Friday, January 29, 2010

James Hutton's Goblets

“A very dull old gentleman,” he thought.
“I wonder what his goblets may be worth.”

(Stevenson, Robert Lewis: “A Lodging For The Night”. 1877. The last line of the story.)

James Hutton is a different sort of picker than (the previously blog posted) Baxter or Lane Cooper. The latter two physically charge old New England homesteads and barns. Hutton visits them. I, as a picker, visit them too but my picking is methodical compared to Hutton. Hutton wishes to be served well prepared tea while he purchases, most nominally, the tea table it is served on. To him, purchasing the content of a garret and removing that same, is tedious. He prefers a solid silver teapot, purchased as plate. Excepting these differences, we all, as New England pickers, join together in opposition to the generic pickers that now have recognition through television programming. We seek fine New England decorative arts from …fine New England homes.
James is only fine New England decorative arts, while I am an "every bedroom, every bedroom dresser, every bedroom dresser drawer" "empty". I arch to the archeology of the Fine New England Home. James stays with "the decorative art only".
At the time of Baxter's pickle bottle find… that I then sold to Peggy (Abbott)… where upon she sold me her Connecticut ladder back chair that …was her mothers… and …had always been in the family… I: Knew that the chair should not have been sold by Peggy, that her mother would find out and that I would be called upon. The only gap was that… only I saw the chair. Baxter did not. BUT he did hear from Peggy that she had sold me "that old chair". Right away he visited me with no purpose… once. Then again. Both times he nosed around but mentioned nothing. I knew he was looking for the chair. He paused his visits and then appeared twice more without purpose. Evidently he did not see the chair… for sale. After this fourth visit, James Hutton arrived for a visit. Baxter had told him about "a chair" and Hutton, also familiar with Peggy's estate, knew exactly what chair it was. He seated himself at the barn door in an old Boston rocker and rocked slowly in it while looking at me.
"Where is Peggy's chair?" he asked.
"Chair?" I said
"That chair. Her mother's. The ladder back. The good one."
I stood up and stepped three steps to the far side of the barn, reached behind a stack of old lumber and… behind a bench covered with old Staffordshire china that was covered with an old table cloth and… lifted Peggy's chair from darkness into light.
"That chair." Said Hutton.
"My chair." I said.
"HER MOTHER will kill her WHEN she finds out". Pronounced Hutton knowing full well that I was already aware of this.
"How will she?" I said.
"Yes? YOU go tattling?"
"OH!" (pause) "How much is it?"
"Not for sale yet. Cooling off."
"How much THEN?"
"What do you want that for?"
"I collect things from that family. You know that."
"So do I".
Hutton looked around the barn, rocked back and forth, looked at the chair then looked at me. "This isn't the first time she's done this you know."
"Probably not." I said "I know I've come close before; things the mother gave her that she didn't want either. But. I believe this is my first no-no.
"The KEEP THIS UNTIL YOU DIE!" stated Hutton. Then he laughed.
I smiled. We both know this border line well. It is a fine border as long as the object is "no good". It is painfully difficult when the object is "good". The "painfully difficult" usually ends VERY promptly after "YOU DIE": A family tussle. Cash. Ends. It may end in the dealer's favor if they are… still alive.
"Your not going to keep that until YOU die are you?"
"No. Just wait it out. Your telling Mother?"
"I only tell Mother what I want to buy from her. She still has quite a bit you know".
"I'm sure she does. They always do. Most of it never unpacked no doubt. The old family teapot… up attic in a box. Down basement in a crate. The box unopened since packed. Professionally. By the movers. Now two decades ago. EVEN THOUGH she still regularly mentions JUST THAT TEAPOT as if it were in the dining room waiting for tea. A nightmare. Actually a classic New England estate nightmare these days."
"She DOES unpack a box every now & then. That's when I go by. I see her. She mentions a platter or "crockery" as she calls it; English Rockingham. She has a ton of that. I go over. I always buy something. She knows her stuff too. Always the best is set aside displayed. Or going to Peggy. "Peggy will want that" she says.
"Peggy doesn't know what that is I'd say".
"That does no good. Just let her give it to her. Then SHE'LL sell it. As we've have here". Hutton turned to the chair. "Mother had that painted. You can tell. New seat too. Professionally painted. She'd never do that herself. It's really quite well done. Cost a fortune these days."
"Cost a fortune then. It's awkward to sit in" I said.
"Who cares. It looks great. Very proper."
"I'll price it, but not yet. It will not be cheap".
"Neither are mine." Hutton replied and catching eye contact.
"Chairs? Like this?" I said.
"No. Goblets." He replied. He got up from the rocker, walked to his car, took a small box out of the trunk, returned to the rocker, sat the box on the barn floor in front of his foot and then pushed it across the floor toward me.
I bent from my chair, pulled the box over, opened it, removed a paper wrapped ball, unwrapped it and held up… a single heavy, vigorous, free blown and cut lead glass goblet with a cut thumbprint style pattern covering the exterior, a cut fluted stem below and a wide flair ground pontiled base. Holding this base I struck the rim of the goblet to release it's characteristic bell tone ring. The goblet was perfect, probably "English", circa 1815. "Nice" I said.
"There's four. One's broken. But that's why I own them." Hutton said. I looked up and he continued. "Mother gave her those and told her NEVER SELL THEM. And never use them. And never break them. She obeyed. The cleaning lady broke one. She called me about repairing it. I told her the best, fastest, cheapest way to repair it was to sell all four to me and be rid of them. She did that but not without hysterics, a promise to never tell and …still ALWAYS mentioning… do-you-still-have-them."
"How much?" I asked and unwrapped the rest including the broken one. They were still as packaged by Peggy. Hutton had done nothing with them. Even the little flakes from the broken one were carefully wrapped.
"I don't mind selling them to you because I will tell her I did and then she may pester you about them for eternity. Or you can return them to the mother. You may have to do that." Hutton said. He paused and rocked then said "I want ninety dollars each for the perfect ones. You can have the broken one. English, right?"
Ninety dollars each, from Hutton, was a big price with a little professional (read: intimidation) discount: He figures one hundred each but discounts to me at ninety. He probably paid fifty for the whole box. He expects resistance and, probably, no sale. That is fine with him for he'll spar with me for months.
"Ok." I said.
Hutton paused then said "English right?".
"Probably Irish actually" I said.
"That's a lot" he said.
"In general yes. But these"
"Are seriously fine. Look at the form. The heft. These were for -at table-. These were used. With that base they'd never tip over. What did she do: Bust it with the vacuum cleaner? Smacked it off the sideboard? Feel the glass! As for the pattern; you can't fail. You can drink anything out of them."
"That's it?"
"Two twenty-five each".
"Oh please. You should never have sold them."