Susan Silver Antiques

Susan Silver Antiques
755 North Main Street, Route 7
PO Box 621
Sheffield, Massachusetts 01257
Phone: (413) 229-8169
Fax: (413) 229-9069

What the press is saying about us…

Berkshire Byways (Excerpt)

Arthur Dunnam Finds Folk Art and More in the Massachusetts Countryside

Text by Amanda Vaill/Photography by Billy Cinningham

The Massachusetts Berkshires are blessed with a landscape not unlike that of England’s Cotswolds: a country of rolling hills, patched with tilled fields and pastures and crisscrossed by stone walls, that tempt travelers to linger and visitors to stay. There are picturesque villages to look at, full of white clapboard houses clustered around church steeples, and summertime, in particular, offers a progressive fete champetre of diversions… Add to that the two-and-a half hour driving from either New York City or Boston, and you have a nearly irresistible weekend destination – as Arthur Dunnam, design director of Jed Johnson Associates, can attest.

With good friends living on the edges of the Berkshires, Dunnam is a frequent visitor to the area; and he’s living proof that, while you can take the boy out of the showroom, you can’t take the showroom out of the boy. The designer, who has built a reputation for the sensitive handling of period furnishings, often mingled with art or crafts, finds his trips to the Berkshires are all the more enjoyable when he can prowl through the region’s remarkably eclectic collection of antiques shops and decorative dealers. “The unexpected thing about shopping in the Berkshires is that the range of objects is so diverse,” he says. “It’s not just folk art or American antiques.”

On Route 7, south of Great Barrington, just outside the village of Sheffield, is where, he says, Susan Silver Antiques carries “unexpected things in high style.” The charming clapboard house is “literally packed to the rafters,” as Dunnam describes it, with 18th and 19th-century furniture, objects and light fixtures. Finds include giltwood Regency bull’s-eye mirrors, Imari jars (They’d make beautiful lamps,” he says), French botanical and bird prints, chairs, chests and armoires. Dunnam’s favorite item is a spectacular Swedish Empire mirror with a Garden of Eden motif carved into its over-panel, but he also likes the English slate obelisk, with its faux-porphyry panels, on the table beneath it. “I’ve bought some wonderful chinoiserie lacquered tables here, and beautiful porcelain lamps,” says the designer.

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Architectural Digest Spotlight on Hudson Valley Homes Featuring Susan Silver as a favorite source for designer Bruce Shostak.

Decorator Bruce Shostak stands at the front door of Hillstead the Federalera house in Claverack New York he shares with...
Decorator Bruce Shostak stands at the front door of Hillstead, the Federal-era house in Claverack, New York, he shares with Craig Fitt. The home was renovated with consultant Jeremiah Rusconi.

If architecture could be compared to dance, the Federal Style house known as Hillstead, in the Hudson Valley town of Claverack, New York, would be a quadrille. Crisp, elegant, and symmetrical, the home’s formality is relieved, like the dance itself, by idiosyncratic flourishes that heighten its individuality. Certainly Hillstead’s quirky period details—from the flamboyant classical motifs carved into the living room mantel to the built-in benches on the front porch—captivated Bruce Shostak and Craig Fitt when they toured the circa-1817 property with a real-estate agent 15 years ago.

The Manhattan couple aimed to purchase the painted-brick dwelling as a country escape, but the family that had owned it since the 1930s fretted that the landmark, along with its pair of rickety barns and poignantly dilapidated redbrick summer kitchen in the backyard, would be in danger of rude modernizations once the nearly two-acre property changed hands. A number of potential buyers had made generous offers—all were rejected. Shostak, an interior designer, and Fitt, an aesthete who works in investment banking, finally won out, convincing the sellers that they would be conscientious stewards.

“The family understood we were passionate about this kind of architecture and would use the house to indulge our interest in the furniture and decorative arts of the first quarter of the 19th century,” says Shostak, who was raised near Washington, D.C., and spent “untold childhood weekends at house museums and the National Gallery of Art.” Fitt grew up close by and was similarly obsessed, so conversations with the two men frequently touch on some of the greatest domestic hits of the Federal age, among them Baltimore’s Homewood, Boston’s Otis House, and Springfield, New York’s Hyde Hall—which, Shostak points out, has a sinewy tiger-maple staircase almost identical to the one in Hillstead’s entrance hall.

“There was great attention to proportion, scale, and appropriateness in the early 1800s,” says Fitt, who also writes Reggie Darling, a beguilingly catholic design blog about subjects ranging from feather-edge creamware to Gordon Bunshaft’s Lever House office tower. “That period was really the apex of beautiful, graceful houses in America.”

