Thursday, December 31, 2015

Where Have All The Antiques Gone?

Here's Looking At You Kid 2016

As I walk to work every day, I ponder the complexities of life and the simplicity of living.  It takes me about 10 minutes if I walk briskly and slightly more if I stop to look at things around me.  During that time, when I am not bothered by the appointments and responsibilities of work, I am able to do "free thinking."

Lately I have been reflecting more and more about the antique business and what I have learned over the past 46 years walking the same neighborhood and doing essentially the same work, restoring old furniture.  Today, since this is the last day of the year, I decided to sit down and put into words some of the thoughts that have occupied me over the past year.

In particular, "What has happened to the antique business?"

Last week, a good friend and highly respected appraiser in the business, sent me an article from the recent issue of the Economist, written by fellow appraser Marcus Wardell.  As I read this piece, it seemed to reinforce all the opinions I have formed during the past few years, as the business I am in has undergone significant changes.

Just this week Patrice and I were standing in the workshop, surrounded by projects, and we were discussing how, just 10 years ago, this shop was full of period 18th century pieces of the highest quality.  Today it seems to be just "old" furniture, mostly without much value.  What happened?

Sure, we still are working on Boulle surfaces and, in some cases, high end pieces.  But, there are not dozens of projects of similar quality waiting in line for our specialized attention.  We are not driving around Bel Air and Rancho Santa Fe on weekly deliveries like we did for decades.

To start out his article, Mr. Wardell notes that the Louvre des Antiquaires, located just across the street from the Louvre museum in Paris, is now in the process of closing shops and turning into a retail space for high end fashions.  He points out that, in London, all but three of the hundreds of antique shops have disappeared in the traditional "brown mile" of stores.  In New York City, Kentshire Galleries closed and sold its remaining inventory at Sotheby's.  All the top auction houses now feature much less furniture and are focusing on contemporary art, jewelry and wine.

Here, in my neighborhood, the local paper had a lead story last month which announced the end of "Antique Row" on Adams Avenue, where I first opened my store in June of 1969.  I still remember the antique dealer from the store directly across the street walking in to meet me.  In a rather cheerful tone, he asked me "What do you do for a living?"  I replied in my most confident voice, "I am an antique dealer."  His reply was simply, "Yes, but what do you do for a living?"

Now it's almost a half century later and I still wonder how I make a living at this craft.  In my defense, even though I don't have a million dollars in the bank, I do own my business location, all my tools, materials and inventory, as well as nice cars and a large home near the park.  All bought and paid for by working with my hands, and experience gained from living with antiques.

When I started out in the business you could buy real nice old furniture, in oak, walnut, rosewood and mahogany, for very little money.  I found many nice early pieces in thrift stores and used furniture stores.  With a little work cleaning and fixing small details, I could turn a quick profit, as the market for buying antiques was growing rapidly, and demand remained strong through the Bicentennial in 1976.

Today there is no demand for this early stuff at all.  Why?

Part of it is that to appreciate antiques you need a sophisticated understand of early culture, craft and historical perspective.  I am sorry to say these talents are not so common in the younger generation, who should, by all accounts, be the consumer for these items.  Rather than consume durable goods, the general attitude these days is to own disposable objects.  When they break they are just replaced.  Just look at our attitude towards electronic items, like TV's and phones.  They are expensive and last a few years.  Because the newer versions are so much better and the old ones were not designed to be repaired, they are just discarded when they break or become obsolete.

This is not environmentally sustainable.

It is true that, over centuries of collecting objects, the desire to own objects from an earlier period has gone up and down with periodic cycles of demand.  In ancient Rome the elite sought out Greek bronzes, sculptures and vases.  Again, during the Renaissance, rich young gentlemen took the Grand Tour and returned flush with valuable antiques to demonstrate their worldly experience.

With the emergence of the middle class during the Victorian Period, a large new consumer class began to spend money on early objects to decorate their homes.  Mr Wardell points out "By 1890 Paris had 300 antique shops, up from 25 in 1850...but antiques, like clothes, go in and out of style.  They boomed again in the 1950's and 1980's, when 'period rooms' in a single nostalgic style were all the rage."

When I read interior design magazines today or visit rich client's homes, all I see are simple, unassuming, plain lines, devoid of decoration or expensive materials.  Each room is designed exactly like a hotel room.  Neutral colors, basic functionality, predictable forms and function.  Nothing to challenge the senses or intellect.  Nothing to draw your attention.  In my opinion, completely boring.

Mr. Wardell continues: "Many successful decorators sell furniture lines, and therefore have a financial incentive to suggest new items.  Appreciating antiques, and knowing what to buy and at what price, takes study and training that few people have."

There is another aspect to this lack of investment in antiques which I can directly blame on the dealers themselves.  The presence of fakes, and the common practice of selling fakes and copies as "authentic" has seriously damaged the confidence of the consumer.  Too many times I have been the expert who has to explain to the owner that the expensive antique he just bought is a "pastiche" or simple fake, and that it has nothing more then decorative value.

