Dialectical Materialism

Terzameron Day 30
April 19, 2020
Tim Martin


We have more stories to tell, more objects to celebrate, more people to remember, but it will have to wait. Commerce calls. This is the last post of the Terzameron. Thank you for reading it and thank you for all your emails and phone calls! It has been fun to hear from you!


Let’s start with yesterday’s story, and take as the “thesis” of this post (if you’ll forgive the cheap abuse of Hegel) the grand country house, Holkham Hall. Its owner, Sir Thomas Coke, bought everything of value that came in his path, and furnished his pile with every possible treasure seen or heard of at the time. Nevertheless, as we noted yesterday, at the end of his life he seemed…unfulfilled: “It is a melancholy thing to stand alone in one’s own country. I look around, not a house to be seen but my own. I am Giant of Giant Castle, and have ate up all my neighbours….”


Now let’s glance at the antithesis of that life, the earnestly comical and comically earnest account of two years in a cabin by the American hero and “hairshirt of a man” Henry David Thoreau. “I lived alone, in the woods, in a house I had built myself, a mile from any neighbor” he writes. As for the furnishings: “I had three pieces of limestone sculpture on my desk, but seeing that they needed dusting, while the furniture of my mind was all undusted still, I threw them out the window in disgust.”


It won’t surprise anyone that this post is going for a celebration of the synthesis, the middle ground. For although Thoreau “went to the woods to live deliberately” and to escape the Concord drawing rooms, I’d argue that you can, in fact, live deliberately in a house with running water, and you certainly don’t have to throw your sculptures out the window. In fact, when I started out in this business, I was struck again and again by the care, the earnest thought and consideration, the focus, the looking that went into our clients purchases. I was struck precisely by how “deliberate” collecting is. Once the purchases were made, I was even more struck by how our clients set the stage, as it were, on which the objects would sing.


One client has a Colonial Rhode Island dining room in his New York apartment. It has no electric light, and when you sit in it, with all the candles lit, and the gorgeous early silver and glass glowing on the deep mahogany, you really feel like you are in another era. Another has an entire apartment full of magnificent English furniture, silver, gilt-wood mirrors, blue-john, ormolu, cut-glass and oriental rugs, the whole beautifully laid out to create a welcoming home, but he doesn’t live there. He goes there on his walk home, pours himself a drink, and spends an hour or two in quiet contemplation before moving on to his “real” apartment–which has TV, and stacks of mail, and food in the fridge–a few blocks away. He’ll sometimes drop by the shop in the morning to rave about the beauty of this or that object, having checked it out again the night before. Our greatest-ever collector of Irish silver was John Rowan. His apartment was crammed with silver, hundreds of items, but with the exception of a pair of English candlesticks, it was all stored away in flannel bags in drawers and cupboards. He could tell you exactly where everything was. “Oh, that freedom box? Second drawer down on the left of the desk, fourth from the back.”


Every day for the last month I have gone to the shop. I take care of the banking and the shipping and the billing and the cleaning. It’s different, a bit lonely, but I like it. The solitude is leavened, and I know this is an awful cliché but I mean it, by the company of the things. (I really love my silver!) Each piece (with a few exceptions) just gets better and better under long and quiet contemplation. I long ago realized that in real life, I’m a parent, but at work I’m a foster parent. And, as such, all these beautiful things seem to me like Keats’s Grecian urn, they are unravished brides of quietness, slowly unfolding to the viewer their desirability, their charms and beauties, and they are foster-children of silence and slow time, blooming, like real children under the right conditions, to sing and tell stories. And the days go by, and I think how lucky I am.


With best wishes and thanks again to you all,


Add a comment