Antiques Street Show


Over the last several weeks, I have thought about the sites I visit and my daily reads, sadly noting that much of it all is out of habit rather than genuine interest. The initial excitement harnessed by many of the sites I view has indeed waned, while paradoxically my interest in the subjects has increased. Striking a balance between the useful content and entertainment seems less a lost art than one that simply never developed.

Short burst media figures more towards the personal glory of the poster rather than the enhancement of the reader. In some cases, when my understanding of a given subject is at the bare minimum, this doesn’t strike me as inherently bad. And, obviously, there are blogs I visit just for a laugh. Worst of all, anticipation for new things has greatly diminished. I simply expected to see new things every morning, and be instantly gratified by the knowledge that even though I am wasting my time, I have not read the same thing twice.

Having reflected for a bit on my internet behavior, I discovered that there is only one thing I anticipate. Every Tuesday I eagerly await the posting of the new edition of Antiques and the Arts online (I could get the print version, but to be honest I am just too cheap). More so than the industry news and exhibition reviews, it’s the advertisements and pdf’s of antique show catalogs that get me going. I pour over them, searching in each cluttered photograph for a single type of 18th century side chair. Every once in a while I will find one, sparking a few hours of deliberate activity.

First, I try to discern from the often blurry image a few basic details about the chair. How is the carving handled? Is there a bead on the splat? I note the taper of the legs, and the treatment of the seat. Following that, I email or call whatever dealer is in possession of the piece, and ask a series of questions that cannot be answered by the photos. For instance, how is the medial stretcher applied? What do the corner blocks look like? I implore them to send better pictures, and graciously thank them for their aid in my effort to document as many of these chairs as possible.

It has been four years since I became mildly obsessed with transitional Chippendale to Federal side chairs built in Hartford, CT between 1793 and 1805. I have cataloged roughly 35 different versions of the style (by that I mean carved by different hands) and traveled all over Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island in search of answers. I have discovered an enormous amount about these chairs, yet I am still years off from any definitive result. 

There is a point embedded just beneath the surface of that dull anecdote. For all my time logged on the net, I only get excited for something once a week. Everything else comes as part of routine. Part of a method of procrastination I can rationalize because I am “keeping up with things.” Do I need to constantly keep up to date? Certainly not. And, in the past this required far less daily effort.

Earlier in my life, the prospect of a new magazine or catalog arriving at my door was a wonderful feeling. Now, most of the print media coming through the mail is either redundant or simply junk. We all know that topical and current events driven press has lost potency. And, with literally hundreds of websites devoted to my interests, the once fast paced web world has drifted towards that same fate.

With that, I found myself thinking about websites and daily reads. Anticipation vs. instant gratification, a binary that has fueled much other activity. Buying sneakers for instance, there is anticipation in the search (something I take great pleasure in… I have never bought from Ebay), followed by the instant gratification of the purchase (which dies almost immediately). With the internet, unfortunately, the duality of emotion that comes from having both anticipation and instant gratification in a single series of events doesn’t exist. It is either one or the other.

For all the great products unveiled each day, the rapidity of updates can minimize impact. A subtle connection to hype culture, the more ephemeral something seems (even in the sense of its limitedness), the less powerful the impact. Wasting energy on obtaining something that will lose value, perhaps not monetarily but certainly in the “cool stakes,” almost immediately has dwindled.

I mentioned early on in this ramble that my immediate interest in many of the sites has lessoned despite an increasing interest in the subject as a whole. Have I outgrown the media outlets? Am I becoming one of those people (similar to those Jeff finds with music) who “doesn’t give a shit” about popular culture any more?

One may argue that my interest in antique furniture is a little stodgy. A carry over from a nickname “Old Man,” that fell to me during my freshman year of university due to my penchant for waking early and falling asleep soon after 10. Well, admittedly many of my peers in this pursuit are teetering on the grave. Few of those people share an interest in rap music, tattoos and streetwear, so I am sort of an odd man out.

It’s not so much not giving a shit rather that, gradually, my approach to all things has become the same. I used to try and separate my academic interests and personal interests. In school, I felt somehow that drawing my hobbies into my studies (and thus, god forbid, letting my fellow students know what I liked) would hinder my enjoyment of those activities and items. At this point, separation is impossible, it’s easier to just let the brain wander, and the difficulty now becomes how to meld such diverse interests into useful activity.  

Obviously the antique furniture world is strikingly different from streetwear. There is almost no net savvy, for example, or much change. I am far more ingrained in that collector’s world than any other, and thus access to information past what is afforded in magazines and books is open. The differences, however, do allow this assessment of reading habits. What am I getting for my time in each of my separate interests? Where does interest meet information in the best balance?

Almost as soon as these questions took my attention, others seemed to have similar thoughts. Content has, in minor strides, become a little deeper and a little more interesting. There is some fat to chew, always a good thing.

My least favorite sports guy, Bill Simmons, said something I startlingly agreed with a few years back. Basically, he writes long pieces because he wants people to feel the same joy and value he got out of Peter Gammons baseball columns. I love this idea, and while I can’t pinpoint who should be that guy in our “culture” (certainly not me, I don’t have much to say really), it would be great to anticipate something once a week, and be excited to spend a real period of time reading something great.

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