Journal

A Captured Moment of Tennis History

04.20.2017

This month our musings on antique sporting goods continue, but as the season gradually progresses towards summer our focus shifts from ice skates (our February posting) to tennis antiques.

 

full plate tennis tintype

 

We recently acquired and sold this rare tennis tintype. Tintypes were a photography innovation introduced in 1856 and used into the 1880s, in which images were printed on thin metal plates. The size of tintypes range from large full plates (6.5” x 8.5”), which are the most desirable to collectors, to small 1/16th plates (1.375” x 1.625”). This tennis photograph is a full plate tintype.

 

tennis tintype

 

Tennis antiques do not fit exactly within the genre of rustic antiques so it may seem surprising to see this tintype featured here, yet there are some interesting areas of overlap. One connection between tennis and rustic antiques is that tennis was a popular sport enjoyed by genteel rusticators in places such as summer colonies near the turn of the 20th century.

 

squirrel island tennis match

A circa 1905 women’s tennis match on Squirrel Island, a summer colony off the coast of Boothbay Harbor, Maine, where tennis was a popular island activity. (from the Stanley Museum)

 

Another connection is that early sporting accoutrements make intriguing accessories within present-day rustic décor, especially in vacation homes where enjoying leisure sporting activities has been a long tradition.

 

rusticators with tennis rackets Lake George

Rusticators with rackets on the porch of a Lake George, NY home, circa 1890 (from Tennis Antiques & Collectibles)

 

So the occurrence of an antique tennis tintype in our recent inventory is not completely anomalous. Also, like most antiques dealers we occasionally step outside of our main specialty area to buy and sell other types of antiques. Jeff has learned about tennis antiques over the years thanks in large part to the expertise and enthusiasm of his mother Jeanne Cherry, author of the 1995 book Tennis Antiques & Collectibles (the source for much of the historical information included here).

 

While the flourishing of tennis in the United States coincides with the height of the rusticator era, from the mid-1870s through the first decades of the 1900s, it is a game with a much longer history—the precursors of the modern game of tennis date back to the 12th century. By 1750 a game called court tennis had evolved in Europe, and although players (members of royalty and other elite classes) used a racket similar to the shape of the rackets used today, they played in a walled court using rules that were very different from those of modern tennis.

 

early tennis

Major Walter Clopton Wingfield of Wales who, beginning in 1873, was among the first to play and popularize lawn tennis as a social activity among Great Britain’s Victorian gentry (from Tennis Antiques & Collectibles)

 

It was not until the 1800’s that tennis started to be played outdoors on lawns, giving rise to the game of lawn tennis which is the game we refer to simply as “tennis” today, whether it is played on grass, clay, or hard courts. The year 1877 marked the start of tournament tennis at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon, and by the 1880s lawn tennis had “supplanted croquet as a social garden party activity in which men and women could participate together” (Cherry, 1995).

 

tennis tintype

 

Indeed, the seven women and four men shown in this tintype were most likely participating in just such a garden party. Based on some limited information we received with the tintype, we think the photograph was taken in the outskirts of New York City, which is plausible because one of the earliest lawn tennis courts in the U.S. was established in Staten Island, NY, thereby introducing people in that region to the game. In 1874 a young socialite named Mary Ewing Outerbridge had just returned from Bermuda where she had played tennis and acquired a boxed set of tennis equipment. When she returned home she convinced her local club, the Staten Island Cricket and Baseball Club, to mark lines and set up nets to create lawn tennis courts so that she could introduce tennis to her friends.

 

webstatenislandclub

An 1885 photo of tennis courts and players at the Staten Island Cricket and Tennis Club (aliceausten.org). By 1895 there were over 100 tennis clubs in in the United States.

 

The men and women in our tintype are holding lopsided tennis rackets, which is the earliest form of lawn tennis rackets.

 

lopsided tennis racket
Lopsided rackets had a relatively brief period of production and use, lasting from 1874 to the mid-1880s when flat-top rackets were introduced and quickly became more popular. So knowing the dates of lopsided racket use along with the dates of tintype photography makes it easy to date this full plate tintype to circa 1880.

 

Tennis racket head shapes, 1874 to present (from Tennis Antiques & Collectibles, 1995)

Tennis rackets from 1874 to the 1930s showing the evolution of head shapes (from Tennis Antiques & Collectibles)

 

Lopsided rackets have an asymmetrical head and are based on the shape of the court tennis rackets used in the 1750s which also had lopsided heads, thick gut stringing, and long handles. That shape was particularly suited to scooping balls out of the corners of walled courts, as well as for putting spin on the ball.

 

A d from American Lawn Tennis, 1917 contrasting 1882 rackets with 1917 rackets (from Tennis Antiques & Collectibles, 1995)

A 1917 ad appearing in American Lawn Tennis contrasting 1882 rackets shapes with more modern 1917 oval-head rackets (from Tennis Antiques & Collectibles)

 

In addition to their tennis rackets, the other main feature of interest in the tintype is the clothing that the men and women are wearing. The men wear what they would also have worn for participating in sports such as cricket: white shirts, white or cream flannel trousers or knickers, and jaunty caps.

 

1880 men's tennis attire

 

The women, however, did not have such sporting attire. Instead they wore outfits for playing tennis that were very similar to the proper Victorian clothing they wore to garden parties: long dresses or skirts, corsets, petticoats, belts, bustles, and elaborate hats.

 

tennis tintype

 

lady's tennis attire

An 1881 Harper’s Bazar ad for a lawn tennis costume pattern (from Tennis Antiques & Collectibles)

 

Even as tennis became as much an athletic as a social event for women, the attire was slow to change. As late as 1905 May Sutton, a southern Californian who won that year’s Ladies Singles Championship at Wimbledon “created a small scandal by wearing her skirts a little above the ankle and rolling her sleeves up to the elbow” (Cherry, 1995).

