A Conversation with Esteemed Antiques Dealer, David Dunton
Specializing in choice antiques of the American Federal Period, Connecticut dealer, David Dunton has, for 25 years, contributed time and scholarship to historical causes. He has been called a perfectionist. His professional ethics and high standards for quality have distinguished him as one of America's premier dealers.
Q. Dave, what's the "Federal Period?"
A. The Federal Period began after the American Revolution was concluded in 1783 and runs through/past the first quarter of the 19th century.
Q. What characterized the style during those years? What was on the mind of the American people?
A. From a design standpoint it was a combination of the English Regency and French influences. American design had largely been dependent upon English design prior to the Revolution. After the Revolution, the English were out of favor for obvious reasons ...
Q. (Laughing) So politics played a part in defining style?
A. That's right. The French influence came in very strongly because the French were supportive of the Americans against the British. So, in the design centers in major cities: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore-more French design was coming in.
Q. And it blended in with the English traditions creating something new?
A. Yes. Something uniquely American. Of course there were many uniquely American interpretations of English design before the Federal Period, but this movement was stronger and less reliant on British influence.
Q. What draws you to the Federal Period?
A. The purity of line. Federal furniture is more dependent upon form and line than embellishment.
Q. How does one distinguish between American Federal and the European furniture design it was based on?
A. Once you have versed yourself in the subject it eventually becomes apparent to the eye that there is something distinctly different going on. There is the entrance of naiveté, which is probably based on the isolation of American cabinet makers from the great design centers of London and Paris.
Q. American furniture dealers often refer to "tapered" rectanguar legs as "Hepplewhite"(George d. 1786), and "turned" legs as "Sheraton"(Thomas c1751-1806). Would they relate to this in England?
A. They would be a little confused with what you're saying. If you look at Sheraton's design book you'll find he used the tapered leg as well as the turned leg. That's an American interpretation. Both legs are a common in Federal furniture, however.
Q. Your ads describe you as offering, "Antiques of the Federal Period." What do you mean by that?
A. Prior to the 1820's/30's, Americans were, to a great extent, dependent upon England and the Continent for accessories like glass and porcelain. I focus on American furnishings and European accessories that might have been in an American home of say, 1800-1820. This would include an occasional American accessory as well.
Q. Who were your favorite Federal period craftsman and why?
A. You're not going to get a very good answer from me.
Q. Do your best. This is Mike Wallace and you're on Sixty Minutes!
A. I don't really think we know enough about American craftsman to be certain who made what. There's not enough identifying furniture to pick and choose between them. So, I don't have favorites.
Q. We can learn a lesson from that, David. Pros put line ahead of byline!