Week 3, 5 December 2011


Amber Bailey

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

As part of my BA (Hons) Furniture: Conservation, Restoration & Decorative Arts course, a variety of visits and live projects are arranged to supplement the taught programme. They are a means of enhancing the connection between what we learn in the workshop and the industry itself, and also provide a wonderful opportunity for students to begin making initial links and contacts outside the University.

The course aims to prepare students for all aspects of restoration, rather than focusing solely on practical skills. As there is a need for business knowledge too, a visit was organised to Bonhams in Oxford. Founded in 1793, Bonhams is one of the world"s oldest and largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques, and we were given the opportunity to meet auctioneer, Michael Welch, who took us on a tour around the salesroom to analyse a selection of the furniture on display.

The aim was to inform students of the current popular trends in furniture and explain how the market and demand for different styles can fluctuate. For many of us, prior to the visit we had minimal experience with auction houses and the purchasing of appropriate furniture to restore. Whilst examining the individual pieces of furniture, the auctioneer highlighted alterations and the tell-tale signs to be wary of regarding counterfeits and imitations.

As a group we examined tables and chests of various styles and sizes, the primary material of many of these being walnut. The decision to focus on this type of furniture was quite deliberate as some really obvious examples of modifications can be found amongst walnut furniture.

The trip to Oxford gave us the opportunity to put into practice some of topics we had been taught on the course, such as identifying types of wood and recognising the process marks and indentations made from machine tools. We were also tasked with establishing the periods and approximate dates of the pieces, and with hypothesising over the reasons for any alterations made to them.

The visit turned out to be more beneficial than first expected. Subsequently we have all realised just how conscious we need to be when purchasing or examining a piece of furniture, and appreciate that there needs to be a continual stream of questioning and speculation regarding all aspects of the piece and whether the information we have fits together and makes sense.


Images, from top to bottom:

1. Highlighting the indications of a change in latch on a card table

2. Checking the underneath of the card table for any alterations

3. The auctioneer explaining about the lack of demand for furniture with highly elaborate marquetry

4. An example of imitation furniture - claiming to be from 1689

5. Examining the condition of the wood in a chest of drawers (Photographs by Paul Tear)

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