For example, in Los Angeles many years ago I was asked by my friend, the appraiser, to provide analysis of a rather large and expensive armoire.  The client had paid $250,000 for this cabinet, which was a Louis XV television cabinet!  The dealer had taken two armoires, cut one in half down the center and attached the sides to each end of the center armoire, making a single cabinet about 8 feet wide.

We were able to get the dealer to refund the money and the cabinet was returned to the store.  Several years after that, as I was in another mansion up in the hills above LA, I mentioned this event to the client, who then exclaimed "I think you had better look at the armoire in my bedroom!"  To my surprise, it was the same cabinet, sold at the same price, by the same dealer.  Again we were able to get the dealer to refund the money and the cabinet was returned.

Soon after that event, as I drove down the street in the antique section of Los Angeles, I looked in the window of the dealer's store and there, in all its glory, stood the same cabinet waiting for the next victim.

These actions do not instill confidence in the buyer.  If only the dealer would clearly price the genuine antiques properly and identify the "decorator" pieces fairly, the buyer would be more inclined to shop.  The lure of the quick buck by these unscrupulous dealers has ruined the market.

On another point, our living habits have changed in the past generation.  Armoires which used to be popular for hiding TVs are not needed, as flat screen televisions are just screwed to the wall.  Smaller rooms in homes and condos do not work well with larger pieces of furniture.  Modern architecture does not include traditional spaces for traditional furniture.  In fact the dining room has disappeared, as we often eat in front of the TV and formal dining parties are less and less common.  Gone is the demand for sideboards and dining tables and chairs.  They are worthless these days.

There is one part of the antique market which has always been solid: the 1%.  It is a fact that the genuine object, which has been professionally conserved and includes a significant provenance will always demand a high price.  These pieces are naturally rare and the very sophisticated consumers with unlimited resources will compete for ownership and bragging rights.  As Mr. Wardell mentions: "They see antiques as 'an undervalued piece of art'."

One of the most famous antique dealers in Paris, Benjamin Steinitz, says "If you have a Picasso or Jeff Koons everyone knows what it is and that you're a success.  If you have a lovely Andre-Charles Boulle desk, people may think you have the taste of your grandmother."

When the world economy crashed in 2008, the business of antiques was hit hard.  Since the market for furniture is directly related to the health of the real estate market, buyers stopped buying.  As the market recovered in real estate it is interesting that the market for antiques failed to follow.  The reason is that there is way too much inventory.  After the crash I noticed a trend among high end antiques dealers.  Since it is not good business to put "Half Off Sale!" signs in the window of a high end shop, these dealers began quietly disposing of their unsold inventory which was in storage.  For several years the auction houses have been full of this inventory, which has returned only a fraction of its original pre-2008 value.

I have seen too many examples of clients who paid at the top the market and now are selling at the bottom of the market.  They are often forced to settle for a small fraction of their initial investment.  The demand just doesn't match the supply.  At the same time that dealers are liquidating tons of stock, the older clients are down sizing.  Since their children do not want the stuff they have collected over their life time, they are forced to either settle for a fraction of its worth or just give it away.

The market for antiques today, such as it exists, has transformed from a knowledgeable dealer in a bricks and mortar business location to an unknown person with a internet connection.  Ebay, Craig's list,1st Dibs and similar sites are now the preferred place to shop, with all the problems associated with gambling on the unknown.

As I walk to work each day these thoughts fill my mind.  But I am not discouraged or depressed.  I am always excited to come to work and enthused about the future for my craft.  I console myself with the realization that antiques have survived the test of time and will return to fashion at some point in the future.  It may take years, but I am a very patient person.  Life is a process, not a destination.

I live and work with antique furniture because it gives me comfort and pleasure.  I have never thought of "investing" in antiques for a profit.  They are not a good investment commodity, in any event, as they are not easy to sell, like stocks.  You buy them because they give you pleasure.  They are beautiful to look at and they make a home personal and stimulating to live in.  They "speak" to me, since I understand how they were made and used.  I am transported back in time to a period when quality was measured by skill and materials.

I care about the world and its finite resources.  Rare woods and materials are disappearing.  It is no longer possible to cut down huge mahogany, cherry or walnut trees, or harvest tortoise shell or ivory. Why not protect the surviving resources as they exist in antique objects?  I am the first person to support CITIES and the protection of endangered species, but I am the last person to throw a tortoise shell and ivory tea caddy that was made in 1800 away in the trash.

Collecting and restoring antiques not only preserves these early objects for the future, when they will once again be in demand, but also reduces the need for new replacement objects that have an increasing carbon footprint.  Modern furniture uses a high percentage of man-made synthetic materials and often toxic chemicals.  In addition, the manufacture and transport of these new items is causing enormous damage to the environment.

Mr. Wardell concludes his article as follows: "Today's youngsters, who are much more socially conscious, will wake up to the appeal of buying something that exists already and is handcrafted from high-quality wood, rather than something that requires a new tree to be cut down and may have been manufactured in poor working conditions."

Remember, an antique piece of furniture was made from a tree that was harvested by hand, transported by wind and water power, and made into its final shape with human effort.  You can't get more "green" than that!  Give a homeless antique shelter.  Open your home to the past.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Two Exciting New Videos!