 

maysutton

May Sutton Bundy (1887-1975) (cemeteryguide.com)

 

Tennis attire and tennis equipment (including rackets, presses, balls, ball containers, and tennis court marking and maintenance equipment) are just two categories of tennis antiques and collectibles. Other areas of collecting include decorative arts with tennis themes (jewelry, silver, and ceramics), fine art, books, prints and other ephemera, and photography. What we appreciate about tennis-related photography in particular is that its images immediately convey the context of early tennis culture, while individual objects convey smaller pieces of the larger tennis story.

 

One of our most rewarding roles as antiques dealers is enabling people to live with historical objects that speak to them in some way. Incorporating antiques into home decor is one way to assure that their aesthetic appeal is present in everyday environments. Many sporting antiques, including tennis equipment, are eminently suited to decorative display, and with a bit of creativity can blend well with rustic décor.

 

tennis decor

(tenniscanada.com)

 

Nostalgia for the Quiet Season

02.24.2017

Antique sporting goods – snowshoes, skis, skates, sleds, canoe paddles, tennis rackets, lacrosse sticks and the like – are reliably attractive accessories for rustic rooms. Within each category, examples range from “cheap and cheerful” to museum quality. For those who pursue sporting collectibles beyond their decorative value, there is always a lot to learn.

antique figure skates

I recently came across this photo of a pair of antique ice skates that I deaccessioned from my collection several years ago (well, okay, that’s a pretty fancy word for selling a relatively inexpensive object from a relatively modest collection, but there you have it). These circa 1900 skates are missing the leather straps that would have secured the blades to sturdy boots, becoming the precursors of modern boot skates.

antique ice skates

(from classicauctions.net)

I am drawn to antique skates because of their pleasing sculptural forms, such as the swan-head, short-curl and high-curl skates pictured below.

swan headed skates

(from iceskatesmuseum.com)

(from etsy.com)

(from etsy.com)

(from maineantiquedigest.com)

(from maineantiquedigest.com)

I also love the contextual images they evoke of people skating in the 19th and early 20th centuries, including the physical settings, social groupings, and what people wore and carried, such as muffs and lanterns.

"Winter - A Skating Scene" by Winslow Homer, 1868

“Winter – A Skating Scene” by Winslow Homer, 1868

The history and forms of antique ice skates, as well as their value as collectibles, are well documented in books (Antique Ice Skates for the Collector by Russell Herner, 2001), articles (“Antique Ice Skates in America” by Ann Bates, Maine Antique Digest, Feb. 1, 2010), and websites (e.g., antiqueiceskateclub.com).

skatesbook

Beyond their styles or values, the deepest appeal of antique ice skates for me is the emotion they evoke. Skating as a child in northern Maine was all about getting outside and having fun during an inhospitable season. Anyone who has ever skated on a lake or river knows the sense of freedom and even escapism it allows – there are probably few among us who have not related at times to Joni Mitchell’s lyric “Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on…”

An 1895 photo of skating on a river that flows through my hometown (from mainememory.net)

An 1895 photo of people skating on a river that flows through my hometown (from mainememory.net)

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Bringing Nature In

11.21.2016

These reflections on bringing touches of nature indoors all started with a hornet’s nest. While on daily bird-watching walks around our property over the summer, Jeff noticed a huge hornet nest hanging from a branch about 10’ high in a maple tree along our driveway.

hornet nest

Although we didn’t take a photo of the nest in our own maple tree during the summer, it looked a lot like this, partially hidden among branches. (photo: dgrin.com)

A nest of Bald-faced Hornets (which are actually a species of yellowjacket wasps rather than true hornets) can be an unnerving presence over the summer, depending on its proximity to your house, garden, or relaxation and play spaces. But if the nest is far enough away to prevent unwanted encounters with its inhabitants, it can be safely ignored to allow the wasps to go about their business of enhancing their home, raising their young, eating other insects and pollinating wildflowers.

Then in late fall, after a few hard frosts kill the workers of the colony and spur the fertilized queen to decamp to a protected nook to overwinter, the beautiful product of the insects’ summer labors is easier to appreciate. Once the leaves fell from our maple tree (and after we had read up to make sure the nest wasn’t inhabited by hibernating insects, or that it would be reused the following year), we collected the nest and hung it temporarily in our garden shed.

hornet nest in garden shed

The strong yet amazingly light ovoid nest is made of layer upon layer of gorgeous marbleized sheaves that the wasps produce from chewed wood fiber.

hornet nest

 

hornet nest

This object is compelling because of its simple beauty, but it holds an allure beyond its pleasing shape, color and texture. There is something about physical objects that are direct products of nature rather than representations of it (in the form of paintings, sculpture and the like) which is fundamentally soul satisfying. Anyone attracted to the rustic aesthetic is likely to understand this.

rustic chair

Bits of nature – in this case the branch collars of a tamarack tree – often adorn rustic furniture.

As the hornet nest, now appreciated as an unintentional gift of nature, rested in our garden shed, I began thinking about whether and where to place it in our home. As often happens when a non-pressing thought lingers in the background of more immediate preoccupations, my mind was primed for inspiration. So when I came across a new book presenting images of nature in home décor, I took more notice than I normally might have. The book provides design inspiration that is quite different from, yet complementary to, the Adirondack/rustic aesthetic. Its pages provide a satisfying excursion through beautiful images and thought-provoking text, so it is worth sharing a brief overview.

The Natural Eclectic: A Design Aesthetic Inspired by Nature

The natural eclectic

This book is a surprisingly refreshing entry into the pantheon of coffee-table books on home styling. The author, Heather Ross, is an artist, photographer, stylist and shop owner (in Vancouver, BC). She is not an interior designer, so does not claim to have a flexible repertoire for creating diverse looks that express various clients’ tastes. Rather, the book presents her personal aesthetic, which will resonate with anyone who appreciates having tangible reminders of their connection to the natural world within their home environs.

