Sunday, October 14, 2012

Another Sale, More China, and Thoughts on Stewardship

The Collection of Keith and Chippy Irvine Sale

Today's essay was intended to be a "Winning Bid" post about Reggie's successful bidding on a number of lots at the recent auction of "The Collection of Keith and Chippy Irvine" held at Stair Galleries in Hudson, New York.  It has evolved into being yet another of his posts about collecting ceramics, and it includes one of his favorite tips for carefully storing the same.  It also includes his ramblings about the concept of stewardship.

So, Dear Reader, be forewarned!

For those of us who are as obsessed as Reggie is with pretty things and the appurtenances of refined living—at least as it was narrowly defined among a tiny minority of Anglophilic East Coasters here in the United States in the latter half of the 20th century—last weekend was a sale bonanza in the little city of Hudson, New York.  As readers of this blog well know, on October 5th Stair Galleries auctioned there nearly 300 lots of "Property of a Lady," universally understood to be that of the late Brooke Astor.

Cover of the promotional brochure for the Irvine sale
held at Stair Galleries on October 6th

The very next day Stair Galleries also held a sale of the "Collection of Keith and Chippy Irvine."  Mr. Irvine, the noted decorator, died last year, much to the sadness of those who knew and loved him.  His wife, the noted author Chippy Irvine, is very much alive and decided to sell a treasure-trove of objects that she and her husband collected over their long and happy marriage.  Stair was the fortunate auction house to be selected for this extravaganza.

We—and a number of our friends—were fortunate to come away from the Irvine sale with a pretty thing or two for our own collections.  Which brings to mind one of the reasons that I enjoy collecting antiques (or "previously owned" things): namely, that I appreciate owning objects that someone else (and, dependng on the age of the object, possibly many people) owned and enjoyed before me, and which I shall pass on to someone else to own and enjoy in the future.  We are but stewards of our possessions, Dear Reader, and it is up to us to appropriately care for them while enjoying them, so that those who come after us may do so as well.  Collecting and living with antiques (whether they be objects or houses), is the original definition of being green in my book.

But I digress . . .

We attended the Irvine sale from the first rap of the auctioneer's gavel at eleven o'clock in the morning through the late afternoon.  We did so because the lots that we and our friends desired were spread throughout the day, and also because it was all rather interesting.  Bidding in the auction was spirited, and was enlivened by an intense rivalry between two tastemakers in the room who bid determinedly for the same lots over and over again.  There was also one very active phone bidder amidst the fray.

One of the lots in the Irvine sale from which we
dropped out of the bidding, long before the final hammer
Image courtesy of Stair Galleries

Although there were any number of lots in the sale that we were interested in bidding on, we quickly decided to refrain from doing so on those that the two tastemakers were vying for . . .

Nope.  Didn't get this one, either!
Image courtesy of Stair Galleries

. . . since, given their determination and seemingly endless resources, there was no point!  Besides, we knew one of them and didn't want to bid against him, as he is a friend of many years standing.

The Irvine wall clock that we were able to buy,
 as it appeared in the Stair Galleries online catalogue
Image courtesy of same

Boy and I did come away with two lots from the sale.  One, a pretty and decorative tôle peinte Regency-style pocket watch-form wall clock (clearly not first period—it was most likely made in the 1950s or 1960s), and the second a set of prettily painted Wedgwood creamware plates.  Some of the plates in the set were made in the first period, around 1800, and others were made later, possibly as many as one hundred years later, to fill out the set.  Fortunately Wedgwood kept its early molds and had painters on staff throughout who could perfectly copy the earlier decoration.

The Irvine wall clock, photographed hanging
from a doorknob at Darlington House

Boy has rather a thing for early creamware and was excited by the opportunity to acquire a substantial stack of plates at the Irvine sale to add to our cupboards.  Fortunately the two tastemakers at the sale had their sights on furniture and pictures, so Boy was able to reasonably win the plates and bring them home at the end of the day.

