Even in the art world, considerations of so-called brown furniture are not much more than a tempest in a teapot. Brown furniture, loosely defined as European and American 18th and 19th century furniture of typical form- chests on chests, dining tables, low boys, sideboards, bureaus and bookcases- used to be the main stock in trade of the middle rank antiques dealers. As the fashion for brown furniture has waned so have the fortunes, and the numbers, of middle rank dealers. A favorite tourist pastime used to be visiting the Cotswolds, that range of low hills dotted with medieval villages about an hour’s drive west of London, and browsing the antiques dealers in places like Moreton-in-Marsh and Stow-on-the-Wold. Now you better plan on just a cream tea or lunch in a gastro-pub- the antiques dealers are becoming a thing of the past.
With all that, 18th century brown furniture, while not yet on the cutting edge, is at least not as unfashionable as it has been. The Antiques Collectors Club maintains a furniture index, using as bench marks the standard pieces of the types I mentioned, and their figures show even pegging for 2006, following a 7 per cent drop in 2005. A simple comparison between standard brown furniture and the stock market makes investment in brown furniture, at first glance, appear a questionable proposition. A week ago, The Times of London headlined an interview with antiques expert Eric Knowles in their Sunday ‘Money’ section ‘Antiques? You’d be better off with shares…’. In fact, Knowles did say something like that, but went on to say ‘Antiques are only a good investment if you are buying the best.’
I guess this is the point of all this- a body gets what one pays for. As our business comes on its fifth anniversary, what we’ve found during our tenure is that you can’t go wrong with a confluence of quality, condition, and rarity- even if it is brown furniture.