AFTER nearly 50 years as a dealer, Tobias Jellinek makes no apology for having written what he describes as “a practical book” about early English chairs, stools and other seating rather than a furniture history book.
This experience-led approach is outlined in the introduction: "When asked by a would-be collector in around 1915 how he could learn about 'old furniture', one furniture expert gave the simple answer, "Buy some". It is a trifle more complicated than that but, without some degree of commitment, I believe it is hard to learn about early furniture."
He has personally handled most of the pieces he illustrates and helped to form many of the collections from which they are drawn. The result is a catalogue of chairs grouped according to type (enclosed armchairs, armchairs with single back panel, etc) which he is confident are genuine examples of their kind.
This is a useful service. Early oak suffered grievously at the hands of fakers, fantasists and embellishers in the earlier, less scrupulous days of antiques dealing and his section on the activities of the Wardour Street craftsmen in the 18th and 19th centuries will be salutary reading for the untutored oak collector.
His guide to dating early oak analyses the importance of patina, wear, restoration and worm damage under the general assumption that "old things look old" and that anything that looks too good to be true probably is.
Old oak, with its uniform dark patina, is notoriously difficult to photograph. Despite the fact that almost every piece was photographed specially for this publication, there are many instances where surface detail has been lost in the printing and more enlargements of key features mentioned in the descriptions would have been a welcome addition.
- Early English Chairs and Seats, 1500-1700 by Tobias Jellinek, Antique Collectors' Club. ISBN13: 9781851495818 ISBN 1851495819 500 colour illus. 328 pages, £50 hardback.