The creamware plates Boy bought, as shown in Stair's online catalogue
Image courtesy of same

But the story doesn't end there, Dear Reader.  No, there's more.  For when one acquires pretty things, it requires (or at least it should) that they be cared for appropriately, so that they can be passed on to others in the future in the best condition possible.

The creamware plates, now that they have come
to exist with us at Darlington House

Once we got our pretty plates home to Darlington House, the two of us spent an hour or so tending to them.  First we removed every sticky label (auction lots get covered with identifying paper labels during the sale process), and then we removed the residue left behind (thank goodness one has discovered Goo-Gone™ for such purposes).  We then followed this by a sudsy wash in warm water and a thorough drying with a soft cloth.

Our bolt of brown felt, on hand for cutting rounds

The next and final bit of tending one does under such circumstances, at least that we do at Darlington House, is to cut out felt rounds to place between each plate so acquired.  Doing so protects the plates from scratching and chipping when picked up by a careless housekeeper and ensures their stacked safety for as long as one owns them.  Although one can buy pre-made rounds to layer between one's plates, making them oneself is easy and (by far more) economical.  Furthermore, in doing so one is able to choose the color of one's rounds.  Our current favorite color of felt is chocolate brown, although we have also used grey in years past.

The felt, as marked for cutting plate rounds

Tending to such things is a satisfying, relaxing, and nonverbal activity, and a decidedly pleasant way to pass happy and productive time with one's like-minded spouse.

The plates, cushioned by layers of felt

Dear Reader, should you be so fortunate to buy, be given, or inherit pretty and fine antique dishes, I encourage you to secure a bolt of felt and cut rounds from it to protect them.  Not only will you be assured of coddling the plates for as long as you own them, but you will also be confident that when you pass them on, either directly or when your effects are auctioned after you move into the Big China Closet Beyond, whoever receives your plates will find them to have been properly—and appreciatively—cared for.

All photographs, except where noted, by Boy Fenwick


  1. I silk screen my monogram on each plate protector. That way should I become famous my nieces will receive a healthy 'premium' for crap they wonder why I collect.

  2. And if y'all would go ahead and adopt me and LFG, the issue of to whom you "steward" the stuff towards would be settled.Daddy? Is that you?

  3. Reggie,

    You always give such great tips. I am in the process of unpacking my numerous sets of china and have been at a loss as to how to protect them. Some of the ready made options can be so expensive. The idea of buying a bolt of felt and cutting it had never entered my mind. So simple, so elegant, so Reggie! My china thanks you.

    On another note. Your clock is just charming. You are so lucky to live near that auction house. I would have loved to attend the Astor sale with you and Boy. What fun we would have had!

  4. ADG,

    The line forms to the right....

  5. I had admired the clock in the catalogue as well, though I already have one. Mine, too, is a revival piece, installed too high on the wall to be convenient to be kept wound, but highly decorative in terms of composition of hanging displays. And I like the reader's comment on silk-screening the pads - an excellent idea; a small logo would be just the thing.

  6. Hello Reggie, Here's another good reason to make your own plate separators. We had a set of dishes that had been "protected" in the past with thin foam rounds, but the foam disintegrated and bonded to the plates, creating a huge cleaning job.

    In a pinch you can use paper napkins, but having felt around leads to a lot of good uses, such as lining drawers and boxes, and protecting delicate objects. Incidentally, one should NEVER use bubble wrap for plates or any long-term storage of antiques--it will mar many surfaces, especially painted or gilded ones--I learned this the hard way.
    --Road to Parnassus

  7. many and many a year ago, when i was but a 'prentice draper on 34th street, i asked my boss,
    'where can i get felt?' he told me, in no uncertain terms, but then very kindly pointed me
    to a fabric store opposite the empire state building for my more mundane needs.

  8. when properly procured, the felt-in a tet d' negre colour- was used to cover a disparate group of slab-sided case goods, and became a seating and storage center in my first tiny apartment on jane street.

