My grandfather was a smart man.
Sensing trouble coming, he sold out of the stock market just ahead of the 1929 crash. His foresight allowed him to ride out the Depression quite comfortably in his Tudor house in Princeton, New Jersey.
He made another astute decision around the turn of the century.
When everyone was buying fussy Victorian furniture, he invested in sleek and beautiful Colonial pieces. He bought among other things, a Duncan Phyfe table, its mahogany surface inlaid with brass, patterns, a desk made in Newport, Rhode Island and a lovely little bureau with a curved front, most of which I now own.
My favorite inheritance is a signed grandfather clock, made by Aaron Willard, a well known Boston clockmaker of the eighteenth century.
In 1983 when I inherited these pieces from my parents, they were in high demand. An antiques dealer in Manhattan, NY used to telephone me regularly with cash offers for my clock.
I always turned him down because the clock’s melodious chiming took me back to happy days playing in my grandfather’s house.
About thirty five years ago, I had the clock, some furniture and a fistful of old silver appraised by a reputable firm. Their valuation made my head spin.
I thought of selling up and taking my loot to some tropical island to lounge away the rest of my life eating pineapple and drinking rum.
Of course I didn’t do any such thing, but perhaps I should have.
Recently I read about an event in New York. It used to be called The Winter Antiques Show, but this year its name has been changed to just The Winter Show.
Doesn’t that say it all? The Manhattan socialites and millionaires who used to fight over sideboards from Charleston and recamier sofas are passing them by in favor of steel and leather furniture, preferably made by Eames.
And it’s not just millionaires turning up their collective noses at what is today lumped together under the homely term “brown furniture.” Ah no.
I have two grandsons who are furnishing their own places, one in Santa Monica and one in Echo Park.
“Take anything in the attic,” I said with a grandiose wave of the hand. Their smiles were wan, but dutifully they trudged around, lifting sheets off two lovely half round tables, passing quickly by a nice upholstered wing chair. I wasn’t dumb enough to offer the antique silver that’s cluttering up my pantry to a pair of single males in their twenties.
In 1956, my husband and I gladly accepted any furniture our families cast off, even a scarred old maple coffee table that lived with us for far too many years.
A recent viewing of Antiques Road Show exposed me to an expert sadly shaking his head as he viewed a lovely inlaid bookcase that had been in someone’s family for five generations.
“Sorry, the price has gone way down for that type of thing,” said the guy backing away as if he suspected cobwebs and cockroaches lurked within the piece.
I’m happy enough co-existing with my houseful of brown furniture. It goes well with my old house and truth be told, I’m not so young myself.
By the time I cast off this mortal coil, antiques may be back in style. Fashion is fickle and just when you think you have its number, it moves on.
Any day now an Eames chair will be considered old hat and people will be fighting over brass bed warmers.
Yes, I have one of those too.