Living in Asia, I haven't had experience with European antiques. I'm interested in Regency furniture. Any tips?
WHAT THE EXPERT SAYS
'The Regency period is anomalous because it covers more than the period from 1811-1820, when King George III was pronounced insane and his son, George, Prince of Wales, was made Prince Regent,' says David Harvey, managing director of British-based dealers W.R. Harvey & Co.
The prince, who eventually became King George IV, had an insatiable appetite for collecting, says Harvey. He influenced fine and decorative arts from as early as 1800 until his death in 1830. 'The Regency period is accepted as being those 30 years,' Harvey says. 'His furnishing of Carlton House in London and the Royal Pavilion in Brighton fused many strands of artistic endeavour such as the gothic, neoclassical and oriental into one style. The same was true for his lavish refurbishments of Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.'
'During this period, France and Britain were locked in a global battle for dominance, which was finally settled with Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo,' Harvey says. 'This victory saw Britain become the most powerful trading nation of the 19th century, which in turn influenced every aspect of the arts.'
Through the colonies, British cabinet-makers had greater access to exotic woods such as satinwood, rosewood, goncalo alves and coromandel. 'Special finishes were developed, with simulated rosewood and japanned or lacquered work being much favoured, as well as the inlaying of brass into other woods,' he says.
The Industrial Revolution and improved transport channels increased trade and helped Britain become the global industrial leader of the era. With this new wealth came greater confidence, expressed through the nation's furniture and furnishings.
'The Regency period is typified by a boldness of design [using] much bolder icons from Egypt such as sphinxes, lions, dolphins and eagles,' Harvey says. 'Many of these were observed first-hand by British troops during the Napoleonic wars on all five continents.'
In addition to London, other centres of fine furniture-making sprouted. For instance, Gillows of Lancaster supplied furniture to wealthy merchants, landed gentry and clients in Britain's colonies. 'Unlike many makers, Gillows often stamped their pieces and it's always exciting to find one of these attributable items,' Harvey says. 'The stamp is usually on the top edge of a drawer. Many designers influenced the Regency period. Thomas Sheraton's fine neoclassically based designs stand the test of time as being one of the cornerstones for this period, in contrast to the more robust Egyptian-influenced examples of Thomas Hope. Another influential designer was George Bullock.'
TIPS FOR NEW COLLECTORS
'I always urge people to remember that the craftsman had to sell his wares,' Harvey says. 'At the start of the 19th century, if the client wasn't happy with a piece of new furniture for any reason, then the craftsman wouldn't be paid. Pieces were constructed to the most exacting standards to ensure satisfaction, which is why considerable quantities are still available from that time.'
Harvey advises collectors to avoid pieces that have been altered or had major structural restoration. 'The most important point is to establish a strong relationship with an expert dealer,' he says.
'Because the value of these pieces has risen over the years there are now people who are producing fakes, but these shouldn't be confused with reproductions and copies.
'Whether you're buying a tea caddy for #500 [$6,280] or a breakfront library bookcase for #50,000, I'd always advise clients to buy the best quality they can afford because this will always give them the greatest pleasure in the long term.'
Ackermann's Regency Furniture and Interiors by Rudolph Ackermann ($3,284); English Furniture 1800-1851 by Edward Joy ($1,075); Margaret Jourdain's Regency Furniture 1795-1830 by Ralph Fastnedge ($340)
W.R. Harvey & Co (Antiques): 86 Corn St, Witney, Oxon, OX28 6BU, England (tel: [44 1993] 706 501) or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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