Vintage, again

Always a confluence of items, my last blog engendered a fair old amount of response, and it also coincided with an invitation to the launch of a website devoted to the sale of vintage material. Interestingly, the young lady that invited me had the title of ‘curator’. Hmm…what, I wonder, does that entail? Particularly curious, now that I had a look at her website. Perhaps she’s able to suss out the nature of the stains on the ‘vintage’ upholstery, or determine what sort of household pet it was that made the bite marks on the chair legs. Of note, their featured consignor is a local fellow who proudly offers his wares as worthy of the Paris flea market. He’s bragging about this?

Sadly for those of us who are offering period material, there has been a proliferation of sites devoted to the sale of vintage items that I have seen frequently characterized not as used furniture, but as- wait for it- ‘pre-loved’. But now currently ‘post- rubbish’ or ‘pre-dumpster.’

As my devoted blogophiles will recall from my last entry, I remain surprised that a lot of design has so far plumbed the depths that vintage material constitutes a laudable addition to an interior scheme. Mind you, I’m not talking about fine quality 20th century design, but pieces that are looks-like but isn’t kitsch, and pet-stained soft furnishings. I guess if you miss your first college apartment that badly, this is the look for you. Ugh!

What remains a sad fact, though, is that so many people just don’t know. The notion of what period material means for a dealer or a knowledgeable collector is lost on nearly everyone else. We posted a nice Sheraton period card table online as a featured item the other day, and I immediately received a comment from a poor benighted soul about the problems he had restoring his Sheraton period card table- the one his parents purchased from Baker Furniture in the 1950’s. We were not, as they say, on the same page.

Nor are most people. That sounds snotty, but it is a value neutral fact and something that dealers, collectors, and designers need to increasingly get used to. If one does a key word search for ‘Sheraton card table’, I’d venture to say that, amongst a few good period examples, there will be lots and lots and lots of old-ish vintage pieces. And with the plethora of sales sites that offer mostly vintage material, those period pieces will be in the distinct minority. Given that not everyone is a seasoned collector, this vast array can’t help but confuse, and what choice? By default, the buyer uses the only tool within their ken, and that is- shop by price. Using this single measure, will the buyer get value for money? Probably not, but if the effort is to recreate an upscale version of a college apartment, it might be a step up from what they’re used to.

‘ -speak’

What we used to term jargon is now ‘(pick your industry)- speak’, and while ‘jargon’ had the connotation of something that was, within its context, esoteric and recondite, certainly in the antiques, art and design trades, most of the short hand terms are used to give something cachet. Watching the Antiques Roadshow, the proper name ‘Chippendale’ is widely applied to virtually any furniture piece in even the vaguest of mid 18th century English or English colonial style and of such degrees of quality, usually bad, that it is surprising that we haven’t heard that the master’s mortal remains have spun to the surface of the ground above his final resting place.

A trade-speak term that has sadly found currency is the term ‘vintage’. As near as I can understand it, ‘vintage’ is anything in the decorative arts that has some age but is not nearly an antique. Terms change, but something that is now vintage is what I would have termed for most of my life ‘used furniture’, or if speaking amongst my franker colleagues, ‘firewood’. As my few loyal blogophiles will know from reading one of my recent entries, very many new furniture mass market retailers are producing pieces of vaguely period design, and whose faux distress both in show frame, upholstery, and underframe, while meant to betoken age actually functions to mask inherently poor quality. It is therefore comical to see in the work of many designers an admixture of so-called vintage pieces that by their inclusion seek to give some sort of sophistication and depth of feeling to newly made crap. Just one man’s view, of course, but any contemporary use of a 50’s Heywood Wakefield coffee table is always going to put me in mind of Eve Arden and ‘Our Miss Brooks’.

I’ve seen this bizarre mix of the pseudo period and the vintage lots of times recently, and in a couple of settings here locally- early 20th century houses of neoclassical design- the juxtaposition was truly horrific. The newly bleached parquetry and painted over/painted out plaster grotesqueries and arabesques did make matters jarringly worse. I do not know why householders do not know that unusual compositions in marred and inappropriate settings do not betoken cleverness. They are what they are- just plain odd. Mind you, I am not stumping for some notion of strict adherence to a design aesthetic that, even in its own time was largely the fancy, albeit a studied one, of the designer. The interiors whether of Robert Adam or Frank Lloyd Wright were rarities in their own day, and seldom survive unaltered. Eclectism is the natural result of spaces lived in and when this happens to good effect, it becomes a happy union of the period and the more contemporary, when and if, of course, exterior and interior architecture provide a congenial matrix. An interior scheme that is botched in conception, disjoined from its surroundings, won’t be helped by the addition of so-called vintage material.