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Rustic Meets Modern in a Collector’s Home

09.12.2016

Given the come-and-go nature of buying and selling antiques as dealers, we do not typically have the range of rustic furniture in stock at any one time to furnish every room of a house, or even to showcase one idyllic room setting. Therefore, it is a pleasure to present these photos from the home of a couple that has been collecting hickory furniture and rustic accessories for about 25 years. Over several decades they have honed their focus and continued to upgrade, thereby creating a curated treasury of pieces that manifest their personal tastes.

Two things set their home apart from many of the settings in which we’ve seen rustic collections. The first is that their collection resides in the home they live in every day, rather than in a vacation home. Secondly, they live in a mid-century house with white walls, rather than in a log or wood-paneled rustic home.

They are equally passionate about furniture, primarily antique Indiana hickory and Arts & Crafts genres, and accessories. Their accessories include art pottery made during the first decades of the 20th century by Ohio artisan Charles Walter Clewell, “weird wood” (a type of woodcraft created in many forms as rustic souvenirs in the early 20th century, in which the bark is left partially intact on the finished pieces), and animal carvings.

Old hickory furniture

This photo of their den shows examples of each of their collecting interests. The shelves flanking the fireplace contain an amazing collection of Clewell pottery. The hearth, coffee table and plinths hold pieces of weird wood. There are also a few animal carvings on the coffee table, and the two rustic floor lamps are carved to resemble tree trunks. Finally, there is a fine pair of Old Hickory barrel arm chairs with woven aprons. Their grey cat finds the chair on the right to be especially comfortable.

Old Hickory

Another view of the same room provides a better look at one of the Old Hickory chairs, and shows a hickory center table, a pair of weird wood tankards, and a table lamp with a carved bear.

Old Hickory furniture and Clewell pottery

This vignette displays elements from two of their collections – a rare form of Indiana hickory wall shelf and an Old Hickory dresser each holds pieces of Clewell pottery.

Old Hickory furniture

In an adjacent study, the collection themes continue – Clewell + weird wood + animal carvings + Old Hickory. Every piece is selected with a connoisseur’s eye. Some of the weird wood, such as the plaque in the middle left edge of the photo, features applied pot metal animals including deer, elk and moose. The Old Hickory chair whose back is shown in the lower right foreground is an uncommon 1940s modern design with its original nylon tape weaving. Juxtaposed with the rustic collections are a Frank O. Gehry cardboard “wiggle” chair and the original poster from a Marcel Duchamp exhibit featuring his Fountain piece, as photographed by Alfred Stieglitz. Keep Reading

Our “Why”

07.21.2016

As anyone (not making gender assumptions here) who has spent time in a hair salon knows, the chitchat can yield intriguing information to ponder long after the blow dry has flattened. Thus I came away from a recent haircut with the name of a business guru’s TED Talk to view. Over lunch at my desk, I watched Simon Sinek’s presentation (well, I admit, just the streamlined five-minute version, which was plenty to get the point and finish a yogurt) titled “Start with Why.”

His premise is that customers actually care about why a business does what it does (beyond the obvious “to make a living.”) By articulating your company’s why up front, before explaining what you sell or do and how you do it, you will more easily find, inspire or recruit like-minded customers. He thus presents a healthy challenge for business owners like ourselves to articulate the fundamental motivations for the work that we do. So let’s give it a try.

rustic antiques cherry gallery

The Short Version

We buy and sell antiques to spice up people’s lives with objects that embody both artistry and human history.

We intentionally use the term “spice up” in order not to exaggerate the importance of antiques in the relative scheme of things (we are not Doctors Without Borders, after all). Yet we do not underestimate the power of living with aesthetically pleasing surroundings to swing our moods and outlooks in a positive direction. Nor do we discount the world-changing capacity of positive people.

The Long Version

We believe that living with antiques enhances everyday lives in three ways:

1) Antiques infuse beauty, character and interest into our homes.

Some argue that humans have an innate attraction to beauty that is deeply rooted in our genetic code (in fact, there’s a TED Talk on that, too: “A Darwinian Theory of Beauty” by Dennis Dutton). Whether our collective eye for good design and artistic expression is mostly innate or culturally conditioned, it is clear that humans crave beauty. We would add that we also crave meaning, which can be derived through the power of objects to evoke personal memories or touch our core identities. For instance, many people who purchase rustic antiques have fond memories of summer camp or a rustic family retreat imprinted in their psyches. Others who love objects with nature or animal themes feel a deep connection to, or simply enjoy, the outdoors. So antiques in our homes can express our character while providing reminders of what makes life good.

collage2T

2) Assembling non-mass produced objects that have a patina of past love and use is a component of creative living.

This is about being an active pursuer and arranger of antiques. Acquiring and decorating with antiques is a creative process that allows you to write the next chapter in the lives of aged objects by placing them in a new context of design. Reimagining and recombining antiques to explore your tastes and sensibilities is a form of self-expression. Thus, collecting and displaying antiques are thoughtful projects that we hereby dub “slow consumerism.” Searching and waiting for an object with an old soul that speaks to us serves as an antidote to our Amazon Primed fast consumerism which fulfills our quotidian needs or wants with expediency, leaving more time for nurturing the creative sparks within us.

rustic interiors

3) Objects with a history provide a portal to understanding human values and ingenuity through the course of time.

Antiques do not just please our eyes – they can also stimulate our minds. As the material culture of our predecessors, antiques reveal something about the societal context that inspired their creation. The potential for antiques to motivate journeys into history is exemplified in a fascinating, classic account of the past lives of three pieces of American furniture as they pass from the hands of their makers through several centuries of owners (Objects of Desire: The Lives of Antiques and Those Who Pursue Them by Thatcher Freund, 1995). While we can find commonality with the societal genesis of objects from prior eras, we can also experience amazement at how past lifestyles and motivations differ from those in our contemporary times. Exploring the cultural heritage of antiques through our Journal articles never fails to fascinate us, and we know that many of our customers also passionately investigate the broader contexts that gave rise to the antiques they collect.

Passamaquoddy and Penobscot art

Finally, there are a few whys that are more personal. We’re in this business in part for the surprise and delight of finding old things that have aesthetic and historical characteristics which give them a certain magnetism. Also, we love that pursuing antiques is a form of recycling that reduces the need to manufacture new “stuff.”

