By Helen Costantino Fioratti
An Introduction to
Collecting French Furniture
By Helen Costantino Fioratti
Through usage, the adjective "antique" has become a noun, and the word "antiquity" now implies an object of very remote times. The United States Custom House had fixed 1830 as the deadline, and any item (with exception of rugs) produced prior to that date was considered an antique and could be entered into the United States without payment of duty.
Many American so-called "antiques" are of later date, but since America is a relatively young country and there would be no question of importation, the definition of an antique can vary and the one-hundred-year-old piece now qualifies.
With so long a history as that of France, things which were made after 1830 seem almost modern, but even there, as the fine things of the eighteenth century grow scarcer and more expensive by leaps and bounds, some young people furnishing their homes are now turning toward the nineteenth-century Louis Philippe period.
The art of France has always been so great and far-reaching in all its branches that it is most difficult to select the essential facts without wearying the lay reader with many dates and names. Without going into great detail, one cannot conscientiously cover the vast ground or do justice to France's enormous contributions to civilization and to culture. France has been in the vanguard since the Renaissance, and has been the cradle and arbiter of styles and tastes since that time.
Collecting antiques is a most delightful and rewarding hobby and one which can be enjoyed at any age. It provides a cultural interest long after other entertainments have begun to pall. A true collector is never bored. When he is not actively searching he can be reading and studying, and he will never cease to learn.
Some may regard collecting as a rich man's pastime, but many people of limited means are able to find lovely things within their reach if they do not concentrate on the periods most in vogue. Furthermore, many collectors have had the exhilarating experience of finding that which were regarded as their greatest extravagances in the past now proving to be their soundest investments. What could be more delightful than to indulge oneself in the purchase of beautiful things and to find that one has augmented one's worldly wealth in the process? To surround oneself with beauty is a wise and salutary thing to do and in the present economic state of world finance it can be done with a clear conscience, with the knowledge that one is serving the interests of one's heirs rather than depriving them of their inheritance.
In America we had a group of great collectors in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude for having left their splendid collections to our museums, where we can study and enjoy examples of France's decorative arts at their best.
In this age of simpler living, with fewer servants and with ceilings in new houses constantly losing altitude in exact ratio to the increasing height of the already tall Americans, provincial furniture is often more appropriate that the elaborate type intended for high-ceilinged palaces with liveried servants.