In praise of the painted (and gilded)

af12012-0116What occludes the fact that Georgians loved their movables to be colorful is that so very little painted furniture survives. What’s often the only thing on offer through most dealers is dour, heavily oxidized- or in antique dealers’ speak ‘beautifully patinated’- mahogany and not to the taste of absolutely everyone. More’s the pity, as the notion that period furniture runs to one class of goods risks turning off a number who might one day become collectors.

I would venture to say that, during the 18th and early 19th centuries, painted furniture significantly outnumbered those pieces of mahogany, probably because painted pieces, made from common and vernacular timbers like deal, beech and oak and then applied with a splash of paint, were much, much cheaper to produce than those made from exotic imported woods. The brightly colored and high style armchairs pictured have frames of beech, seats of cane, and although finely decorated, the labor to perform the task was in the day the least expensive part of the operation. How times have changed. Even a dense wood like oak could be made to look light and sexy with the right sort of coating.

af02022-0116The George II period japanned coffer on stand is composed of thick planks of quartersawn oak that, while in themselves heavy, are fancifully decorated with a  red japanning that contributes a lightness that minimizes what would otherwise be the dark, glowering mass of the coffer.

The other feature of painted furniture, particular for seating, was that it was a cheap and cheerful support for something that was infinitely more expensive- its fabric covering. In this modern age of machine made fabrics, we’ve no notion of how extraordinarily expensive furnishing fabrics were 200 or more years ago.

af02015-0116All hand spun, hand dyed and hand loomed, the intensity of the labor involved to produce fabric made it immeasurably expensive, and the quintessence of luxurious display.  We’ve tried to replicate this sort of pairing on the sofa pictured, covered in an Italian silk lampas of 18th century design.

But what’s overlooked in all this is the simple fact that, though today mahogany can seem hulkingly overpowering, in its own day it was not. Crisply carved with a wash of red pigment to bring out its own ruddy color, mahogany furniture was very, very bright in a way that would seem garish to today’s collector. As well, the carved details were then often gilt heightened as an accent, witness the cabriole legs of this Chippendale armchair in the French taste.  This gilding, not surprising, seldom survives as it would wear away over time, or be stripped off as fashion changed.

af03007-0117The English sea victories over the Dutch who formerly dominated the trade in exotic woods gave England a corner on the mahogany market, which became, after about 1730, the favored exotic timber. Dense and colorful, often with beautiful figure, mahogany also takes wonderfully to carving- so much so that the beauty of the wood itself was often intentionally subordinate to the carving.

The George II gilded console pictured is masterfully carved mahogany- but also covered in a mixture of both oil- and water gilding to contribute tonal differences that heightened the carving’s three dimensional effect. We’ve done a bit of archeology on this piece, and determined that it was always gilded- the supreme luxury of an exotic material, extraordinarily wrought, and then finished with luxurious surface decoration.

af03027-0117Sadly, changing fashions, and ephemeral surface decoration, meant that most painted furniture even of the best quality, when nicked or damaged, was simply thrown away. Furniture made of the more exotic woods survived, partly because, as their surfaces were less prone to damage, they looked a bit better for longer than their painted counterparts, and partly because, higher priced initially, they were regarded as inherently more valuable.

The Downton Abbey bump

Like millions of others, I was glued to the TV this past Sunday evening, watching the further travails of the extended Crawley family and their retainers, in the redoubtable, albeit sanitized, Highclere Castle, now more familiarly known as ‘Downton Abbey’. I like the performers and their performances, and by and large find the setting and the situations, and their resolutions, believable and consistent with the day and age in which the characters live- sufficiently consistent, that is to say, to garner besides me an audience of historicists, heritage groupies, and those who just want to be entertained. I am a fan of Julian Fellowes who understands life amongst the great and the good better than anyone now writing, and if you want something that is thoroughly entertaining, read his novel Snobs of a few years ago.

No question, the interest in the series is a real phenomenon, and we’ve been asked over and over if its success has lead to a spike in interest in our material. Surprisingly, the answer is no, and the why of it is hard to fathom. Clearly, the interest in ‘Downton…’ is heightened by the accuracy of production detail lavished upon it. One would presume that this would spawn some significant stab made toward life imitating art. If it has, someone would have to point it out to me. We have had locally a British-themed restaurant open, but this has more to do with the local Brit ex-pat whose fortune made in the tech industry funded its development. But purchases of moveables, so far as we can see, in anyone’s effort to recreate their own personal homage to Downton Abbey has yet to take place. If we made a sale to everyone who inquired about a bump, we would indeed realize one, but so far, nothing of the sort.

