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I’ve been thinking about words.  More succinctly my thoughts are traveling (see the end of the post to learn where Tokyo and Wendy are heading in a few days) to words and abbreviations.  Words convey meaning; but, only if we know their meaning within a given context.  Abbreviations or acronyms are even dicer.  Two or three letters meant to stand for a word.  But which word?  My mind plays tricks when it encounters abbreviations.  Take for example “tbl” .  To ValtheEvaluator, appraiser by day, “tbl”  represents table.  But to KnitorBe, my knitting i.d., it means “through the back loop”.  This abbreviation directs my hands to knit a stitch through the back loop instead of the normal front.  However, my mind is thinking knit through the table.  The weird thing, is when my mouth opens and talks to another knitter.  Out tumbles, “knit through the table” and I get the strangest looks.

There are so many terms used by appraisers. For illustration, let’s start with periods of design.  Within periods are styles. Within styles there are elements.  You see where I am going?

For instance, the Federal Period – the period that corresponds to the beginning decades of our new nation.  Within the Federal Period are the Adams and Sheraton style.  These two styles are delineated by differences in stylistic elements.  With furniture, for instance, Adams style equals straight legs ending in plinth feet, semi- circular case forms, and simplified moldings. However, with Sheraton style we see the emergence of turned and tapered legs and a shift from sweeping curved fronts to more lightweight rectilinear forms.

When describing a piece I am appraising, I identify the piece and style and then use words to paint a picture of the style; I use more words that reference techniques or features.  Then you have types of woods and cuts.  The finishing hardware of a piece also has it only body of terms. Afterwards a non-appraiser should be able to pick the piece out of the room.

The styles like Adam, Eastlake, Transitional, George III are simple words; yet, they can convey immense meaning, if you know the reference, context, and definition.  Since time is valuable and terms are complex and often misused in the world of antiques, what is a lay person to do?

The best way to learn antique terms is to study a good book.  Take furniture.  There are many good books on furniture, some include all furniture, some only American, and some only American from a particular century or period.  Choose the book that mirrors your collecting interests and let your new knowledge of words make your collecting more exciting and your purchases “smart.” Visit museum collections and listen to the tour narratives or read the description on the item identity cards and try to match the description to the pieces.  Talk to other collectors.  Look at auction catalogs.  Attend seminars.  Again, so many words so little time; but, the investment of time is sure to land a great find at a good price.

If there is a word or abbreviation you would like to discuss and learn more about, please comment on this post and begin a discussion!

Tokyo and Wendy are sailing to the Caribbean for the Holidays.  We hope everyone has a great holiday season and look forward to sharing pictures of our travels when we get back.

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