We leave the penultimate word on the whys underpinning our business to a quote about things with history (i.e., antiques) from Freund’s book:

Things possess the possibility of immortality. They are pieces of human industry frozen in time…They connect their makers to anyone who ever owns them…Even those things people don’t inherit (from their own ancestors)…can affect their owners through their histories.

Antiques can be soulful elements that grace our lives with the spirit of the past. That is our fundamental why.

family at a lakeside camp

Native Made Rustic Furniture

05.18.2016

native made rustic furniture

 

Antiques dealers who look at thousands of old objects each year inevitably start to refine categories for the antiques they encounter. Repeated exposure to and study of antiques enable dealers to move from catch-all categorizations such as “Art Pottery” or “Quilts” to informed subcategories targeting what person/group/manufacturer made the item, in what region of the country or world, and when.

The closer objects are to the specialty areas of antiques that a dealer most frequently buys and sells, the more refined the dealer’s categorization of those things becomes. While we might lump together many individual pieces of furniture within the category “Mid-century Modern” and leave it at that, another dealer might lump together all “Rustic Furniture” and call it good. Needless to say, we have learned to classify rustic furniture into many different subcategories, each with its own themes and variations.

Native Rustic Furniture

OjibwecampT

An Ojibwe camp, circa 1870 (Minnesota Historical Society)

One subcategory of antique rustic furniture that we continue to find and learn about was made both by Native Americans in the United States and First Nations tribes in Canada. For centuries, the aboriginal peoples of North America traditionally transformed materials found in nature into utilitarian objects for shelter, transportation, clothing, storage and other essentials of daily life, as illustrated in the above photo of Ojibwe bark teepees and a bark canoe.

Being adept at relying on what nature provides positioned native people to use those materials in creative ways as they adapted to living in non-Indian cultural contexts. While the following opinion of a white man who helped establish one of the first Indian crafts stores in Michigan reflects the dominant society’s patronizing attitudes towards Native Americans during the early 1900s, it does recognize native people’s finesse in working with natural materials: “The Indian’s absolute simplicity, unerring instinct, and wonderful knowledge of natural things surely give him a place among Nature’s best interpreters.” (from The Indian’s Friend, Volume 22 No. 1, September 1909)

Knowing where to find, how best to harvest, and how to work with natural materials such as bark and twigs, enabled native people to make a living at a time when they were struggling to transition from their traditional ways of life to a cash-based economy. During the mid- to late-19th century, a market for their craftsmanship fortuitously emerged as the rusticator movement gained momentum.

Wealthy urbanites who headed to beautiful, remote natural areas for vacations developed an appreciation for crafts that evoked pleasant memories of their escape into nature. Some of these rusticators established second homes in resort areas and sought appropriate interior furnishings for their cottages and camps, while others purchased furniture to take back for the porches and lawns of their formal homes.

Maliseet Indian Stanislaus Francis selling rustic furniture and souvenirs

Stanislaus Francis, a Maine Maliseet, sitting outside his Indian Curiosities shop, c. 1915 (Phillips, 1998)

Native people sold their goods in a variety of places – at souvenir shops on or near their reservations, at sporting lodges and camps where they worked as guides, and at itinerant encampments they set up in rusticator havens such as Bar Harbor, Maine. In these ways they either went where the tourists were, or the tourists came to them.

While small souvenirs such as beadwork, tanned hides, quillwork and baskets were produced and sold in great quantities, native people also made and sold some rustic furniture in these locations. Note the rustic settee that Stanislaus Francis sits on (and no doubt made and offered for sale) in the above photo from Maine.

Likewise, in an early 20th century article titled “Indian Industries in Michigan” (The Indian’s Friend, Volume 22 No. 1, September 1909) Miss Grade Travis describes a “modest little Indian workshop” in Wayagamug, Michigan filled with crafts made by a group of 50 Indians comprising Ojibwes from the Garden River Reserve in Canada and Ottawas from Michigan. She reports that furniture made by the native men were among the items offered for sale.

What then, did that furniture look like? We are familiar with four* different forms of native-made rustic furniture that evolved in the northeastern and midwestern regions of the U.S. and Canada during the rusticator era: Bark panel, Mosaic twig and bark, Bentwood, and Branch and burl furniture.

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Rustic Reading

01.18.2016

Short winter days with fewer hours of light to lure us out and about bring more opportunities to cozy up indoors and read. Here are descriptions of two books from our winter reading list, one fictional and one factual, that will immerse you in a bygone era when upper-class entrepreneurs first made the Adirondack wilderness accessible and alluring to other affluent families.

Historical Fiction

Imaginary Brightness book cover

Have you ever imagined living during the Gilded Age of the late 19th century and participating in the early wave of recreational forays into beautiful but remote regions of the country? Historical fiction can be an effective way to transport yourself to time periods that capture your fancy, and the recent (2015) book Imaginary Brightness: A Durant Family Saga by Sheila Myers promised to do just that by weaving a fact-based tale about the family that spearheaded the incursion of metropolitan aristocrats into the Adirondacks of New York.

Living amidst elegant European surroundings, learning multiple languages with the finest tutors, mastering horseback riding and marksmanship, hobnobbing with sophisticated patricians, journeying to exotic foreign lands to hunt big game, and lavishly entertaining peers in the finest hotels were formative experiences in the early life of William West Durant (1850-1934), the man who would later be credited as conceiving and popularizing the now iconic Adirondack Great Camp architecture and indeed, Adirondack style itself.

Durants

William and Ella Durant (at left) with aristocratic friends in England, circa 1871 (from Durant by Craig Gilborn, The Adirondack Museum, 1981)

The book begins in 1873 in England where William, his mother Heloise and sister Ella had been living as expatriates since 1861 while the head of the family, Dr. Thomas Durant, was back home in America focusing on building the Union Pacific Railroad. Finances were never stable for the family – for the tycoon Durant, huge assets were accompanied by huge risks, such as those entailed in building a transcontinental railway. Thus we learn in Part I of the book that the general economic downturn in the U.S. (“the Panic of 1873”) and questionable investment strategies had left Durant close to ruin. This halted the free and frivolous life of William, age 24, and the social pursuits of Ella, age 20, and their entire European idyll.

