In my travels as an antique appraiser I sometimes come across furniture that we see very little of in western Canada. For some reason, western tastes in informal antique furniture runs to oak whereas, in the central – east, pine is the wood of choice. As such, we seldom see old pine pieces in Alberta – unless they have been brought in by someone who used to live in Quebec (or brought into the province by a dealer).
This was the case a few months ago when I visited a senior who was planning to move out of the city. She had beautiful 18th and 19th century furniture and antiques (the pitcher in my previous blog was hers too) and was looking to sell the furniture before she moved at the end of the month. I put her in contact with a few dealers and the formal pieces made of walnut and mahogany sold. However, I had a difficult time connecting with anyone about the pine furniture she had avidly collected and brought to Alberta when she and her husband had moved here decades ago.
The pine furniture, made in the mid to late 19th century, was built by hand and its hardware was original. The pieces would clearly be described as rustic because the maker’s marks (from tools) and signs of wear and tear were obvious.
There’s no real way of telling what the original colours would have been because, according to the book “Antique Furniture of Quebec” by Michel Lessard, “between 1920 and 1970 old furniture (in Quebec) was systematically stripped down to bare wood.
The senior collected this furniture back as far as the 1940’s so I suspect her pieces were more original than those that are seen today. Due to their continued popularity in Quebec and Ontario, furniture of this type has suffered greatly at the hands of “restorers.”
The furniture has, as previously mentioned, been stripped, married (when pieces of one cupboard are attached to another), and reproduced complete with the “signs of wear.” A collector must be aware of this before paying a large sum of money for a piece.
So why is pine furniture less popular in the west? I have a theory about that. In this part of the country we are obsessed with “new”. New is good, old is bad. In a conversation with an auctioneer a few years back I was told “Westerners like antiques – it’s just that they want them to look like they were made yesterday.”
Herein lies the problem – few of us accept antique furniture that is anything less than pristine – even if it means the original finish has been stripped. Our furniture wouldn’t fare well on the Antiques Road Show. It’s time we grew up and appreciated things that are not perfect. At least they have character.