Hillstead, which was probably constructed using an architectural pattern book, exemplifies all of those things. Except for the busy road out front, an extension added to the rear of the structure in the 1840s, and two elegant porches that the men appended (designed to mimic the Colonial Revival style of the 1890s, the verandas bring Hillstead’s architectural evolution a gentle step forward), the house must look remarkably like it did when the original owners took up residence. Full credit goes to Fitt and Shostak’s comprehensive renovation. The couple collaborated with Jeremiah Rusconi, a renowned restoration consultant whose résumé includes stints as an art director for Merchant Ivory films. Their work ranged from elementary (stripping off 20th-century wallpaper and removing layers of paint from marble windowsills) to exacting (several hundred washers now stabilize the living room’s plaster ceiling) to archaic (goat hair was stirred into new rough-coat plaster for strength).

Shostak, a former lifestyle-book editor who founded his eponymous decorating firm in 2004, says the goal was always “to do justice to the house and furnish it appropriately but not slavishly—what I like to call period-ish.” For instance, few Americans in the first part of the 19th century possessed a Louis XVI fauteuil, though three shapely examples rest comfortably in Hillstead’s dove-gray living room. (At dinner parties, the furnishings are often pushed back so everyone can dance to music from an iPod.) The chamber’s multicultural mix encompasses Chinese lacquer stools, Regency chairs, and a life-size plaster bust of Thomas Jefferson, one of many representations of the Founding Fathers tucked here and there. “The decoration of every room started with a general historical concept, and since we already had those French chairs, the living room became Jefferson-back-from-Paris,” Shostak says, as Fitt swiftly adds, “ With a little bit of Park Avenue thrown in.”

Select foreign inclusions aside, the men have focused the decor largely on New York state relics of the Federal era. “Boston furniture tends to be a little overly classical,” Fitt says. “Baltimore’s is too pretty, and Philadelphia’s can be a little bombastic. New York furniture, on the other hand, has a square stance and a sense of vigor. It just feels right in this house. Stylistically, the furniture and the architecture are drinking from the same well.” Which might explain why a Federal sideboard from around 1805—impulsively acquired weeks before the couple’s purchase of Hillstead was finalized—fits perfectly against a wall in the candlelit dining room, with just a few inches of clearance when an adjacent door is opened. Says Shostak, “It was made for a room like this, in a house like this.”

Upstairs, the furnishings advance in time. The sepia-and-ivory master suite’s New England chest of drawers likely dates from the 1820s, not long before a craftsman veneered the mahogany mirror above it. On the opposite side of the floor’s sunny hall is a cozy red-and-yellow lounge the couple refers to as the Snuggery or the Mark Hampton/Hirschl & Adler Memorial Library, in honor of the late traditionalist decorator and the esteemed New York City gallery of art and antiques. Lining the room’s pollen-color walls are romantic 19th-century German, American, and Italian portraits and landscapes, while an English porcelain figurine of George Washington poses on the lower shelf of an 1820s New York pier table—which Shostak chose as the subject for his first research paper when he was earning a certificate from Sotheby’s Institute of Art.

After more than a decade of labor, Hillstead’s restoration is nearly complete. Its brick exterior is painted in a smart shade of white, new shutters swing easily from original iron hinges, and the scullery pipe that previously had emptied into a crawl space has been dealt with. Yet the regeneration continues. Next on the agenda: an expansion of the cramped kitchen (“the only part of the house that was mucked up over the centuries,” Shostak says), to be followed eventually by a rehabilitation of the historic summer kitchen, right down to its original set kettle.

“If we were to do it all over again,” Fitt concedes, “I’d want a smaller place on a larger piece of property. But we felt at home here, right when we opened the front door. It’s not the most important Federal house around here, but to my eye it is the most sublime.”