Ever the entrepreneur, Thomas Durant called his family back to New York to reduce expenses as he embarked on his newest scheme. He had used the family’s only solid asset, $200,000 gained from selling Heloise Durant’s inherited land in New York City, to purchase thousands of acres in the Adirondacks. Inspired by an 1869 book (Adventures in the Wilderness by W.H. Murray) about the spirit-enhancing effects of camping and hunting in the Adirondack wilderness, he intended to build a railroad to bring people from New York City to the Adirondacks. The railway, planned to extend eventually into Canada, was also planned to serve Durant’s timber harvesting, iron ore extraction and lakefront property development enterprises. William was to lead the initiatives of the new Adirondack Railroad Company from an office in New York City and a lumber mill and home in North Creek, NY, in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains.

Durant home

The Durant home in North Creek, NY, circa 1881 (from Durant by Craig Gilborn, The Adirondack Museum, 1981)

While the opening segment of the book establishes the backstory for William Durant’s introduction to the Adirondacks, it is also unfortunately when disappointment as a reader sets in. The author marches along to a prescribed factual chronology of events in the lives of the Durants without indulging in the rich period details that characterize the best historical fiction. Although she does sketch the harsh demeanor of Thomas Durant, the powerlessness of Heloise, the frivolity of William and the poetic temperament of Ella, character development is secondary to timeline advancement. The result is an awkward concoction of scenes, both among the Durant family and between the younger Durants and their friends and sweethearts, peppered with stilted dialogue that does not convincingly emanate from or reveal the inner lives of the characters.

Part II introduces a jarring and ultimately distracting aspect of the book that also prevents it from quite reaching its potential to fully immerse readers in the late 19th century world of the Durants. The narrative hurdles ahead to the year 2010 to introduce a 28-year old graduate student named Avery who is doing research on Saw-Whet Owls on the site of William Durant’s first camp in the Adirondacks, on Raquette Lake.

The backstory is that ownership of Durant’s Raquette Lake compound, called Camp Pine Knot, was transferred to The State University of New York at Cortland in 1948 and has been used as an outdoor education center ever since. So the fictional Avery is representative of many actual students who have lived, worked and studied at Camp Pine Knot (now called Camp Huntington after the family who acquired Pine Knot from the Durants in 1895 and ultimately donated the buildings and 201 acre site to SUNY Cortland).

Avery is living in a cottage called Camp Kirby that is set off from the main Camp Pine Knot complex, but which is also owned and used today by SUNY Cortland. It is named for Minnie Everette Kirby, the daughter of a Durant family friend whom legend has it became the mistress of William Durant.

camp kirby

Camp Kirby as it appears today (adirondackalmanack.com)

Whether Durant had the camp built for Kirby as a location for their trysts, or if it was simply a hunting camp already on the property when the Durants acquired it, is open to speculation. But the author runs with the historically unsubstantiated notion that Durant and Kirby were lovers by having Avery find Minnie’s 1893 tell-all diary wrapped in canvas in a crevice at the base of a pine tree that she is examining for signs of owl habitation.

Chapters taking place in the summer of 2010 are interspersed throughout the remainder of the book as Avery reads Minnie’s diary and begins her own affair with a handsome local carpenter named Jake whose great-great grandfather was tutored by Minnie Kirby. The entire intrigue is built around the fact that it takes Avery all summer (!) to find snatches of time to read the diary, the discovery of which she decides to keep as her own secret. What Minnie’s fictional diary reveals, and what ultimately happens to it and to Avery and Jake, are simply not exciting or important enough to distract the reader from the main narrative progression of the book.

Yet Part II also introduces the book’s strongest sections – those portraying William’s introduction to and time spent at Long Point on Raquette Lake, his interactions with local guides, the creation of Camp Pine Knot, and the subsequent visits to that wilderness outpost by the rest of his family and other genteel guests.

Camp Pine Knot

Dining pavilion at Camp Pine Knot, circa 1881 (from Durant by Craig Gilborn, The Adirondack Museum, 1981)

Myers convincingly depicts the arduous pre-railway journeys to Raquette Lake from New York City, as well as from the less distant town of North Creek, in scenes describing William Durant’s five-day journey there in the winter of 1876 as well as the family’s summer treks via stagecoach and guide boat. We meet some people who really did play roles in the Durants’ life, such as the guide Charlie Bennet from whom they acquired land, and the eccentric and reclusive guide Alvah Dunning. The story also includes fictional characters such as members of an Iroquois family, Issac, Ike and Louise Lawrence. Louise evolves from making fur mittens for William to becoming the Camp Pine Knot cook and ultimately William’s true love.

The young Ike Lawrence is also a vehicle for portraying the clash between the cultures of privileged urbanites and subsistence-living locals. When Heloise and Ella Durant first visit Raquette Lake in 1877 they bring trunks of clothing and provisions such as tinned caviar, biscuits, fine wine, port, cigars and cheese. One of the guide boats, overloaded with people and gear, gets swamped rounding a point into a headwind on Raquette Lake, sending Ike overboard. When he is hauled back into the boat, a pack full of wine is lost to the water instead, highlighting the challenge and questioning the necessity of importing luxuries into the wilderness.

A conversation between Ike and Heloise explores similar terrain. When Ike says he likes to hunt, fish and trap, Heloise asks, “So you like sport then?” Ike responds “Sport ma’am? I don’t know about sporting, but I do know I like to eat,” thereby emphasizing the difference between two cultures’ views of hunting as a form of recreation and as a means of survival.