Treasure Box Series II
I have been away from my bench for some time, living in a cabin in Montana.  When I am there my life is completely changed.  There is a simple artesian well and all the water needs to be collected and carried into the cabin several times a day.  There is also a need to chop wood and keep the stove going, from morning to dawn, so you don't freeze this time of year.  The only concession to modern life is that we put in electricity to operate the 1950 refrigerator, and at the same time we have lights, which is a big improvement over lanterns and candles.

Then there is the outhouse, situated at a safe distance from the cabin.  Since I am now at a "certain age," I recently put a light and small electric heater in the outhouse, so that provides me with the most comfort possible.  Still, running outside in freezing cold to get there takes a bit of courage.

During my absence, Patrice was working hard on his upgraded computer to produce a video promoting our recent projects, the Treasure Box Series.  Upon completion of the Second Series of boxes, we had the good fortune to borrow back one of the First Series from a client.

Thus, we had an example of each of the Boxes to show at the same time.  Patrice and I took some time to shoot video of how each box operates and what the "secret" internal mechanisms were.

In the First Series boxes, there is a simple button and lever which releases the lid.  In the Second Series we used springs and an invisible button to release the writing surface.  This video allows us to demonstrate how each works, as well as what the internal veneer decoration looks like.

We are very proud to have produced a limited series of four copies for each design, and that all of them have found good homes.  A sincere "thank you" to our clients who support our work.

Another video I found interesting came in by email just this week.  I am excited to see that Joshua Klein is getting close to completing the first issue of his magazine, "Mortise and Tenon."  When I first heard of his efforts I immediately placed an advertisement with him promoting Old Brown Glue.

We discussed at some length his "mission statement" to combine the philosophy of furniture conservation with furniture creation and restoration, and that is close to my heart.

Mortise & Tenon Magazine from Joshua Klein on Vimeo.

I hope you enjoy these two short videos, as well as others we have posted on our YouTube channel, "3815Utah."

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Final Delivery: Treasure Box Series II

Proud Parents in Delivery Room

If you have red this blog for some time you are aware we have been working on the series of Treasure Boxes, designed to show off our marquetry skills (and make some money!).

As I recall, Treasure Box Series I started on the drawing table in November 2011 and we made 4 copies.  Three of the series had olive, kingwood and tulip wood interiors and the forth had custom trays for jewelry made of ebony and lined with parchment.  All of these boxes were sold and paid for before they were done and the last was delivered in January 2013.

Treasure Box Series I

Treasure Box Series I was 440 X 340 x 140mm in size and I am holding one in the photo above.

We immediately started designing Treasure Box Series II and by June 2013 had the final designs, which were presented to clients and, as a result, two were sold and paid for.  We had to raise the price since the design was more complicated and the box construction was more involved, with a secret release that allowed the gilt leather writing surface to open.

Treasure Box Series II with Gilt Leather Writing Surface

We used white bone from Paris for the inlay and flowers and thanks to Don Williams were able to tint it green for the leaves.  On both the boxes we used sawn Gabon ebony which we were lucky to purchase in Paris.  This pure black wood is getting very difficult to find and we have a fairly good supply at this point.  We don't know what we will do when it comes time to replace it.

Treasure Box Series II

By the time we completed polishing the second series of 4 identical boxes, they were all sold and paid for.  We are pleased that our clients are willing to support this craft at this level, as it is not cheap to do it this way and we insist on producing an object using exactly the same methods and materials as would have been used at the end of the 17th century.  We are proud that we are making the finest examples of French marquetry in this country, as these boxes demonstrate.

Treasure Box Series II Top Design

Treasure Box Series II is 410 X 340 X 100mm and Patrice is holding one in the photo above.

Patrice Lejeune has spent a lot of time documenting the process of creating these boxes on his blog and on Lumberjocks.  You can see his post here:Patrice Lejeune Blog Post: Treasure Box Series II

I would be excited to see your comments on our work.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Five SAPFM Cartouche Winners Together

Left to Right: 2013, 2008, 2005, 2011 and 2014

I just returned from the 2015 WIA in Kansas City.  It was a wonderful time with lots of expert woodworkers teaching lots of other expert woodworkers about everything.  There must have been around 20 different classrooms each with 4 or 5 different classes.

I started the day early Friday with a class on the history of marquetry and finished the day with a class on understanding protein glues.  The class rooms held around 50 people and the glue class was standing room only at the end.  Obviously more people are excited to learn about glues than something old and dusty like world marquetry.

For those of you who have not attended the annual Woodworking in America events, I strongly urge you to find time to attend next year.  Popular Woodworking magazine produces these events and it is a perfect mix of education and market place activities.

I also presented a lecture and demonstration on French Polishing, but I started out with the obvious disclaimer that it is impossible to learn it from a 2 hour talk.  In fact, I know professional polishers in Europe who have been full time polishers for over 10 years who still admit that they don't know everything about it.

