A Lovejoy Antiques Adventure!
Jonathan Gash has written a series of entertaining books about a prankish British antique dealer named Lovejoy. This week, as a fun way of understanding how professional dealers might inspect an antique, let's join Lovejoy and his friend Tinker, on an antique buying trip in America. They spot a handsome one drawer side table in a shop.
Lovejoy takes a few paces back to get a better perspective of the table's form and color. He likes it. The table has balanced proportions, slender tapered legs, a square thin top and good "overhang." It's 28 inches tall, cherry. The surface retains a rich glowing patina, which gives the piece added integrity.
Lovejoy: "It's heavy, isn't it Tink?"
Tinker: "A real monster, Lovejoy! Ghastly!"
As the shop tender wipes his brow, reconsidering the quality of his table, Lovejoy checks the price tag: $400, a good buy. Lovejoy does not let on. He cringes as he drops the tag.
"Four-hundred dollars!" Lovejoy gasps.
"Things are pricey in the States," Tinker says. The elderly assistant pulls out the table's drawer. The drawer sides are secured with hand-cut dovetails-good!
Tinker runs his hand along the drawer bottom, feeling the proper wavy undulations that come from hand planing. He notices a slight dark to light color transference from the front of the drawer (exposed to more air) to the rear. The subtle color difference one thing a pro looks for. There's a small patched hole in the drawer face meaning the brass pull is replaced. Tinker can live with that. Keeping his poker face he holds the drawer away from him as if it were a dead skunk.
"The brass is a replacement, Lovejoy!"
Lovejoy groans as he picks up the drawerless table. He sees that the feet are worn and slightly pitted. He sees not diagonal splice lines on the legs indicating a repair. Now he looks to make sure the top is original. A replacement top can be ruinous to antique value. He sees modern shiny screws attaching the top to the base. Not good, but perhaps someone resecured the top. Pit saw marks. Good color. The table's style and workmanship indicate it's almost 200 years old.
Lovejoy scratches the underside of the table with the back of his fingernail-a whitish scuff mark. Good! If table bottom was stained to face the darkening of age, the scuff mark would disappear because stain bleeds deep into soft wood. Lovejoy notices a distinct lighter color where the top meets the base. Less oxidation-excellent! The top is "right." Lovejoy puts the table down and Tinker slides the drawer back in.
Lovejoy: "Do you think we can use it for scrap, Tink?"
Tinker shrugs. "Offer the gentlemen $100 American dollars," he says.
Shop Owner: "This is a quality American Hepplewhite table!"
Lovejoy: "If I buy it, I'll expect a proper receipt and lifetime guarantee as to that. Now what's you BEST price?"
Shop owner: "Five-hundred dollars."
Lovejoy: "You were only asking four!"
The shop proprietor grins. "You ask me what MY best is. Five hundred is MY best. Much better than four. Take it or leave it."
Lovejoy and Tinker did get a good antique table, but the had to pay for it. Inspecting antiques like a pro is hands-on work.