Adirondack workmen

Men working on an Adirondack project for Durant in 1896 (from Durant by Craig Gilborn, The Adirondack Museum, 1981)

Myers does not continue to deepen the theme of cultural contrast, however. The book might have been stronger if she had forgone the 2010 storyline in favor of painting a nuanced profile of a local family whose skills allowed Durant to build and furnish his great camps, such as with characters based on the rustic craftsman Joe Bryere and his wife Mary.

William Durant is intriguingly portrayed as being comfortable in both cultures – in fact often happier living the simple life of a woodsman than among his elite peers. As a hunter and excellent marksman, it is believable that he could hold his own and have interests in common with the local guides and trappers. Perhaps camping on Raquette Lake truly did free his spirit and creative mind for design and architecture, despite being reluctantly and frequently drawn back to the city to attend to his father’s shaky and complex business initiatives.

As the book progresses it touches on many other details of the Durants’ years in the Adirondacks. A photo shoot at Camp Pine Knot by renowned photographer Seneca Ray Stoddard to “showcase all the Adirondacks has to offer in sport in leisure” really did take place, and reveals Thomas Durant’s genius as a marketer. He strategized that showing well-dressed guests reading on a rustic porch, eating in open air dining pavilions, and strolling on groomed pathways would attract wealthy rusticators to whom he could sell land, and who would then clamor for a railway to transport them to their homes in the woods.

Camp Pine Knot

Photo by Senecaa Ray Stoddard of guests on the porch of the early incarnation of the Swiss Chalet at Camp Pine Knot (from Durant by Craig Gilborn, The Adirondack Museum, 1981)

The book briefly juxtaposes the extravagant development in the region, such as William’s cousin Frederick Durant’s 300-room Prospect House built in 1881 on Blue Mountain Lake, with the stirrings of the conservation movement that would lead to the establishment of the Adirondack Park in 1892. In one scene, William and Frederick meet the surveyor Verplanck Colvin (the real Superintendent of the Adirondack Survey) during his stay in Blue Mountain Lake while on business for the State of New York. Colvin disdained the river damming and dredging the Durants were undertaking to allow steamboat passage between Blue Mountain Lake and Raquette Lake, as well as the denuding of forests for lumber. Myers portrays this encounter as the first time it had occurred to William Durant that his father’s massive initiatives to gentrify the wilderness had negative environmental consequences.

William continues to move forward on his father’s behalf, however, and gradually envisions and then creates the decentralized camp complex on Raquette Lake which would become Camp Pine Knot. Modeled after European hunting lodges William had visited in his youth, Pine Knot had multiple structures* for dining, sleeping and recreation, each with good sun exposure and views of the lake and connected by paths along which guests would necessarily engage with one another and the outdoors. All of the buildings were constructed and trimmed in a rustic style using whole logs, twig and bark ornamentation, and local stone to create a primitive ambience that complemented the natural surroundings.

camp pine knot

Portico of the Recreation Building at Camp Pine Knot (from Durant by Craig Gilborn, The Adirondack Museum, 1981)

Another essential detail of Durant family history woven throughout the book is the fractious relationship of both Ella and William with their father, and the growing schism between Ella and her brother. These are important elements of the Durant story, as Ella’s estrangement from her family eventually plays a large role in her brother’s downfall.

But the book ends before William Durant’s complete undoing. We do see Thomas Durant’s businesses and finances unravel when the Adirondack Railroad Company goes bankrupt before yielding a return on a six million dollar investment. As Thomas Durant’s health is failing, William’s mother arranges her son’s marriage to Janet Stott to solidify their allegiance with a prominent family.

Despite the financial debacle, William is optimistic in December 1883 when the book ends. He believes that the steamboat, land, and mining assets that his father managed to transfer to his mother to save them from creditors in anticipation of his death, would bring the family back, once again, from the brink of financial ruin.

Durant's steamboat

The Durants’ steamboat Killoquah in 1879 (sthubertsisle.com)

Myers drew her book’s title from a line written by James Fenimore Cooper in Last of the Mohicans (the same book that inspired Durant to name one of his great camps after a central character, the Mohican Uncas): “History, like love, is so apt to surround her heroes in an atmosphere of imaginary brightness.” While Myers’ book imbues historical facts with imagined details and personalities, the Durants’ real historical legacy is not at all imaginary. William’s Great Camp developments in particular stand as important innovations in American architecture and vacationing traditions that are still thriving in the Adirondacks and similar remote regions around the country.

Although not a literary masterpiece, Myers’ book does succeed in animating an historical time period and the role of an influential entrepreneurial family within it. The book also inspired us to learn more about the Durants’ actual enterprises in the Adirondacks by turning to a factual treatise on the family. Thanks to prior immersion in Myers’ character portrayals, we could read additional vibrancy between the lines of the nonfictional account.

[*Camp Pine Knot structures that were built from 1877 through 1900 (including those erected after Durant sold Pine Knot to the Huntington family in 1895) were: Swiss Chalet, Servant’s Cabin, Huntington Cabin, Maid’s Cabin, Trapper’s Cabin, Recreation Hall, Durant Cabin, Caretaker’s Cabin, Guide’s Cabin/Telegraph Office, Pump House, Blacksmith’s Shop, Carpenter’s Shop, Carriage House, Kirby Cabin, Privy, Durant Privy, Smoke House, Water Tank Tower, Well House, Woodshed, and the houseboat “Barque of Pine Knot”]

Historical Fact

Durant book cover

The book Durant: The Fortunes and Woodland Camps of a Family in the Adirondacks by Craig Gilborn (1981) is the perfect accompaniment to Myers’ fictional book about the Durants. Gilborn, a former Director of the Adirondack Museum, presents valuable historical information gleaned from the Durant family archives and related photographs from the Museum’s collection.

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Genres of Antiques for Rustic Décor

10.19.2015

Adirondack Museum Antiques Show

(Adirondack Museum photo)

The Adirondack Museum Antiques Show & Sale, held every fall in Blue Mountain Lake, New York, is a perfect place (in an inspiring setting) for rustic home owners to find the types of antiques they favor.