After the market place closed on Saturday, it was a great opportunity for the SAPFM Cartouche winners to get together at the SAPFM booth for a photo.  What a great chance for 5 of us to stand together: Will Neptune, Al Sharp, Phil Lowe, Ben Hobbs and myself.  Funny fact: 4 of the 5 were born in the same year, 1948.  Makes you wonder what was in the milk at that time?

On Friday and Saturday the market place is an active center of tools, books, more tools, and woodworkers of all skill levels mingling around talking and buying stuff.  It is a lot of fun.  Thank goodness that I have every tool I need at this point so I am not tempted to get more.  That said, some of the planes and saws are absolutely perfect and would be very easy to bring home.

I have become fairly well known in these circles as the maker of Old Brown Glue, and I took 100 bottles to pass out for free just to promote my glue.  Last year we actually bought a booth and sold the glue, but the cost of the booth and the glue sales broke even.  So this year, instead of being tied to a booth for two days, we decided to just take the glue and make it free.  It felt good passing out glue.

It is interesting to note that one of the primary sponsors of the event was a very well known brand of polyurethane glue.  The glue which you find advertised everywhere.  The glue which cannot be removed from your skin with any solvent.  The glue which is toxic and scored a 53% strength score by independent testing at Fine Woodworking (Issue #192, August 2007, page 37) when compared to PVA Type I waterproof glue.

In the same test, I am proud to say that Old Brown Glue scored a 79% strength score.  This was the highest score for any glue which is organic and reversible.  The average breaking point in the test for Old Brown Glue was 1595 pounds where polyurethane glue broke at an average of 1164 pounds.

Thus OBG can hold 431 pounds more load than the best polyurethane glue.  Since the average male gorilla in the wild weighs 400 pounds, you can think of a standard gorilla unit as a measurement of strength.  Note this is a full grown male gorilla.  We will call a gorilla unit a "G force".

In conclusion, polyurethane glue is 3G and OBG is 4G in strength.

There are 4 Gorillas in Every Bottle of OBG.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Life of a Picker or On The Road Again

I just returned from delivering a Federal card table to an old client in Dallas.  This was a table I made many years ago and always thought I would keep for myself.  It stood in the front window of the shop with the SAPFM Cartouche on top.  Now I have to make another table to fill the gap.

It has been many years since I drove East on 8.  It brought back many memories of trips I made some 40 years ago, during my early years as a collector and dealer of American furniture. I often watch the two guys on the TV these days, driving their Sprinter around the country side digging up broken bicycles and old signs.  That was my life for nearly a decade during the 1970's.

Starting in 1969, when I opened my antique business, I began regular driving trips to collect inventory and visit historic houses and museums.  Since I lived in San Diego, it was essential that I travel to the East to find bargains and inventory that I could restore and sell.  I had a Ford F250 pick up truck with a large cab over camper.  It had a bed, sink, stove and toilet, as well as two extra gas tanks.  With over 60 gallons of gas I could drive many miles before needing to stop and refill.

I would take as much cash as I could spare and drive East, nearly every month.  I must have made at least 50 trips around the country during that decade, each time taking someone to help me travel.  I took my wife, my brother, my cousin or any good friend who wanted to travel.  We had some real adventures.

My buying trips began with trips to the mid West, around Omaha, where, during that time, farms were being sold and farm house furniture was available for a song.  I could buy press back oak chairs for $5/each, oak tables for $40, roll top desks for $100 and once I bought a  dozen treadle sewing machines for $10/each.  Anything made of oak would quickly sell as soon as it was refinished, and I would take the profit and go again.

Once I stopped in Omaha at an old antique shop downtown, in a large old brick building.  This was before I upgraded to the camper, and I just had an open lumber rack on the truck.  The owner of the shop told me that he was closing and that I could have everything in the basement for $200.  I went down the stairs with a flashlight and saw tons of stuff.  More than I could possibly take.  My brother and I started loading the truck and, when we got the pile up to about 12 feet we tied it securely and took off.  It looked crazy, with tables on the roof of the cab and stuff sticking out the back of the tail gate.

At some point on our return I remember having to stop suddenly at a stop light and watching a large round oak table top slid off the roof, hit the hood and end up in the middle of the intersection.

When we crossed over the State line into Kansas, sticking to the back roads, as was our habit, we were immediately pulled over by the State Police.  My brother and I both had long hair, were barefoot and looked like hippies, which we actually were.  I was following all the traffic rules, so I thought he pulled us over because the load looked unstable.

We were treated rather roughly and he asked me for a receipt for all the items in the truck.  I said that I had bought it all with cash for $200 and had no receipt.  He said that there had been a lot of house robberies  lately and we looked suspicious.  I admitted that we probably looked suspicious, but that it was the truth.  I took some time for him to let us go.  We did not return to that part of Kansas again.

Last week, as I drove again through Los Cruces I was reminded of another time my brother and I got in trouble with the law.  The drive shaft fell out of our truck and we needed to find a repair shop.  We found a nice family business that was willing to help but they did not have the part.  They told us that we could find it in a junk yard in El Paso, but it was late so we decided to hitch a ride the next day.  My brother and I walked to the intersection of the highway and found a clean place by the side of the road to sleep.  I remember it was difficult to sleep, with the semi trucks driving by a few feet away, but we had no alternative.

