A French Marquetry Table with Gilt Bronze Mounts and Secret Drawer Opening in Apron
Stamped: Pierre Macret
(1727 – 1796, active 1756 – 1785)
Advice to Collectors
By Helen Costantino Fioratti
People are always searching for finds and hoping they will discover some wonderful object in an out of the way place. It is not absolutely impossible, but highly improbable that an amateur can pick up some very rare thing for the proverbial song. One finds nice little bits in the provinces of France, here and there, but they are generally priced as high, if not higher, than they would be in Paris or New York. If the amateur would only realized that whatever he is offered has already been sifted by the great dealers, by specialists in every field and even by the intermediary traveling dealers, known as courtiers, he would understand that if an apparently fine piece is left, it is because it was deemed false by the experts.
The famous Marche au Pus, or flea market, in Paris, as well as the Swiss village and other similar markets in London, Rome, Madrid, and other large centers offer much amusement and spurious antiques ad infinitum. Some of the Paris dealers go to the flea market so early in the morning that almost everything really desirable is sold before some of the stands have even opened. The remaining merchandise is usually brought in from Paris shops which find it much easier, and more profitable, to do business with foreigners there in the market, than in their shops. People love going to the flea market on a lark and make purchases they would not dream of making in a town or at home.
In the course of a lifetime prices fluctuate as fashions change, or as times are prosperous or the reverse. In this age of increasing production costs of contemporary furniture and reproductions; even every simple provincial antiques have risen in value over the last decade. Honest, genuine furniture of the simpler type has grown extremely difficult to find in France today and is correspondingly expensive. There is something very homelike and cozy about simple French furnishings, which are most appealing and appropriate for use in American houses, for they are gay, charming, and unpretentious.
On of the surest methods of learning about antiques is to buy them with one's own money for the eye is sharpened by the expenditure of personal funds. Studying the history of art and knowing styles is most important, but some students who know a great deal in theory are very uncertain in judging a specific piece. Never having taken the risk of overextending themselves in spending their own money, they never achieve the same knowledge as one who has plunged into collecting in a practical way. On the other hand, some relatively uneducated men who deal in antiques acquire an eye and considerable ability to distinguish a good piece from a bad one. Insurance appraisers for instance, are often good at their task because of much practice, but certainly not all of them know what they are looking at. The official United States government appraisers as the Port of New York also deserve a word of praise at this point for they are extraordinarily capable in their various specialties. In France some conspicuously knowledgeable men are appointed "experts of the tribunal" or "experts of the Custom House." These are honorific titles and those on whom they have been conferred have a right to use them as titles and on their stationary, but they are paid for their services only as and when they are called upon for their opinions.
The other so-called experts are self-appointed, as they are in the rest of the world. However, they may be as capable as those who have taken the trouble to see official recognition for it does not follow that appointed experts never make mistakes. Infallibility does not exist, but some individuals who through great experience have attained considerable ability and judgment, come as close to the distinction as is possible.
To become a real connoisseur requires work, patience and close observation for a long period of time. Intuition plays a part, but even the qualities described by this misleading word is only developed after long study and after the mind and eye have accustomed themselves to, and are filled with, the lines, colors, and qualities of the material in question. One requires real knowledge as a basis of one's "flair," otherwise it is too unreliable to be of value.
The great pieces of furniture and decorations which were made for the French Court are the finest that have ever been produced in the world and are therefore the last word in elegance and France's triumph in the decorative arts.