By Helen Costantino Fioratti
An Introduction to
Collecting French Furniture
By Helen Costantino Fioratti
A more efficient tool is producing an uneven effect is a dentist's drill which is now used by imitators. Furthermore, worms never expose their channel on the outside of a piece of wood, therefore if channels are found on the exterior it means one of two things: either the wood was so completely eaten away under the surface that the outside collapsed and the piece had to be planed down, or else the piece was made of old wood from some other source. You cannot recut worm-eaten wood without running into such channels. Frequently such havoc is wrought by worms under the surface that what appears to be a sound piece is like cork or powdered wood in its interior.
Many people erroneously believe that a piece of furniture made of "old materials" has more quality than it would otherwise have and are proud of it for that reason. Perhaps the finish is mellower than that of a piece fresh from the factory, but actually, this form of forgery does not enhance value above that of a frank reproduction; although it might very well fool the inexperience eye.
There is no royal road to recognition of an antique. The best possible method is that of looking and observing carefully on every possible occasion and studying the shapes, lines and general aspect of pieces of unquestioned authenticity. Experts examine pieces very carefully, from every angle and upside down, as well as the insides, backs, and carcasses of cupboards, cabinets, and commodes.
A sense of touch is helpful in judging antiques for long use gives smoothness which cannot be produced artificially. Even the color of the wood on the underside of the chair tells a story. Some gilded chairs were painted a yellowish color before the gesso and gold leaf were applied, a treatment which masks the original wood color and makes it necessary to look for other signs. In America, upholsterers have a bad habit of finishing the underside of a chair with a black cotton material to cover the webbing. This is a great obstacle in examining a chair.
Even if one is sufficiently expert to recognize the difference between the real and the spurious, which takes years of experience; one must be careful in purchasing sets of even pairs of chairs to make certain that all of them are genuine. Often there are only one or two antique chairs, which have been copied to form a set. This is especially true of dining room chairs, which are extremely hard to find in the required number. There is nothing wrong with using good reproductions where the real thing is unobtainable: the point is to know what one is getting and to pay accordingly.
However, it is not at all unusual when finding a set of genuine chairs of the period to discover a number of different signatures, or no signature at all one some pieces and two or three different ones on the other chairs or on the matching canapé. In the eighteenth century when work was done so meticulously by hand it took a great deal of time for one man to finish a set. A cabinetmaker employed other men to help him and the work was divided. It also happened that a householder might want more chairs after the first were already in his possession. Then he ordered more, which were not always executed by the same hand. This accounts for the slight variations in details to be found in sets, but there is no drawback whatsoever in any of these differences nor is there any lessening of value as a result.
Bergeres which were originally made in pairs and are of greater value as such, have frequently been separated when a parent, foolishly determined to show no partiality toward either of two children left one to each. Thus, they were separated forever, reducing their value and doing a great disservice to posterity. In order to restore them to a pair, modern cabinetmakers have made copies, more or less accurate, which can easily fool the unwary.