About 2 in the morning we woke up with bright lights in our faces.  The local sheriff had found us and was not happy.  He told us to get out of town.  Now.  We walked to the edge of town with him driving behind us all the way, making sure we were leaving.  The next day we stood for hours with our thumbs out hoping to get a ride to El Paso, which finally happened.  Then we found the drive shaft, but the bus would not let us get on with a drive shaft, so we had to hitch back.  It took all day.

People do not easily pick up two hippies, who had slept in the dirt all night, while they are holding a 6 foot drive shaft.

The Mexican family took us in when we returned, fed us and let us sleep on their floor, even thought neither of us spoke the other's language.  After they fixed the truck we were on our way.

Probably the most interesting incident with the law happened in Wichita, Kansas.  My friend and I were loaded with antiques and returning through town after mid night, during a snow storm.  My friend had long red hair and we both were dirty and tired from a long trip.  Since it was snowing, I was driving about 10 miles an hour and thought I was the only vehicle on the road at the time.  However a State Trooper pulled up behind us and turned on his red light.

When I stopped, he asked me for my license and registration and to step out of the truck.  It was cold.  He told me to get into his car.  Then he drove away!  I had no idea what was happening and he said nothing.  We drove across town and out a dirt road into the dark.  You can imagine what I was thinking.  This is the end of the road for me.

He took me to a house, unlocked the front door and told me to go inside.  What was I supposed to do?  Then he walked me into his bedroom, where his wife was sleeping in the bed.  It was dark and he turned on the light.  His wife woke up and asked what he was doing home.  He told her that he had found an antique dealer and was going to show me some of the antiques he wanted to sell.  He then pointed his flashlight at the dresser next to the bed and asked, "What about that one?"


During the next 15 minutes he walked me around the house, into the kids room, into the living room and in each room asking me if I wanted to buy anything.

I told him that I was returning with a full load but would certainly stop in the next trip.

Finally, he drove me back to my truck where my friend was nearly frozen.  As I got into the truck, turned on the engine and began to slowly drive off into the snow storm, he asked me, "What was that all about?  You were gone for over an hour!"

I just said, "I don't want to talk about it."  And we never returned to Wichita either.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

WPE at WIA Soon!

The Mona Lisa Smile?

Going to Kansas City: Woodworking in America 9/25-27


Historic Marquetry Processes
Class Time: Friday, 11:00a.m. - 1:00p.m. & Sunday, 8:30a.m. - 10:30a.m.
This class from W. Patrick Edwards features demonstrations and examples of historic marquetry methods including "tarsia certsonia," "tarsia geometrica," "tarsia a toppo," "tarsia a incastro" and the "Classic Method." A full discussion of each process will include numerous examples as well as a detailed list of the tools required. Specific focus will be on the two types of marquetry which are most commonly found on furniture, the "Boulle" process and "Piece by Piece."

Protein Glues Explained
Class Time: Friday, 4:00p.m. - 6:00p.m.
W. Patrick Edwards, maker of Old Brown Glue, knows his adhesives. And in this modern word of PVA and two-part epoxies, he still swears by traditional protein glue. Patrick will share his more than 40 years of professional experience working with bone, hide, fish, horse and rabbit-skin glues, and teach you why and when they remain an excellent choice, along with how to use them.

Traditional French Polishing
Class Time: Sunday, 11:00a.m. - 1:00p.m.
When done right, a traditional French Polish imparts a brilliant shine and brings out the clear colors and richness of the wood beneath. But it's a finish wrapped in more. In this session, W. Patrick Edwards shares the steps used at Ecole Boulle in Paris – from the ingredients to how to mix them, from how to apply to rubbing out the layers. You'll learn how to create a clear, hard shine – and how to maintain and repair it should the need arise.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Abandoned Antiques

Brought Back From Dead
It seems that the market value and interest in legitimate antique furniture is officially dead.  For some reason, beyond me, people seem not to understand either history or culture enough to be concerned with saving "old" stuff.  I get the strangest calls every day that proves the absolute ignorance of the owner of furniture when they try to describe what they own.

For example, yesterday I got a phone call from a young lady who asked how much it would cost to "fix her chair."  I said I could not tell her without more information.  "Please describe it for me" I asked politely.  She said, "It is for an old person, and there are handles on the side, and it has a place to sit."  At that point I suggested that she should bring it in if possible so I could evaluate the problem.  Shortly a person showed up at my door with an aluminum walker, with a broken handle.  I said that I only work on antiques, and she said "I just called and you said to bring it in!"

On the other hand, mid century modern stuff is going for amazing prices.  I got an email with photos of an Eames chair knockoff, with a broken arm and back.  It looked like someone had tried to fix it with epoxy and screws, and badly.  I replied that I did not work on 20th century furniture, and the response was "It's worth $4800!"  (In what sane world, I thought...)

Don't get me started on what regular cars from the 1950's are selling for at auction...OMG.

