times in Savannah pineapples are carved on gateposts, doors and everything, as it’s a symbol of welcome. But I’ve never seen it on a chair back.”
Judith Miller and James Horan of Northeast Auctions take a look at Ron Bourgeault’s bombé, or kettle-based secretary, which was made in Boston around 1770. “It was owned by a family in Cambridge that moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts. It is purported that when the piece was in Cambridge, George Washington used it when he was headquartered there during the Revolution,” Bourgeault says. He acquired the Benjamin Franklin piece for the pediment and says, “What would have been there was very similar to this.”