We were sorry to hear of the death of a good friend and longtime family trading partner whose overarching presence in the raisin industry in my home town of Fresno made him something of a celebrity. I mention this as, in remembering this gentleman, of how often I had wondered why it was that, despite a burgeoning demand for natural and additive free food products, production, prices and demand for the excellent product that sun-dried raisins are has actually declined over the past three decades. As I was discussing this for the umpteenth time this morning on the phone with my father, he opined that it was a lack of consistent promotion within the industry to keep raisins in the mind of the consuming public. Possibly, but it seemed to me that, with raisins a consumable  known since antiquity, demand should proceed apace whatever the promotional efforts, however flawed.

‘Downton Abbey’ and natural sun-dried raisins- highly disparate one would assume. But in my mind, similar in that both have a niche that, while popular within it, should spawn some broader and expanding interest. But neither has done so, and in both cases, the why of it is any body’s guess. Perhaps my small but ever so loyal cadre of readers will have something to say, either about Downton Abbey or natural sun dried raisins. Who knows? That might stimulate a bump or perhaps two that, at least for me, will aid in providing my daily crust.

What passes as modern

We were pleased to be joined by a colleague for a smart drink yesterday post 5PM. Keith and I do this from time to time, often enough, one would presume, to identify some favorite watering holes. Unfortunately, those venues we initially identify as appropriate for a hang out designation frequently change staff, and bar menu, so what might otherwise be a comfortable spot becomes, sooner rather than later, unfamiliar, often with its pleasant characteristics shed. That this happens is an odd phenomenon, as I always feel that one’s core business is repeat business, but as with so much these days, the received wisdom is that frequent change is essential. Exactly why that is, I don’t know- we still believe that relationships are a necessary component of any successful business, and would be furious at ourselves if, changing for the sake of change, we ran business off.

As a consequence, we tried out a new spot, the lobby bar of the local branch of a well-known international chain of luxury hotels. We had been in before, not all that long ago, and while the food and service were adequate, albeit changed from our last visit, the décor was not. What had been in the last year a comfortable, cheery environment of overstuffed chairs and banquettes was changed to something that reminded me of the stock in trade of one of the furniture rental stores- angular seating furniture with black painted show frames, angular low tables with stone tops, and while the banquettes were still there, they were, as was all the seat furniture, upholstered in dour tones of black and gray.

Frankly, though, this mimics nearly all the lobby bars of all the local luxury hotels. Scotch that- the local branches of all the luxury hotel chains. Locally owned hostelries are not as abundant in San Francisco as they once were. And therein lies the tale, with chains of hotels going the way of every other mass market retailer of goods and services- every one copies everyone else and with such frequency that no one maintains any particular distinction for very long. We see this everywhere. As it happened, our cocktails out were preceded by a visit to the San Francisco Design Centre where we had remarked about the sameness of so much of the showroom material, any one of which, or all of whom, for that matter, could have supplied furnishings- with no variation in style or palette- to all the hotels. A funny story just occurred to me, about a gentleman in the antiques trade who said that when he looked across his shop he saw shiny surfaces and all of them brown. Mind you, all the same is no more interesting in period material than it is in contemporary, so our longstanding attempt in own gallery is to pleasantly interrupt that sea of brown with some painted finishes, gilding, and distinctive fabrics. However, when we looked across some of the showrooms we visited yesterday, it was not a sea of brown that we were greeted with, but one of a dull gray. Likewise the hotel bar- only relieved, but thank goodness it was, by the warm brown of my neat rye whiskey. Oh, yes- and Keith’s Manhattan.

‘Cheap is cheap’

midnightInParisCribbed from Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’, ‘cheap is cheap’ quotes the character Gil’s would be mother-in-law, an erstwhile interior designer, when Gil is taken aback by the multi thousand euro price for a pair of teak deck chairs at the Paris flea market. I was taken aback, too, at the ask price for something that, assuming they were actually period, should sell for maybe $500 each. But the point is made, that very often designer and collector haunts absolutely gouge their punters- whether locals or auslanders. That said, this propensity for gouging that seemed so long established a feature of dealers in the favorite venues has become something of an anachronism by the time Woody made the film in 2011. Still, the point is well made- some people will pay an inordinate price to be able to say that an item was purchased at the Paris flea market, or in the Cotswolds, or on the Via del Babuino. Not too many anymore, though, as the Cotswold dealers have become as scarce as hen’s teeth, and the Paris fleas sell items that so betoken a flea market that that becomes the overarching feature, decidedly detracting from what was formerly a good talking point.