So I was not surprised the other day when I took Kristen to drop off some glue shipments at the local post office.  Our neighborhood post office is next to an overpass where the homeless live, because it is behind a fast food place and they have everything they need.  Including antiques.

As we pulled into the parking space, Kristen said "Look at that rocker!"  Sitting in the grass was a childs Grecian walnut rocker with damask upholstery, a torn seat and broken arm and leg.  Even in that condition it was still providing comfort for the locals.

Since no one was currently using it, I found a way to relocate it to my trunk.  I am confident they will find a replacement in short order.  They are very resourceful.

Original Frame and Stuffing

Returning it to the bench I removed the seat and back upholstery frames and found that it still had all its original stuffing.  Even the screws were blunt and original, proving it was made around 1850, if not before.  The arm was broken but I put it back together using some of the original wood from the front leg to patch the missing piece.  The front leg was beyond repair, since it had at least a dozen nails in various positions holding the fragments together.  So I made a new front leg and re glued the frame with Old Brown Glue.

4 New Screws and 5 Old Screws

Next step is to remove the finish, add shellac and re upholster it with a nice damask.  It is exciting to realize that the rocker is only 35" tall and therefore must have been made for a child.  A very rich child.

Perfect Size for Young Adult

Close inspection revealed a maker's stamp in the top of the front rail.  Mr. J. M. Schwab would be pleased to know that his work still stands after a century and a half.

A Professional Mark

Now if I can only find someone crazy enough to appreciate "old" stuff...

Friday, September 4, 2015

WPE and ASFM return to MASW

Me Pointing To The Packet
I just returned to work from a two week teaching job in Indianapolis.  My first time at Marc Adam's school was two years ago and you might remember me posting here about that experience.

This time I was asked to teach two full weeks of French marquetry in addition to two different classes over the weekend.  It was a very rewarding time for me and I appreciate all the help that Marc and his excellent staff provided.

Marc Adams is a person with a very high energy level and his ability to organize and direct such a large and complicated school of woodworking is amazing.  As a teacher, I am provided with absolutely everything I might ask for to make my job as easy as possible.  He pays my airfare, sets me up in a nice hotel, lets me use his car, feeds me lunch and pays me a good salary.  In addition, since I could not teach the craft of French marquetry without the tools, he had his staff build 8 really fine oak chevalets, which are set up in my classroom when I arrive.

The only thing that I can complain about is that there is nothing to complain about!
Precision Work

Cutting Piece by Piece on a French Chevalet in Indianapolis
The first week I had 9 students and the school has only 8 chevalets.  It was not a real problem as I realized that one of the students had only one arm!  I have never had a student with only one arm before, but he quietly reassured me that it was not a problem for him, as he had lost his arm in an automobile accident as a young child and managed to do all kinds of woodwork projects without any difficulty.  It was an inspiration to seek him cut marquetry packets, but not on a chevalet.  He worked on a Hegner jig saw, and did quite well, I would like to say.

Stage I Project #2: The Face

Stage I Project #3: Beer Coasters
As the first week was a Stage I class working with the Boulle process, the students each completed the three normal projects: The Triptych, The Face, and The Beer Coasters.  This gives them a chance to complete three projects start to finish, which involves building the packet, cutting out the elements (in superposition), building an Assembly Board, gluing down the elements, applying mastic and cleaning up the paper on the face after the marquetry is glued down to a board.

During the second week I taught a class on Piece by Piece method, and the students made two projects.  They cut and assembled three copies of the classic first exercise, the Rose.  Then, since they were essentially done by Wednesday, they all completed another project using the Boulle method: Painting in Wood.

Painting In Wood Exercise

Cleaning off the Paper with Water

The Excitement of Seeing the Work for the First Time

Lots of Roses

During the weekend, between the French marquetry classes, I taught two different one day workshops.  The first class was on how to use protein glues to veneer a column.  It is amazing to me that so many different furniture designs in so many different countries incorporated veneered columns in their furniture during the first half of the 19th century.  At the same time, it is not at all a common element of furniture made today.  I think that veneering columns is a neat trick, and I have worked out a simple system using Old Brown Glue which works every time.

Column Ready for Cutting Seam
Since the process actually takes three days, I prepared a column the day before and demonstrated cutting the seam during the class.  Then I repeated the first step on two other columns, both straight and tapered.

Having Fun Re Gluing the Seam

At the end of the class I had three columns, in different stages of completion.

Old Brown Glue, Jig Set Up, Tools Required, and Final Results

The second day of the weekend was a lot of fun and I had a very large class.  Everyone got a wood jig and a back saw and a packet of veneer and cut out "tarsia geometrica" elements.  They all got a chance to build assembly boards and glue down variations of their design.  I think it would be a good idea to expand this topic into a full week class in the future, both at MASW and also here at ASFM.

The Cube, a classic example of "Tarsia Geometrica"

Marc asked me to return next year and I agreed to teach again in August.  The weather was great and I look forward to the experience.

If you want to see more pictures of his school, and my class, visit his site: MASW Photos

The only down side, if there were any, to teaching at Marc Adams is that I need to ship 100lbs of tools and materials.  You cannot imagine what goes through the TSA inspector's minds when they open my bags and find such strange stuff...

