A French Regence Gilded Stool,
mid 18th century
Advice to Collectors
By Helen Costantino Fioratti
The initials J.M.E (Jurande des Menuisier Ebenistes) often accompany a genuine signature, since it was a control mark stamped on by the Corporation of Cabinetmakers when the piece, already stamped by the maker, passed through the jurisdiction of that body. Sometimes one finds the signature of the maker without the control mark, but the only explanation possible for a control mark without a master's signature is that the latter has been obliterated through the years, by repairs, accident, shrinking of the wood fiber or some other cause. The J.M.E was at the time, a guarantee that the piece was, in fact, the work of the man who presented it to the Corporation for stamping. But furniture made to order for a definite client was frequently not stamped at all since there was no doubt since there was no doubt as to its origin. Similarly only a few pieces in sets of furniture were stamped, as stamping them all seemed useless, but in time, when sets were broken up and the pieces separated, it left some without any identification of authorship.
Consoles were very rarely signed. They were an integral part of the room, often related to and a part of the wall paneling and made for a specific place. Thus they did not as a rule pass through the menuisiers guild's control. Initials branded into a piece of furniture, sometimes surmounted by a crown, indicate the royal palace or chateau in which it belonged. Two signatures on the same piece of furniture should not cause consternation for there are several possible explanations. One is that two cabinetmakers often collaborated on a set of furniture and both signed. Another is that a dealer bought the piece from another, possibly on the death of the author, and added his own signature because it was sold from his shop. And as mentioned before, several signatures are often found on sets of furniture where all details are identical because two or more cabinetmakers collaborated on the set.
The best antique dealer is one who loves the things he has assembled and for whom his vocation is an all-consuming hobby as well as the source of his livelihood. He generally knows a great deal more about antiques than one is merely a shrewd merchant and buys anything he thinks he can sell at a profit. A dealer who is a collector at heart will study his material with deep interest and, as in all other occupations in life, one can only excel if one loves the profession and is willing to devote time and energy in its pursuit.
It is a curious fact that dealers like to buy furniture in bad condition which they are obliged to repair at considerable expense. Instead of being pleased when repairs have already been undertaken and paid for by someone else, they prefer to go through the whole process themselves. Perhaps it is because in this way they know exactly what has been done or perhaps because they believe that they can have the work done better than someone else would. Whatever the reason, it is a fact that each dealer likes to prepare his own merchandise for the market.
If a painting or drawings is meticulously framed by one owner, the next pulls off the frame and changes the whole aspect of the picture. There is enormous satisfaction in putting one's personal touch into its presentation and rarely, if ever, is one satisfied by what was done by the last owner. True, styles in framing have changed and what was considered perfect years ago, looks dowdy and tasteless today. However, a great crime that has been committed within the last decade, is the way in which fine, old, hand-carved period frames have been stripped of their original gilding or covered with white gesso (plaster) and rottenstone and been rubbed, in order to allow some of the gilding to peep through. This vandalism has been perpetrated in the name of modern art for such mutilated frames are considered the ideal presentation of Impressionist paintings!