Clinton Howell Antiques


Clinton Howell, purveyor of exceptional English antique furniture declares the following:

“The San Francisco Fair is, as far as I am concerned, one of the premiere shows of the year, let alone the fall season. There has always been a strong emphasis on the antique decorative arts at the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show and so it is tailor made for dealers like myself who sell English antique furniture. Almost every exhibitor I know in the show makes a particular effort in bringing items that are unique.”

Among Clinton's favorite pieces are:

A neo-classical stripped pine bookcase, circa 1770

“The style of the piece is neo-classical, a term whose definition is fairly imprecise because the neo-classical period covers from 1760-1840. This superbly proportioned bookcase is early neo-classical, probably made around 1770. The English furniture trade at this time was increasing in size, though not in quality as many new makers did not bother with the traditional seven-year apprenticeship which allowed them to make things for less money (they were known as the dishonorable trade for this practice). Hence, the year 1770 is an interesting time period, early enough for the great bespoke makers such as Chippendale, Mayhew and Ince and John Linnell to still be practicing, but also the time when new cheaper makers were fulfilling the orders for the new and multitudinous middle class. My bookcase is clearly by a bespoke maker, a detail that is easily determined by looking at the quality of the carving. It is likely that it was painted in pastel colors. Aside from the first rate carving, one of the more interesting features are the pewter cut-outs on an ebonized background. Here you can see the direct influence of Josiah Wedgwood who was intrigued with including black (basalt) as a background to painted decoration. I would not be surprised if this cabinet was not initially designed to display Wedgwood porcelain.”


A pair of painted and gilt arm chairs:

“These arm chairs with their blue upholstery are also neo-classical, but of a slightly later date. Neo-classicism went through several convolutions, the first being Robert Adam inspired, the next being a French-based neo-classicism which was devoid of all carving with quite severe lines and just a few curves that always had interesting molding profiles. These chairs were made for the boudoir as they are slightly lower with a 15” seat height than most drawing room chairs.”


An oval rococo mirror

“Rococo furniture, one of the styles that preceded the neo-classical style, was a style of profusion that was meant to alter the way you saw furniture. Instead of a mirror frame looking like a church façade with a strong pediment and baroque details, the mirror such as mine with the oval plate and the pair of apposing ho-ho birds, has a softer edge. It is designed not to make you think of the function of the piece, but of decoration. It is similar to the difference between a flower display and an architectural model, pastoral and nature focused and not pragmatic and patterned.”


A Gainsborough style chair, circa 1765

“The baroque style of English furniture was the nation’s first truly English inspired design. Although the elements of baroque are universal, the English interpretation struck its own chord by the mid 1730’s. Change, however, was inevitable as time and style move constantly. The gilded open armchair, also known as a Gainsborough style chair, dates around 1765. What does this chair owe to the baroque influence? Specifically, it is the proportions, the height, width and depth of it, and how the chair sits or the way it looks. Take away the carving and pretend that it is not gilded and you could have a walnut Gainsborough from 1745. However, the decoration is later and that is what determines the date of the chair. In particular, the bellflower garlands across the front are soon to become a standard decorative feature of much neo-classical furniture. All of this is interesting, but I would say that the best feature of the chair is how comfortable it is. That is truly the test of great design.”


Clinton Howell Antiques will be at booth #22.