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Chevalet In A Box. Delivered!

NOT from IKEA!

I had a great time last year at the Woodworking in America conference.  I am really looking forward to returning in September to the WIA at Kansas City.  I will be speaking, and probably looking as usual at tables stacked with old woodworking tools.  Also it will be a good chance to meet old friends, since I live on the extreme South West corner of the country and many of my "buddies" live on the other side of the world  (in other words, the East Coast.)

Last year I met Mark Hicks, who was showing his beautiful benches, at his booth for his business, Plate 11.  You can see his work at his website, Mark Hicks.  He lives in Missouri and builds amazing benches with all the surfaces finished by hand.

I mentioned to him that for years I had been looking for a woodworker who could supply the wooden parts to a chevalet.  I have been selling the hardware kits since 2000 but many of the students who buy the kits are not set up for "timber framing" which is essentially what building a chevalet involves.

In my experience it may take several weeks to cut out and fit all the wood parts and students just want to return home from the classes at ASFW and start cutting marquetry.  I have had dozens of students say that they would prefer to just buy a tool and get to work.

Mark was very interested in the project, so I left him with a hardware kit and a set of plans and we communicated off and on over the past year by email.  Fortunately for him, but unfortunately for me, he had a lot of orders to build benches and it took him a while to find the time to study the plans and "tool up" for the job.

A few months ago he sent me a message that he had started the prototype.  Last week it arrived in a box.  There have been a few jokes about IKEA but none of them have been worth repeating.  I should say that he builds shipping boxes and packs them better than any professional shipper I have ever seen.  You could have driven a fork lift over that box and nothing would have been scratched.

Every Thing You Need Ready To Assemble

I opened it and found a beautiful set of wood parts to make a chevalet.  Mocking them up with some hardware provided me with the confidence that I had found a perfect partner in this effort to make this tool available to a wider audience of woodworkers.

Then last week Mark arrived and spent several hours with Patrice and I discussing minor points of the elements, perfecting the prototype, which I will be sending back to Missouri.  Mark will then develop the final kit and have one on display at his booth in Kansas City.  If you ever thought you would be interested in working on one of these amazing tools, be sure to take the time to visit WIA and talk with either Mark or myself.

He will be taking orders for these kits at the show.  We will be working together on this effort, and I will supply the hardware from my workshop while he ships the wood kit from his business, located in the center of the country.  I will reduce the cost of the hardware since I do not need to supply the plans, and he is making every effort to keep the cost of the wood kit as reasonable as possible.

Prototype Chevalet

Looking at his work on this prototype, I can say that the marquetry worker who ends up with this tool will have a better chevalet than any of the tools I currently have in my school.  I expect that, once he is in full production, I will probably sell off the chevalets in my school and replace them with these new ones.  They are that good.

The American Chevalet has arrived!  It's not your father's Chevalet.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Teaching at MASW Soon

Two years ago I was invited to teach at Marc Adams' school in Indianapolis.   It turned out to be a great experience for me and I got a lot of positive feedback from the students.

As I mentioned in this blog previously, I had some reservations about asking Marc to build 8 chevalets and thus limit the class size to 8 students.  I knew this would not be profitable for him and was surprised when he agreed to take a loss in order to introduce the process of French marquetry to his students.

The down side for me was transporting two 50 lb suitcases on the flight full of materials and tools for the class.  I wonder what the TSA people thought when they scanned those bags?

Now I have confirmed my flight and return to MASW next month.  I will be there for two weeks, starting Monday, August 17.  The first week will be French marquetry, Stage I, the Boulle method.  That class is full.

Over the weekend following I will offer two different classes.  Saturday, August 22, I will demonstrate methods to veneer turnings and columns, using protein glues.  Each student will be provided with materials and glue that they can take home for further practice.  Veneering columns is a valuable part of my furniture building and I have worked for years to perfect the process.  I think you will find this interesting and by adding veneering to your turned work, open up new avenues of design.  There is still room in this class.  Here is the link: Veneering a Column

Sunday, August 23, I will be teaching about geometrical marquetry, and that class is full.  I am excited to be able to show how the French were able to do amazing things with small pieces of veneer.  Also, this class will demonstrate how to make an assembly board.

Starting Monday, August 24, I will again return to the chevalet and offer a class in Stage II marquetry, the "piece by piece" method.  There are still openings in this class.  Note that the Stage I class does not require any previous experience with working on the chevalet, as you do not have to exactly follow the lines.  By contrast, Stage II requires a bit of experience as you have to accurately follow the lines when you cut for the pieces to fit.  There are many posts on this blog which explain the difference.

However, since the class is not full, I would also accept any student who wishes to start Stage I (since the first week is full), or wishes to do an exercise in Painting in Wood, since I am able to teach all these methods simultaneously.

Here is the link for that class: Piece by Piece Marquetry Class

Finally, I am very proud of the popularity of the tool, "chevalet de marqueterie."  I was the first to introduce it to the American woodworker some 15 years ago, and it has become a recognized fixture in many workshops.  To that end, MASW is offering, for the first time, a class on building your own chevalet.  Amazing!