Certainly the internet has become the great equalizer, with punters able to with very little effort see what an item should really sell for and as my few loyal blogophiles will have noted in my last blog, the panoply of items ostensibly similar has brought the asking price of everything down.

And down in every respect, including quality. In this regard, I think about a mass market retailer whose stores, website and catalogs have proliferated mightily in the last couple of years, with a fair old amount of their material offered as period in style. With a vaguely distressed look and soft furnishings covered in off-white linen and secured with darkened upholstery tacks, one might, if one’s vision were bad, think they were in fact making a purchase of a flea market item, distressed in finish as one would expect furnishings would achieve in the fullness of time. Not so long ago, we received one of their catalogs, which was, I was surprised to find, about as thick as the Manhattan white pages. Although artfully produced, what caught my eye immediately were the (cheap) prices for literally everything and, given the production quality of the catalog, those prices seemed to represent extraordinary value. I saw, for instance, a period appearing chair at a price fractionally the price of what we could produce a similar chair in our own workshop, which we need to do from time to time when a customer requires us to augment, say a set of 8 dining chairs when they may require a set of 12. In looking at referenced catalog, I thought, well, perhaps chairs from this catalog merchant might serve us as blanks.

That was my thought, until I had the opportunity to inspect chairs, and indeed all the merchandise, at the retail outlet, which, consonant with the catalog, was artfully arranged. The merchandise, though, was, to use a technical term, complete crap. Poor quality timber, poorly finished, and the joinery so badly done that we’d be unable to use anything even as a blank. Clearly, not quality, but temptingly cheap and appealing to those, and they are legion, who haven’t seen quality and are consequently hooked by ‘looks like but isn’t’ and reeled in by price. Well, as has been said before, cheap is cheap…


In my former career in the banking business, ‘disintermediation’ was the term we used to describe the dwindling of the cash the bank held on deposit for customers, flowing as it would from time to time from bank directed investments- usually money market accounts- toward customer-directed investments. Hardly exclusive to banking, in simple terms the phenomenon would accurately be described as cutting out the middleman, and in these days of internet trading, disintermediation is an occurrence every retail merchant must be able to cope with.

I suppose the most immediate effect has been the shrinking bricks and mortar environment, with those merchants who represent a variety of product lines finding that their stores are used largely for display, with the shopper making the eventual purchase online and frequently directly from the manufacturer. For the rest of us, particularly in the art and antiques world, where our stock in trade is not just distinctive but in most cases unique, one would presume this wouldn’t happen. However, as a friend and colleague whose speciality is decorative boxes pointed out, his competition for sales can come from bizarre places, Target being one of them. Although we wish it were otherwise, not all of our prospective customers are of shall we say a connoisseurial bent. Say for instance one sought a Regency period decorative box to use to discreetly store the TV remote- this is a common contemporary use!- highly likely one will come up with something in period style and, viewed on the screen- or more frequently these days the iphone- the style example for $26 will look just the ticket, and the $2,600 period example, albeit fairly priced for what it is, will be given the go by. But more than that, when searching online, the browser will be met with a panoply of different items, far removed from what might have been the focus of their search, and like as not their ultimate purchase itself equally as removed as the apple is from the orange.

That’s a lot of the problem the trade faces, with internet shopping largely determined by the key words merchants include to describe their products. Nothing governs this, and the result is a fragmentation of the customer’s online search, carrying them very far afield from what it is that they originally had in mind when the search was contemplated. But even when the search remains relatively focused- using the Regency box example- price shopping becomes the order of the day, and the independent merchant in the antiques trade finds himself competing head to head with mass market merchandisers. And the result? The better capitalized merchant will survive, and the independent merchant will go the way of the buggy whip.