  9. Such a lovely post. The aesthetic and the code of conduct both. So comforting to think of you and Boy, cutting chocolate brown felt of a Sunday. Hope you are both well and in good spirits.

  10. I am teased mercilessly by my friends for separating my dishes in the way you describe! I have a feeling you are not...

  11. Great tip... you are sounding like Martha!
    Enjoy your new plates.

  12. Dear Reggie, I am always interested to follow your endeavours at the salerooms, and we seem to share some misfortune in not obtaining what we want sometimes, but in my case, and I'm sure in yours too, it's a question of paying what you think something is worth. I am curious however: how many plates do you have? I get a sense that the china cabinets at Darlington are overflowing?! I'm finding I use the china, silver and glass (Waterford) less and less, and indeed when I inherit another house full of it, it will go to the saleroom. (Should I let you know?!)

  13. You can make felted fabric by washing 100% wool (not the washable kind) on the Hot setting in your washer and then drying on High. It might take a couple of rounds in the washer and drier. It will end up slightly rippled looking. However, you can get thick felt in exactly the color you wish.

  14. Gosh, I feel so lazy - I have always used those cheap fluted paper plates to separate my china, they are a little springy and do make the stack a little taller-BUT I have used the same ones for years- I think they are probably old enough to vote-

  15. I agree wholeheartedly with your views on stewardship and that what one cherishes and cares for can and should be passed along for others to enjoy. Ah, the felt, is a majestic idea, you have no idea how much it has been bothering me that my "special " plates are rested upon each other!

  16. Hello Reggie,

    How fortunate that these beautiful items have found their way to Darlington, and in your care. I recall seeing Keith and Chippy's home for sale within the last couple of years, and all of the amazing photographs that accompanied the real estate listing. It was the type of home you could effortlessly move right into.

    Even though my cupboards, shelves, and storage boxes are jam packed with goodies, I always manage to find room for a few more when pretty things present themselves.

    You make an excellent point on stewardship. I hope that one day my daughter will appreciate all of the little things that make our house a home, and possibly be inspired to keep, use, and pass on to her children the things that we've found pleasure in using.

    Many years ago, I purchased several yards of dark green felt to make rounds for the plates and flat serving pieces we own. I also use this same color felt (but Kenized) to protect the silver in the drawers.

    Please thank Boy for the sumptuous photographs in this post. They are beautiful!

  17. Reggie, thank you for the tip. I too use the cheap paper plates but this looks so much better and softer. Stunning china too.

    "The Big China Closet Beyond" I laughed out loud!!

  18. Could not be more amusing.

  19. Oh, that foot in a sandal--I want it! I hope the winning bidder is a deserving sort.

    xxx Francesca

  20. I love that so many others make their own felt plate protectors. I made some for myself when my grandmother gave me my first set of antique china. A few years ago, when I was fresh out of college and on a shoestring budget, I made these for my parents sets of china for Christmas. I used different colors that coordinated with the dishes so we know which protectors went with which set.

  21. My mother taught me to do this. :) We received two sets of china for our wedding - "our" set, and my parents' wedding set. One of the first days in our new house, my mother came over with a bin of leftover felt pieces and we cut them to size. :)

  22. I have to say that when this sale happened, I was worried that our things wouldn't go to people who would properly appreciate them. I'm pleased to see that these plates DID go to a good home. It's always nice to see someone appreciate items that were so much a part of our lives. The creamware plates that you got were only used a few times by us, usually during the Christmas holidays. I'm thrilled to see that you're so pleased with them and whats even more pleasing is that you know how to take care of them. The new owners of our house are a perfect mirror image- a Scottish decorator and a British spouse. And while our house might look like one could just move in, it takes far more finesse to decorate a space of that size. Now, many of the rooms were left as my father designed them and are filled with many of our belongings from the sale ( they might of been bidding on the same things as you). I'm very happy you enjoy our pieces as much as we did.


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

Related Posts with Thumbnails