Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Perfect Plant Stand

Last weekend, while flipping through our copy of American Furniture, The Federal Period, by Charles Montgomery, I came across an image of a delicious and extremely rare plant stand, made circa 1810, and attributed to the workshop of Duncan Phyfe.  I had an immediate "I want that!" reaction when I saw the photograph, which I am showing below.  Not only did I appreciate the stand for its pleasing form, but I thought its function as a holder of potted plants was marvelous, and that it would be the ideal stand for my Peale-inspired potted geraniums.

Image from American Furniture, the Federal Period
by Charles Montgomery

We have four pieces of furniture at Darlington House that are attributed to the workshop of Duncan Phyfe, and that were made in the first two decades of the 19th century, the same period as this stand.  Neither Boy nor I have seen an example of such a plant stand in our many travels, which is not surprising, since according to Montgomery they are exceedingly rare.  If one were to come up at auction I would expect it to sell well into the five figures.

photo by Boy Fenwick

But that doesn't concern me all that much, because I know of a cabinetmaker who is capable of reproducing it for a reasonable price, moldings, patina, and all.  Whilst I certainly prefer to buy first-period whenever possible, sometimes it simply isn't.  I'm okay with buying a high-quality, bench-made reproduction when the original is so rare or costly as to be unattainable, particularly if the reproduction has some age on it.  And, besides, I'm not sure I really do want a period Phyfe plant stand.  That's because geraniums require watering and misting from time to time, and I can't be confident that every person charged with such a task at Darlington House would appreciate how careful they needed to be if the stand were as rare as a period one.

Tell me, do you ever allow yourself to buy good-quality reproductions, or do you always consider period examples as the only appropriate ones to own?


  1. Reggie, this is a great plant stand-I agree about the cabinetmaker's skills and reproductions. If you have someone that can do the work well turned out working with an individual is best-always such a great experience. Oh yes, I have a few reproduction pieces, some good period things and much of the period old pieces, antiques. I prefer a piece of junk to something new. There is great potential too for anything to be reworked with a good decorative (very good) decorative painter. pgt

  2. Since you are living in a house and not a museum, most of the time you should be able to use what you have for its actual purpose without being so stressed out that all enjoyment is diminished. I also heartily approve of giving support to highly skilled living artisans.

  3. I adhere to Elsie de Wolfe's dictum re reproduction furniture: Most of the time, it's the effect you're after. And should one's pockets get deeper with time, one can always jettison a Louis XVI-style settee for, perhaps, the real thing.

  4. Only if they are 19th or early 20th century.

  5. I think Aesthete said it best. We can not always have what we desire and most appreciate.
    If a reproduction is well done, it can bring great pleasure too!

  6. Sister pretty much hit the nail on the head. Have things that you love and that you can also use.
    By all means get the period examples that you can muster and that you can manage, but there is no shame in their being accompanied by good, bench-made reproductions, especially for something that needs to take wear and tear. So have someone make you one of those plant stands, and let its final surface coating be something that water cannot harm.
    People should also remember that living artisans are indispensable when you need to replace a piece missing from a set. My ca. 1780 dining room chairs form a more harmonious family with their 1985 little brother in the room with them.
    Best -
    - Mike

  7. So then it's pretty much unanimous: reproductions, if well made and with sufficient patina, are acceptable. That's what I think (but of course everything in moderation, I couldn't imagine if every stick I owned was a repro, no matter how good). Of course Aesthete beat me to the punch about Lady Mendl's view, which I was trying to figure out how to weave in at some point...

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Gentle Readers, much appreciated.

  8. Yes, I personally would not invest in any reproductions that are past the 1st quarter 20th Century - but that is personal taste as well as a concern for resale value. More recent reproductions really do not have a secondary market for them at this point and it seems a shame to invest one's money in anything less than that.


Please do comment! I welcome and encourage them, and enjoy the dialogue.

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