With the struggle the trade continues to undergo despite the improving worldwide economy, the general presumption- or at least the opinion we’ve heard most often- is that tastes have changed, and there’s less of a passion for period material. We tend to discount this, as our buyer demographic has remained basically constant since we established our retail gallery nearly 12 years ago- the buyers are basically the same age, in the same lines of work, and in the same geographic areas. What has changed is the increase we’ve experienced in the online, price driven ‘spot’ buyer of less expensive material- people who are unlikely to ever darken our gallery threshold.
What all this leads me to believe is that the online sales phenomenon that is quickly displacing bricks and mortar, is also fragmenting the dollars normally spent on antiques. The disintermediation that is an inherent feature of online purchases also exposes the buyer to a dizzying panoply of items to purchase. What might be assumed to be, with an improved economy, more money to spend on antiques, is, to the detriment of the antiques trade, hugely fragmented by a disproportionately larger number of items to spend that money on.

The Theta Charity Show 2013- and looking forward to 2014

We’re just back from participating in the 61st annual Theta Charity Antiques Show in Houston- the nation’s longest running fine art and antiques fair, and, for us, one of the best to participate in. Let me say at the outset that a very large part of this is due to the kindness and professionalism of the Theta ladies who, year in and year out, work to make this a stellar event. Behind the scenes, participating dealers are never so well fed and watered as they are by the Theta ladies. And to the wider world, no other fair is as widely promoted. We saw no fewer than 20 TV ads for the show, and countless print and billboard ads. The preview party is an event of the first order, and for this year, not another soul could have been accommodated, it was that full.

For those venal few amongst my handful of readers, you may ask about the proof of the pudding. So, if you must know, we brought home substantially less gear than we took.
But as happy as we are with the spot sales at the show, Houston has become for us nearly like home, given the numbers of collector relationships we’ve been fortunate to establish. Keith and I arrived several days in advance of the show and tarried for two days after its conclusion to meet with clients. High touch, and we like it that way. Collectors ourselves, we happily engage with those who wish to engage with us.

And I suppose, to reflect on the show itself, that’s what’s crucial to remember- engagement. A number of our clients visited the show several times during its run, attending one or more of the lectures from an impressive roster of speakers, and also taking the time to really look at the material that the dealers had on show. Mind you, we did see a fair old number of interior designers- including show speaker and New York based super designer Elissa Cullman  but what we’ve really begun to notice are the increasing numbers of collectors making at-show purchases. This is a happy throwback to an earlier time, with the collecting public establishing, as they did in the old days, relationships with their favorite dealers. We’re happy for the spot sales and the designer driven sales, but it is the relationships that pay the bills year in and year out.

An engaged crowd of attendees may not necessarily make a show successful for dealers in the short term, but I’d venture to say it will in the long term, which is, I hope, how dealers involved with the show would gauge success, and gauge thereby their interest in returning the following year. And so, too, the Theta ladies. Engagement, within the context of certainly the Theta fair involves the dealer and both domestic partners whenever a significant purchase decision is in the offing. When we have both wife and husband in our stand, I know we will have a much, much greater opportunity to sell than if we have either just the wife or just the husband. While the Theta preview is certainly a couples function, we didn’t see husbands in great numbers until the Sunday, the last day of the show. Perhaps next year, the Theta ladies might want to add to their playbook further functions to consistently bring in both sexes during the entire run of the show.

The Theta Charity Antiques Show, held annually at Houston’s George R Brown Convention Center


A letter floated in to the galleries the other day from another dealer, who by way of representing the quality of her inventory, cited its ‘provenance’. Within the context of the letter, it appeared that she didn’t really understand the meaning of the word. But then it occurred to me that this term, so often used in the trade, and on ‘Antiques Roadshow’, is probably not completely understood. Perhaps, then, a brief discussion and the implications when applied to a piece of furniture might be of some use to all ten of my readers.

As a working definition, ‘provenance’ simply means who owned the piece before. Clearly, with a number of pieces in our inventory as much as 300 years old, everything has been owned by very many people before, but we don’t often cite provenance. Mostly, the prior ownership is either unknown or insufficiently significant to be worth noting. When provenance is cited, it is for several different reasons. Firstly, provenance when it can assist in attributing the piece to a known workshop. In the 18th century heyday of stately homebuilding in England, Thomas Chippendale, Mayhew and Ince, Thomas Cobb, William Vile, and a number of prominent craftsmen completed vast suites of movables to furnish these massive new piles. Chances are, if the piece has remained in the home and with the family for whom it was originally commissioned, the original invoice, prepared and issued by Chippendale or the like, survives. With English furniture in particular, rarely labelled or marked by its maker, provenance often plays a critial role in attribution.