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Rural Intelligence Style
Going to extremes: We asked Susan Silver to point out some superlative pieces. Oldest: Chinese funerary porcelains, intended to keep the deceased comfortable in the afterlife. They date from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).  
Besides, what could she do? She loves the stuff. But in the last 5 or 6 years, a seismic shift began to gather force. Younger collectors were turning their backs on fine furniture as if it were no more alluring than grandma’s Grand Rapids cast-offs. Serious furniture collectors were in the thrall of Mid-Century Modern. “I actually considered, at one point, going that way myself,” Silver jokes.
Rural Intelligence Style
Most Expensive: A Regency drop-leaf sofa table with extra leaves, that pulls apart to reveal a backgammon board within. $36,000.
“Then the prices got insane,” she adds, unable to suppress a hint of glee. “They were charging a fortune for some plastic thing that was never intended to withstand decades of use. That furniture was all experimental: nobody knew how those plastics would age, what the chrome would look like in 50 years, how long the glue would hold the molded plywood together. The designers and manufacturers of most of that furniture did not know or care. They assumed that, once it started falling apart, people would toss it out and buy something else.”
Rural Intelligence Style                   
Most Difficult to Clean A bronze-and-crystal French chandelier, circa 1870.                   
Fortunately, some furniture really is forever. A little over a year ago, when the pendulum began to swing back her way, Silver stood ready with her tried-and-true investment-worthy stuff. In 2008, Susan Silver Antiques was having one of its best year’s ever, until October when the economy fell apart.
Rural Intelligence Style 
What You’ll Never Find Here (Besides Mid-Century Modern): A pedestal (or kneehole) desk. Though she specializes in library furniture, and pedestal desks fall neatly within that category, Silver finds them “too lawyerly.” Tables, such as this English Regency library table with black leather writing surface and reeded legs are more versatile.      
But a shift in taste wasn’t the only contributing factor in the turnaround. “Five years ago, the designer trade started to trail off,” she says, referring to the professionals from New York, Westchester, Fairfield County, Vermont, and Boston who would make routine pilgrimages to Sheffield to visit the wide range of quality dealers there. “They’d discovered that it was easier, and they had infinitely more choice, if they shopped for antiques on-line.” Rural Intelligence Style         
Most Elaborate An Anglo-Indian ivory-and-ebony inkstand, c. 1830.          
This time Silver, whose background is in advertising, leaped onto the trend. She developed her own entertaining website and got her shop listed on 1st Dibs, a web enterprise that features the wares of first-rate dealers from all over the United States. “You don’t choose them,” corrects Silver, referring to 1st Dibs, “they choose you.” She recalls the day when a handsome gentleman entered her store. After looking around with considerable care, he introduced himself as Michael Bruno of 1st Dibs. He was touring the Berkshires looking for candidates for his website. He then invited Susan Silver Antiques to be among the chosen few. “1st Dibs has made a big difference,” she says. Clients like Silver pay a monthly fee, as if they were leasing space at an upper echelon antiques show. Which, as a matter of fact, they are.
Rural Intelligence Style                 
Most FabulousReverse glass paintings, c. 1880, from India.              
Funniest A jolly, bearded gilded-bronze merman on a kidney-shaped marble base, c. 1820.  
Rural Intelligence Style
Least Expensive Metal polish imported from Germany. “It polishes silver, brass, tin, copper, but it doesn’t make the brasses, or any of the other metals, too brassy. It leaves a mellow patina, and the cracks turn black instead of white.” $30.
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Invaluable Guide to Buying Japanese Art & Antiques- Featuring our Imari Vases

Excerpt from March 17, 2017
Invaluable Guide to Buying Japanese Art & Antiques
Pair of Japanese Imari vases with lids, c. 1890, Susan Silver Antiques

Japan’s long, rich history of fine and decorative art dates back thousands of years. Japanese art and antiques that have survived from centuries past include samurai swords, scrolls, prints, painting, netsuke figures, and earthenware vases. Today, these items are prized for their historical significance and unique aesthetic.Prices for Japanese art and artifacts are driven by a niche but loyal market. Collectors choose pieces for their cultural relevance, evidenced by the inclusion of Japanese works in most major museums. In recent years, the popularity of contemporary Japanese cultural trends like anime have generated a more widespread audience for the country’s rich art history and a competitive market for contemporary Japanese artists.

The earliest known art objects in Japan date back to the first human habitation in the area by the Jomon and Yayoi settlers, around 1100 B.C. Objects from this period include miniature figurines known as dogu, which are elaborately decorated clay storage vessels, bronze bells, and copper weapons shaped in humanoid forms.

During the Asuka and Nara periods, which lasted from roughly 500 to 700 A.D., continental Asia began to influence the art and culture of Japan. As a result of cultural cross-pollination between China, Korea, and Japan, the first Japanese Buddhist sculptures appeared during this time period. Subject matter and formal qualities of works produced also saw a shift in focus. Japanese painters began to depict landscapes, court scenes, and battles, which were directly influenced by Chinese society. Japanese artists also transitioned to black and white compositions from the bright color palettes used before the introduction of other Asiatic cultures.

Art in Japan flourished during the Edo period, which lasted from the early 17th century to the mid-19th century. It was during this time that Ukiyo-e and woodblock prints emerged. These colorful, layered images often depict beautiful women, kabuki actors, and natural landscapes. The most famous practitioners of these printmaking styles were Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige. As European trade with Japanese ports expanded in the mid-19th century, artists’ experimentation with flat planes, asymmetry, stylization, and vibrant color greatly influenced the work of European artists in the 19th century and 20th centuries.