On the last morning of the show this year, I had a little time to shoot photos in many of the booths to gather images of the array of antiques for sale. This selection is not exhaustive of the categories of antiques that we and other dealers seek and sell for rustic homes, but it represents some of the typical offerings at this long-running show in the Adirondacks.

The antiques show is held outdoors on the Museum grounds, which presents challenges for setting up booths that are evocative of the upscale indoor spaces that are the ultimate destinations for many of the antiques. Despite the potential wet grass, uneven terrain, low light, rain, dew and (sometimes hurricane force) winds, customers who know what they like can see past the conditions and home in on individual objects that catch their eye. So here is a sampling of things that caught my eye as representing popular categories of rustic décor.

WALL DECOR

Fine Art

Landscape paintings are a natural fit for rustic homes that are nestled into their own beautiful surroundings. Paintings of lakes and mountains, whether depicting an identifiable local region or simply evocative of one, are understandably popular in the Adirondacks.

Saratoga Fine Art

Saratoga Fine Art

Prints and Posters

Plants and animals can look almost as appealing in ink on paper as they do in real life.

Anne Hall Fine Antique Prints

Anne Hall Fine Antique Prints

Chimney Corner Antiques

Chimney Corner Antiques

Signs

There are all kinds of vintage trade, cottage, and roadside signs at the show, ranging in age from the 1890s to the 1970s. Their creative and quirky presence is a refreshing respite from the standardized, too-good-to-be-real reproductions found in gift shops throughout the Adirondacks.

Loose Moose Antiques

Loose Moose Antiques

Snow Shoes

Snow shoes vary widely in age and style, whether hand-made or manufactured. Older Native American snow shoes especially have aesthetic appeal, and can also have high value depending on their rarity, decoration, condition and historic importance.

Pastime Antiques

Pastime Antiques

Canoe Paddles

Paddles with colorful paint, as well as those with sculptural forms such as Native American and Adirondack guide boat paddles, can make a striking decorative statement hanging on interior walls.

Cotton's Antiques

Cotton’s Antiques

Pastime Antiques

Pastime Antiques

FLOOR COVERINGS

Oriental Carpets

The muted hues and stylized geometric and floral designs of antique oriental carpets make an elegant base layer to set off rustic furnishings.

1880 House

1880 House

Navajo Rugs

Traditional Adirondack Great Camps always included Native American art within their décor, and Navajo rugs with crisp geometrics and simple color schemes continue to be popular floor coverings for rustic abodes.

1880 House

1880 House

FURNITURE

Indiana Hickory

Hickory furniture is always well represented at this antiques show as it typically forms the core furnishings of great rooms, bedrooms and porches of rustic homes in the Adirondacks and all across the country.

Parrett/Lich Inc.

Parrett/Lich Inc.

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Five Things Antiques Dealers Want You to Know

07.30.2015

(sociallysuperlative.com)

(sociallysuperlative.com)

August is high season for antiquing in many places around the country, so we offer here a few thoughts to keep in mind as you head out to shows, markets and auctions.

1. Buy the better one

We often hear dealers and seasoned collectors advising new collectors to “buy the best that you can afford.” Our advice is similar, although focused more on wisdom to keep in mind when you have a choice between two similar pieces.

The hard reality of material life is that most of the time you do indeed get what you pay for, so the better one will cost more. As long as you can afford the higher price, accepting the brief pain of paying it will make you happier in the long run. This lesson is summed up nicely in a quotation we came across on houzz.com: “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”

We learned this lesson a long time ago when we sold a hickory chair that was an appealing and uncommon form in weak condition for a fraction of what that style’s value sells for in good condition. Two years later we saw the customer again after the seat weaving had fallen through, and all she remembered was purchasing the chair from us rather than our warnings at the time about why the initial price was so low.

There are plenty of relatively inexpensive antiques that are well worth owning and enjoying, and antiques in age-worn condition are enthusiastically and wisely bought and sold every day. Your standards should depend on how, where, why and for what purpose you will use an antique. But if you have a curatorial instinct and have the chance to be selective within the category you’re pursuing, or to upgrade as better pieces become available, then you will ultimately be more satisfied with your collection for having chosen the better one more often than not.

2. Know the difference between expensive and overpriced

Each year we exhibit at a summer antiques show in New Hampshire during a week when there are several high-end shows running back-to-back. We often hear exclamations along the lines of “Things are so expensive!” from shoppers chatting about the various shows. I usually try to tease out whether they mean things are expensive because they are high quality, or expensive because they are overpriced.

It is natural when seeing dealers’ best wares in booth after booth to feel a bit of sticker shock. But being on your toes as a shopper means keeping in mind that an antique with a high price tag could be a fair deal, or even a great deal. Something tagged $10,000 might actually be a bargain if similar forms typically do or will sell for $20,000. So how can you judge if a price is a fair retail value? See our next piece of advice.

3. Rely on dealers to help you learn

People who are naturally cautious buyers can be reluctant to engage in discussion about a piece with the person who is selling it. Yet it does not take long to recognize the difference between an empty sales pitch and deep knowledge on the part of the seller. More often than not, antiques dealers are thrilled to answer your questions, whether about the piece itself or about its price structure. Most dealers want people to feel good about their purchase and come back for more, so it makes solid business sense to share as much knowledge as possible. We have seen customers’ interests and collections grow and become more refined the more they have tapped into our expertise over the years, and that is very satisfying for all involved.

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Defining and Identifying Old Hickory vs. Hickory Furniture

05.18.2015

Two antique hickory settees

Precise definitions are important in any field, and the field of antiques is no exception. We have written previously about how loosely the word “antique” itself is used, for instance to describe new mass-produced merchandise in home decor shops (see article), and about our definitions of “rustic” and “Adirondack” furniture (see article).

We now turn to defining the difference between “Old Hickory” and “Hickory” furniture, which is a query that customers have occasionally posed to us.