More recent provenance, absent knowing its original owner, might not be helpful in attribution, but can argue for the quality of the piece. For instance, a mid 18th century serving table in our inventory was part of a collection assembled in the early part of the 20th century by the furniture historian R.W.Symonds, one of the leading intellectual lights in the English furniture field. We always include this when citing the piece’s provenance. Although of a Chippendale design in the Chinese taste, it is unlikely that Symonds chose this piece for that reason. Rather, it is more likely that the selection was based on timber quality and color, and the fact that the blind fret carving to the legs and the frieze is original. Since very many pieces of this basic design were ‘enhanced’ by recarving in the Chippendale revival period of the late 19th century, original carving was, and still is, an extremely desirable feature.

Finally, provenance can sometimes be a value-added feature on its own, regardless of the quality of the piece, if the prior owner was or is a person of particular celebrity. Immediately I think of the collection of the late Bill Blass, auctioned off at Sotheby’s a few years ago. Some of the Regency furniture was of excellent quality, some was not, but everything sold for a lot of money. Interestingly, although very much a factor in the trade in America in the early part of the last century, aristocratic provenance seems lately to be more of a selling feature in Europe. Although nearly all European countries are long since republics, presumably buyers there still encounter enough aristos wandering around that it makes the notion of aristocratic provenance more meaningful.

Post Sine DOMA

One of the highlights of this week, or of any other week in my recent experience, was going down to City Hall to apply for a marriage license. Does the expression ‘positive vibe’ mark me indelibly as a child of the sixties? I can describe the atmosphere in the city clerk’s office in no other way. We were there with a number of other couples, mostly men no longer in the first blush of youth, who were, like us, excited almost to the point of euphoria about doing something that seemed would never happen. Most were moving directly to having their civil ceremony performed in City Hall following the issuance of their license. Although we hadn’t planned to do that, I told Keith, with all the excitement, I would have no objection to a ceremony there. He then went all Cher on me, and loosely parroting her character in ‘Moonstruck’, said something about bad luck with a civil ceremony with only strangers looking on. Maybe, I thought, loosely parroting Vincent Gardenia. In any event, Keith is seldom emphatic so in the event he is, I seldom argue. Venue to be determined.

Still and all, filling out the application for the license begged some interesting questions. On the one hand, equal treatment results in one size fits all, and the questions about name changes (Keith I believe seriously considered this) and who’s the bride and who’s the groom (to so designate was optional on the form, so we both opted out) also begs some consideration of how we from now on will publically designate one another.

Interestingly, this has been an issue for decades, and to my mind, never satisfactorily resolved. When Keith and I began our life together 33 years ago, two men who cohabited in a romantic relationship were generally referred to each other as lovers. Well, of course, but in the parlance of the time, and considerably earlier, that connoted two people of any combination of sexes who were having sex with each other on a frequent basis. We were, for those of you prurient enough to wonder, but that wasn’t the only basis of our relationship. ‘Lover’ seemed incomplete and has gradually grown out of fashion, and, if anything, has reverted to its earlier, more limited meaning. We have from time to time had friends, always gay men, who referred to Keith as my boyfriend, which I suppose he was at one point- in the one month period before we became fairly firmly committed to one another- so again, not a very acceptable or enduring term.

Not during my adult life but for a number of years, outside the gay community, the other half was referred to as someone’s ‘friend’. This was always said rather archly, clearly with inverted commas insinuated, to make certain the hearer knew that something more than friend in the usual sense of the word (now I’m sounding like Norma Desmond) was meant. ‘Partner’, though, is another term that has gained more recent currency, and seems fairly popular, so much so that two otherwise straight men in business together now frequently will designate one another as ‘business partners’ to dissuade anyone from thinking that the relationship might be otherwise. Between ourselves, we often see ‘business partners’ used in this sense when we actually know that the relationship is, shall we say, otherwise, but that’s a subject for another time.

What both of us have a hard time with is the use of the words ‘husband’ or ‘wife’. This always implies role play that, while perhaps applicable in some relationships, always seems mawkish and a poor attempt to mimic the marriage between a man and a woman. That said, I rarely hear straight couples refer to each other as husband and wife and in a very real way, that’s a good thing, marking as it does progress forward from stereotypes that imprisoned particularly women in subordinate ‘wifely’ roles.

So for the time being, how we will refer to each other in company will remain an open question, as it has been for the 33 years we’ve been together. Frankly, though, this is at best a niggling issue and largely suitable only for what I hope is thought a fairly clever blog. In point of fact, in all the years and in all the times Keith and I have introduced one another to someone new in our acquaintance, no one has ever really been in doubt about what our relationship with each other was.