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Wise and challenging words from Bob.

25th May 2010


Bob James, President, Armacost Antiques Shows in t USA always writes in a most entertaining way, I have attached one of his latest pieces,



Author: Bob James, President, Armacost Antiques Shows

I'm reading The Thing Itself, a charming little book by Richard Todd, an editor and teacher who resides in western Massachusetts.  Its theme is the relentless search for "authenticity" in people, places and things, our demand for genuineness "from the world around us, from others, and crucially from ourselves."

Todd devotes the opening chapter, "The Lure of the Old," to our demand for authenticity in antiques. 

He tells the story of how he (unwittingly) came to buy a reproduction, paying the dealer $200 for a small box he later guessed to be worth about $12.  The reproduction box is beautiful, but not even a year old.

The experience leads Todd to ask why we want genuine antiques and not fakes.  "I know, or think I do, what the age of a thing means to me," he writes, "but this quickly gets a little mystical.  For one thing, if it's handmade it carries with it the presence of the maker, and the irregular marks of a 200-year-old plane, felt beneath one's own mortal fingertips, have the power to connect you with another time.  Even old industrial objects, by virtue of having been held and used by other hands, have this effect on me.  And then there are times and places that simply seem superior in the art of making stuff.  For me, one of these is New England of the eighteenth and very early nineteenth century.  A sense of proportion seems there and then to have been universal, so that everyday objects had a quality that today seems to require genius to achieve."

These heartfelt responses, however, "are not the whole truth," Todd writes, and turns to the thoughts of a French philosopher, Jean Baudrillard, who believes an affection for antiques derives from "the mythical evocation of birth which the antique object constitutes."

Love of an antique, according to Baudrillard, represents a longing to return to our origins.  "Obviously, beating a path back to the origins means regression to the mother; the older the object, the closer it brings us to an earlier age." 

Our demand for authenticity in an antique, moreover, represents our "search for the traces of creation," Baudrillard claims, a search "from the actual impression of the hand to the signature" for our long-lost "line of descent."  "Authenticity always stems from the Father: the Father is the source of value here.  And it is this sublime link that antiques evoke in the imagination, along with the return journey to the mother's breast."

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