In the world of rustic furniture, hickory refers to bark-on hickory poles (i.e., unpeeled branches and trunks of young hickory trees). Milled hickory boards and turnings were also used to construct antique furniture, but not antique rustic furniture. This can sometimes create confusion, for instance in the case of a woman who hoped to sell us a pair of country ladder-back chairs that she assumed were something that rustic furniture collectors would want because they were made out of hickory wood.

Another thing that can be confusing is that several of the rustic hickory furniture manufacturers made a few lines of furniture for a limited number of years that had no hickory parts. These were constructed of willow, pine, oak or chestnut, but sometimes were of the same designs as the rustic furniture that those manufacturers made from hickory poles.

Finally, we have occasionally encountered confusion caused by the names of two makers of non-rustic contemporary and reproduction furniture (Hickory Chair Company and Old Hickory Tannery) which are very similar to the names of the traditional rustic hickory furniture companies.

We find it easiest to avoid this terminology muddle by referring to all manufactured rustic hickory furniture with the catchall title of “Indiana hickory.” This works because the handful of companies that produced classic rustic hickory pole furniture from about 1900-1960, were all located in Indiana. (We do occasionally come across antique “homemade” hickory pole furniture from other regions of the country, but we classify that as unique rustic furniture, not the manufactured furniture that we are describing here.)

So the best way to continue our discussion of “Old Hickory” vs. “Hickory” rustic furniture is by describing the various Indiana hickory furniture companies.

The Indiana Hickory Furniture Manufacturers

There were six major companies (and several minor companies) producing rustic furniture made with hickory poles in Indiana during the first half of the 20th century. (See more discussion of these companies in A History of the Old Hickory Chair Company and the Indiana Hickory Furniture Movement by Ralph Kylloe, 1995)

1. Old Hickory Furniture Company, Martinsville, Indiana

Old Hickory was the most prolific and longest lasting rustic hickory furniture manufacturer, so more of their products turn up on the market than do the products of all the other Indiana hickory manufacturers combined. Theirs is the only furniture that can technically be called “Old Hickory” and we try to abide by that in our descriptions, for instance by titling our website listings of furniture made by the five other companies either just “Hickory” or “Indiana Hickory.”

Not all dealers or auctioneers are as careful about that nomenclature, however, so you cannot always be sure that a piece that a seller calls Old Hickory was actually made by Old Hickory Furniture Company. (Sellers also sometimes call a piece “old hickory” meaning it is old and made of hickory poles, not that it was made by Old Hickory.) It helps if the furniture is branded or tagged with an authentic Old Hickory identifier, but the company did not consistently stamp all of the furniture it produced. So if a piece is marked Old Hickory, non-specialist dealers and customers can be sure of its maker, but if it is not marked, it does not necessarily mean that the piece was not made by Old Hickory.

After decades of handling and studying hickory furniture and collecting original catalogs from all of the manufacturers, we can usually pinpoint its maker from various clues, so we often do not even look for a brand before making a purchase. When we advertise an unmarked piece as Old Hickory, we are always happy to explain to a potential buyer how we identified it as such in that particular case.

Here are some examples of changes in Old Hickory’s name, maker’s marks and furniture styles as they evolved throughout the years.

a) Old Hickory Chair Company

The first incarnation of the Old Hickory company was called Old Hickory Chair Company, a name which lasted from 1895-1921.

Old Hickory Chair Company brand

This early brand says “Chair Co” on the center line.

Old Hickory Chair Company also sometimes put a paper label with the Andrew Jackson logo on their furniture, and we have occasionally had pieces that retained that early label, pictured here.

Old Hickory Chair Company paper label Andrew Jackson

Below is an early Old Hickory Chair Company dresser with woven hickory bark panels.

Ol Hickory Chair Company woven dresser

b) Old Hickory Furniture Company, early eras

When Old Hickory Chair Company changed its name to Old Hickory Furniture Company in 1921, it used the brand shown below, modified just slightly from the earlier brand. This stamp was used into the 1930s.

Old Hickory Furniture Company early brand

The middle line was changed from “Chair Co” to “Furn Co”

Here is a piece from that era with that brand:

Old Hickory spindled arm chair

c) Old Hickory Furniture Company, middle eras

The brand pictured below was used throughout the 1940s, and is what appears on the majority of stamped pieces we encounter.

Old Hickory Furniture Company 1940s brand

The middle line was changed to say “Martinsville” with “Indiana” spelled out fully below it.

During the 1930s and 1940s, Old Hickory also sometimes marked their furniture with a “Bruce tag,” a small round copper tag that contained the year (e.g., “39”) that the furniture was treated with the company’s Bruce preservative.

Old HIckory Bruce tag

There are hundreds of furniture designs from this era, but here is one example with a 1940s brand.

Old Hickory coffee table

d) Old Hickory Furniture Company, final eras

The style but not the content of Old Hickory’s brand changed a bit in the 1950s to a rectangular shape. That stamp seems to have been used on some, but not all pieces made in the 50’s, and we do not often see it.

Old Hickory brand 1950s

The following drop-leaf table with casters is an example of a table made during that era.

Old Hickory barbeque table

After 1960 Old Hickory Furniture Company shifted to making generic furniture that was not in a rustic style and not made from hickory. In 1978, Old Hickory Furniture Company closed its operations in Martinsville, Indiana.

The company was eventually purchased and reopened under new ownership in 1982 as “Old Hickory Furniture Shelbyville” in Shelbyville, Indiana where its plant is still located. Therefore, any furniture with an Old Hickory Shelbyville tag (pictured below) was made sometime between 1982 and today. Since this is contemporary furniture that is still being manufactured, it is not something that we buy or sell.

Old Hickory Shelbyville tag

Oval brass plate that marks Old Hickory Furniture Shelbyville.

Even when a contemporary hickory piece does not have a brass Shelbyville tag, it is not difficult to distinguish it from early Old Hickory pieces. Although some of the Shelbyville furniture is based on early Old Hickory styles, the modern interpretations of the designs, the hickory poles used, the construction techniques, the weaving and upholstery, and the finish on the wood all make it immediately recognizable (and we think undesirable!) to a trained eye.

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