Copyright © 2009 by Maryalice Huggins
All rights reserved
Distributed in Canada by D&M Publis
Aesop's MirrorCHAPTER ONEA Rhode Island Auction
When people discover I am in the antiques business in New York City, they never hesitate to ask my advice. Often, I am invited to their houses to see what they have. In most cases, such hospitality is extended when a change in residence is imminent. After people tell me the stories of how they came upon their cherished antiques, two questions inevitably arise: How much are they worth? And how can we best unload them? Right away, I set the record straight. I am not an appraiser. I am an antiques restorer. I have more exposure than most to the world of dealers, collectors, and specialists, and thus I know a thing or two about old furniture, but I know far from everything. The truth is no one really does.
The question of an antique's value is tough to answer. It is not like the Blue Book value of a car, although the sale price is based on similar criteria: model, year, and condition. With the market for art and antiques in constant flux, not even the pros can predict with absolute certainty how much pieces will bring. Recent sales of similar things in the same category serve as a barometer for rough estimates only. But what one person chooses to pay for one object, at one particular time, does not always set value. I can attest to this from firsthand experience. Often I have found myself the happy owner of some unusual piece that I possibly have paid too much for. The fact that so few wanted what I now own has not diminished the pleasure of living with my beautiful "mistakes."
How should you sell your antique, the one you have been hoping will allow you to quit your job and ease you into retirement? If by slim chance you own an outstanding piece with extraordinary, documented provenance, you won't have to go looking for buyers. Chances are the dealers and specialists already know your name. Eventually they will be in touch. If, on the other hand, what you own is of purely sentimental value, you may as well let it serve its purpose. The rule of thumb for midrange antiques is "Easy to come by, hard to sell." Such is the world I work in.
In the summer of 1995, a new friend named Tracy Hall told me her family was planning to sell their farm in central Rhode Island, as well as the contents of the outbuildings. Mrs. Miller, Tracy's mother, had spent sixty years collecting antiques in Rhode Island. At that point, I had spent twenty-five years working in decorative arts, so I offered to go through the family's household furnishings as a favor. Having never been to their home, I could not wait to see what was there.
Tracy, a top horse handler, is recognized for her ability to work with horses no one else can train, turning wild creatures into Palm Beach polo ponies. The farm where the family lived was used mainly for this purpose. Although I like horses, for me the best vantage for viewing them is at a distance, preferably when they are grazing in a faraway field. Horse people are notorious for clean barns and messy houses, so I happily anticipated finding a trove of neglected antique furniture at the farm.
Navigating the country roads through central Rhode Island, I arrived at Brigadoon Farm in the town of Clayville. The family compound resembled a scene from a Currier & Ives lithograph. Rows of beech trees shaded a split-rail fence that ran along both sides of a long dirt road. Set beyond two granite pillars was an eighteenth-century colonial house bordered by a vast reservoir. As I passed through the opened gate, I could see Tracy, surrounded by a milling assembly of mixed-breed dogs. Tall and lean,...
Author: Maryalice Huggins
Maryalice Huggins is a restorer and gilder of antique mirrors. She has worked for museums, interior decorators, and private collectors. She lives in Middletown, Rhode Island.
"Maryalice Huggins has mirror fever, and her quest to understand one special antique mirror makes great reading--part history, part love story, and an altogether fascinating look at the secretive, seductive world of rare things." - Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief
"Mixing antiquarian know-how with narrative suspense, Maryalice Huggins has somehow transformed an obsession with an antique mirror into an erudite nail-biter." - Billy Collins
"I was mesmerized--not just by the history behind this story, but also by the passion that drove Huggins to delve into the past, and into herself, to figure out why we love what we love, and why finally understanding our passions is always bittersweet." - Sara Nelson, author of So Many Books, So Little Time
"A rollicking read." - The Providence Journal
"Huggins's passion for objects and history is contagious . . . [Aesop's Mirror is] a short, suspense-filled whodunit, and you will know every name in it!" - Maine Antique Digest
"A knowledgeable frolic through the high-end world of the buying and selling of early American decorative arts . . . So-called experts are deliciously proved fallible in this informative, creative exegesis on how antiques attain their value." - Publishers Weekly
"This entry will appeal most to readers interested in the world of antiques, who are sure to admire Huggins's tenacity in a notoriously male-dominated line of work." - Booklist
"A surprisingly complex story of American beginnings . . . In an age in which art's bottom line is generally thought to be the bottom line, the book attests to the true reasons we cherish rare objects that have come down to us from the past: the way they elicit our desire to possess their beauty and their mystery." - Benjamin Moser, Harper's Magazine