RE: [MedievalSawdust] Period "Purist", etc..
Hello Will, This information was gathered from conversations with veteran Dealers and Collectors here in our area of the SE USA .
From: email@example.com [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] On Behalf Of Bill McNutt
Sent: Monday, May 04, 2009 9:53 AM
Subject: RE: [MedievalSawdust] Period "Purist", etc..
I like your terminology list. Is that from a manual or anything? Or is that your own assessment?
For several years I did antique furniture restoration for large dealer of European and American antiques. Over the years I was privy to much discussion about what is the proper interpretation of the terms "Period", "Reproduction", "Stylistically", "Restored", etc..
Period pieces were considered to be those pieces constructed during the original era of their style or design. Reproductions were pieces constructed after the period of their original design or style. The term reproduction is used a little loosely in that a piece deemed to be a reproduction may resemble a period piece aesthetically but not be constructed exactly as an original period piece. For example a modern factory reproduction of a Chippendale side chair will most likely be jointed with dowels and wood screws rather than mortise and tendon joints. When a reproduction is constructed in the identical manner as a period piece then it is specified as an "Exact Reproduction". When the maker of a reproduction has taken liberties with both the construction and design elements of a piece, that piece may be referred to as "Stylistically ____________" after which ever period it most resembles.
As for the condition of a period piece, any piece that has all it's period parts and finish is referred to as "All Original". "All Original" pieces are the most sought after by serious collectors and investors and therefore bring premium prices.
The clients whose primary interest was in history, rather than simply in antiques as investments, were the people most passionate about a piece of furniture being "period" and "All Original". And if a piece has had repairs, that the repairs were done to certain period standards. These people were referred to in the trade as "purist". Some even went as far as to insist that repairs be made of wood from the same period as the piece of furniture (this was not always practical since there aren't a lot of 18th century pieces of furniture laying around that someone is willing to sacrifice for parts wood). While it is true that some of these "purists" were certainly anal-retentive, and some were probably even suffering from clinical OCD, I still wouldn't call any of them Nazis. It's just that the "purists" receive their gratification from the historic elements of antiquity more so than those who receive their gratification from the aesthetic elements of antiquity (i.e. interior decorators). Or than those that tend to only appreciate antiques for the prestige associated with them.
Most of the clients who were Interior Decorators (both professional and amateur) made up the bulk of the business and really didn't seem to have many concerns about whether a piece was "period" or "all original". They only cared for how the piece looks and how it will fit into their design scheme.
Conservation vs. Restoration vs. Repair- This is where it can get really subjective. I am sure their will certainly be conflicting ideas here so let me state up front that I am about to explain this to the best of my understanding and if you disagree then fine! Also these terms have different meanings in the trades of the various forms of historic decorative arts and the definitions I am about to give here I am only applying to furniture.
Conservation is work done on a piece to prevent or correct deterioration and is more scientific in nature than that of a restorer and repairman. For example: A well meaning but naive furniture refinisher painted a fresh coat of light blue paint over the original buttermilk-blue paint on an early 19th century tall clock case (I actually really saw this done once). The solvents from the new paint will attack the original period buttermilk-blue paint and eventually cause both to peel off. A conservator would remove the new paint and try to chemically neutralize the solvents from the new paint that had absorbed into the old paint so that it doesn't peel off. Furniture Conservators are very expensive and usually are only contracted to work on very expensive or historically important pieces.
A Restorer's job is more craftsmanship than scientific but does require knowledge of period techniques, materials, tools and the ability to use them. A restorer will be capable of restoring wooden components and finishes to the appearance of the current, or original condition of a period piece. A good Restorer would be capable of working on most common period pieces and could satisfy the requirements of the average Purist.
A Furniture Repairman's job is to repair structural or surface damage to furniture using modern methods, materials and techniques. A Furniture repairman would be used to repair reproductions and new furniture where maintaining the Historical integrity of a piece is not an issue.
I would like to mention that the lines between restoring and a repairing are often crossed for reasons of economy. Also the argument can occasionally be made to use modern furniture repair techniques and materials on a period piece. Let's say there is an early 19th century solid walnut chest of drawers with turned feet and one of the feet has a deep and jagged section of wood broken away and missing. Traditionally the purist would want the restorer to do the repair by cutting away the broken section and glue a block of the same aged and species of wood in place of the missing area, shape the replaced block and finish to match. That is the way this type of repair has been done for centuries. But with modern furniture repair materials and techniques, that same broken section of the foot could be filled with a fiberglass or epoxy wood filler without having to cut away any more of the broken section of foot. Then shaped to match the foot and the wood grain hand-painted in with powdered pigments and a fine graining brush to match the existing original wood grain and finish. So at this point one must ask the question, would cutting away more of the original foot in order to fit a block of wood for the repair preserve more of the historical integrity of the piece than leaving all of the existing period wood left and filling the missing area with a modern filler? My opinion is no it wouldn't but ultimately the client gets to make that call.