Antique Furniture for the Sustainable Consumer

Thomas Faed oil sketch
Thomas Faed - Interior Scene with Two Mothers in Conversation beside Two Coy Children, oil sketch over pencil traces on board, signed

The news seems to be increasingly focused on climate change and the World’s resources. In the West decades of cheap imports from emerging economies have given us a false sense of the price of things. With ever growing international demand for finite resources raw materials must, overtime, continue to rise inexorably. Things will become ever more expensive and once again items will have to be built to last and be repairable. Our sense of value should of course take account of pay and conditions for the workers in the factories and workshops which can sell their wares for so little.

George III figured mahogany chest of drawers
A fine George III figured mahogany serpentine front chest of drawers
George III mahogany chest of drawers
A George III mahogany chest of drawers with brushing slide

When I started out as an Antique and Fine Art Auctioneer and Valuer some thirty years I can remember driving across a field to a cottage outside Horsham to be met by an elderly gentleman with a snow white beard. There was no electricity and the water for our tea came from a hand pump well. Victorian oil lamps filled the corners of his room and the house smelt comfortingly of wood smoke. I felt that I had stepped into a 19th century painting like the one illustrated by the 19th century Royal Scottish Academician, Thomas Faed. This small oil sketch with pencil traces depicts a comfortable interior scene with two mothers in conversation as the children shyly glance awkwardly at each other. This delightful painting was auctioned at Toovey’s for £1700.

At that time a phrase you often heard amongst the well to do middle class was “we’re too poor to buy rubbish.” There was something so practical and sensible in buying good quality items that would last. For a generation who had married and set up home before and after the wars antique furniture, both from their families and bought, provided the opportunity to have beautiful things in an age of austerity, rationing and a shortage of raw materials.

Fine examples of English furniture still command good prices like this George III mahogany serpentine front chest of drawers with its beautiful figured mahogany. The timber seems to be alive in the way that it reflects the light. It realised £3200 at Toovey’s. But a well-proportioned George III mahogany chest of drawers with a brushing slide like the one illustrated can be purchased at auction for about £400 and will give pleasure and utility to your family over generations to come, with no impact on the World’s diminishing resources.

The time has come for us to reassess brown furniture. Prices can only rise for these pieces which combine the aesthetic with quality and longevity. Perhaps once again we will be heard to say “we’re too poor to buy rubbish.” Toovey’s next sale of fine furniture will be held on Friday 25th April 2014.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 9th April 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.