Original woodblock print of a Summer wedding by Takahashi Shotei, 1923,
woodblock print, 6.5 x 14.5 in., Things Japanese Gallery

Japonisme, a French term for the study of Japanese art and artists, is apparent in the works of many European Impressionist and Modern artists. Japanese artifacts, including kimonos, painted scrolls, and woodcuts, appear in the paintings of William Merritt Chase and Edouard Manet. Japanese prints also inspired the paintings of many Post-Impressionist masters, including Edgar Degas and Vincent Van Gogh. Though widely lauded for its impact on modern art, this movement has also been met with criticism for promoting cultural theft.

Types of Japanese Art & Antiquities

Pair of antique Japanese champlevé urns, 1890, bronze with wood base,
25.5 x 16 in., Philosophy Antiques & Design

Left: Japanese scroll, 20th century, paper and ink on light blue background, 16 x64 in., Right:
Japanese scroll, 19th century, paper and ink on dark blue background, 9.9 x 43.5 in., Primitive

Tips for Buying Japanese Art

As no market is 100% certain, the greatest piece of advice for new collectors is to buy what you are drawn to aesthetically. Purchasing objects first and foremost because you enjoy their beauty ensures they will always retain their inherent value in your home.

Like any investment, buying art involves some degree of risk. One smart strategy to mitigate this risk is to buy the highest quality objects available. In any market, there will always be collectors and buyers seeking out the best examples of any given object. Thus, iconic objects in perfect (or near perfect) will be more likely to retain, and possibly increase in value over time. Request a condition report or any other existing documentation prior to purchase.

When acquiring work through an online gallery or auction marketplace like Invaluable, the descriptions will often explain preexisting condition issues that inform the value of the work. If a description uses vague language or the word “-style” as a qualifier (“in the style of Hokusai”), the seller will not be obligated to refund your money if doubts arise surrounding its authenticity. Furthermore, unless you are familiar with the seller’s reputation, avoid buying without a refund policy in place.

Familiarize yourself with artworks of interest and develop expertise. In order to ensure that you are getting a good deal on a work of art, it is important to understand what comparable artworks have sold for, as well as any market trends and condition issues that may affect its value. If you have questions or do not feel that you have all of the relevant information required to make an informed purchase, seek out the expertise of a specialist.

There are a number of additional factors that can affect the value of Japanese art. These factors include materials, condition, provenance, and authenticity. Collectors of Japanese art should be aware of the import laws and regulations surrounding commonly used materials in artifacts from antiquity. Such materials include: Ivory, Certain hardwoods, Bronze, Jad and Era-specific ceramics.

Ivory has been used for centuries as a surface upon which to carve; however, increasing criticism surrounding the poaching of elephants and illegal importation of ivory over the past century has resulted in the disappearance of ivory from major auction sales. It is important to ensure that any antique ivory present in items is in compliance with legal regulations. The factors that go into this consideration include the age and type of the ivory, and the date that it was imported to the U.S.

Similar regulations exist for other rare materials like Jade and certain kinds of endangered hardwood, including mahogany. These restrictions have helped to bolster the market for other objects carved from non-restricted wood species and other materials, as artists and consumers alike look for alternatives.

The better the condition of an artwork, the more value it possesses. Condition issues vary depending on the material of the object in question. In some cases, these condition issues arise from “inherent vice”- flaws that are related to the constitution materials themselves, like paint loss and craqueleur or hairline “cracking” in the case of paintings.

Other times, these issues arise from conditions related to the environment in which they have been housed. These include UV damage from sustained exposure to sunlight as well as water, fire, and smoke damage. While a good conservator can often minimize the impact or visibility of condition issues, some antiques are often more highly prized in their original condition. Furthermore, “invisible” repairs or any kind of restorative work could also compromise an item’s worth.

Provenance is a written record of the history of an object that tells who has owned it in the past, where it was purchased, and when it has been sold. Provenance often significantly increases the value of an object as it offers the most concrete and valid proof of its authenticity. This means that detailed record-keeping and documentation are important aspects of maintaining any collection. By confirming the chain of ownership of an object, one can confirm that the artwork is genuine.

Determining the authenticity of antique objects, especially Japanese paintings, drawings and scrolls can be problematic with objects that date back hundreds or thousands of years. With objects of this age, it is rare to have any record of provenance, let alone a complete one, which makes the presence of artist’s signatures and mark and period engravings (indicating the date of creation). These kinds of insignia also generally serve to make the pieces more valuable, as they give the potential collector greater faith in their legitimacy.

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