Obviously, you need to plan for this and I believe bring your own wood.  However, it is a wonderful opportunity to use the facilities at his school (every woodworking machine ever made).

Here is the link:  Build Your Own Chevalet

Hope to see you there.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Television or YouTube?

My television career started early.  In 1973 I wrote and starred in a series about American Furniture for CBS.  This consisted of 10 different 30 minute shows which began with Pilgrim furniture and ended with the Arts and Crafts period.  It was called "Welcome to the Past...The History of American Furniture.

My director was pregnant during the production and was not able to direct the last 4 episodes so I guess I can also claim credit for behind the camera work as I was asked to fill in for her while I was "acting" in front of the camera.

We taped two episodes back to back every two weeks.  I was responsible for setting up the set, positioning the furniture, marking out the blocking shots and generating the "B" rolls.  There were three cameras, each the size of a Volkswagen, on rolling stands.  I had to memorize the script and end exactly at 28 minutes and 30 seconds, as the taping was live.  There were no edits.

I opened each show sitting on one of the pieces of furniture in the set and discussed the topic for a few minutes, setting the historical context.  Then I would have the director switch the feed to the "B" roll which was a series of images that lasted a few minutes.  During the "B" roll I would continue the audio, talking about each of the images, while at the same time I was moving all the furniture off the set and then placing the next few pieces in place.  From time to time you can hear me grunting and breathing heavily as I dragged something heavy by myself.

When the camera returned to the set, I was sitting comfortably in the next chair or standing behind the next table in the show.  It was a little fun and a lot of work.

After taping a show, the crew would take a half hour break.  I would change clothes and reset the set for the second show.  That meant new "B" rolls, new furniture and a completely new script.

By the way, in 1973 I had shoulder length hair, paisley shirts with high collars, and bell bottom pants...with a 30" waist.  So much has changed since then.

I was fortunate to do a lot of television over the years.  In fact I was involved with two shows which were each nominated for an emmy.  The first was under an NEA grant, working with the Timken Museum in San Diego and called "The Age Of Elegance.  France in the 18th Century."  The second was when the Mingei Museum created an exhibition comparing Japanese potters of the 19th century and their approach to their work and the Shakers during the same time.  It was called "Kindred Spirits."  I was the Shaker woodworker and talked about my relation to my tools and the process of simple perfection.

I also had the pleasure to work with Roy Underhill during one episode of the Woodwright's Shop.  That was  easily the most fun two guys can have in front of a camera.  It was a real honor to share time with an American legend and icon.

The last few years I have worked with Patrice Lejeune here at work, making short videos for YouTube.  We have a channel, 3815Utah, which is simply names after the address of the shop.  Patrice is my "French Director" and we have a lot of fun.

Usually it goes like this:  I am working, as usual.  He walks by and says casually, "that would make a great video."  I say, "Don't bother me, I am working."  Then my wife, Kristen, comes out of her office and says, "You need to document that!"

End of discussion.

Then I have to stop and "set up" the stuff for the video.  Patrice needs to set up his camera and we agree on blocking and some basic text.  Then I have to "act."

As you can see, I am never enthusiastic about my involvement.  I have perhaps the least exciting or interesting personality on screen, after all these years.  When I think I am done I am ready to go on to something else.  That is when I hear Patrice say, "Can't we do better?  Let's do it again!"

At least he includes the bloopers at the end.

Protein Glue Reversibility

Sunday, May 24, 2015

When Does A Website Become Antique?

I was born when television became available for home use for the first time.  I saw my first color television broadcast of the world series standing on the sidewalk in front of a TV store watching through the window.  The grass was a kind of vivid green.  I was impressed.

Then, years later in college, I was working in the Physics Department at UCSD when they went from the IBM computer with its stacks of punch cards and purchased a "compact" computer.  As I recall it was called a PDP 18 or something like that and cost a lot of money.  It was so small it could sit on a table!

Early  in 1980 I sold an old car and took the $1800 and bought a Kaypro CPM computer.  I thought it was neat and spent hours typing code into its 6" green screen.  When it appeared that CPM was becoming obsolete, I hoarded all the software I could find.  Now that crap is in the dump.

My wife was the one who fell in love with Apple.  To me it was just the producer of the Beatles records.  She spent so much time at the Apple store I wondered if she was having an affair.  She was, and it cost me money.

The second I touched the Mac I fell in love too.  Then she gave me the phone.  The rest is history.

However, when the Kaypro went away I no longer felt the need to keep up with computer code.  Sometime in the 1960's I had studied Fortran but that was as useful as Latin.  So, around 1990 I asked the neighbor kid to create a website for me.  I gave him my ideas and some content and he posted  It was very cool for 1990.

I printed it on my business cards.  Years passed.  Nothing changed.  It became an embarrassment since it was clearly old and dated.  But like much of my clothes, I refused to throw it away and get something newer.

About 5 years ago I found blogspot and started my blog.  It was easy and fun.  I could sit down when I was inspired and post copy, photos and videos.  I got a lot of satisfaction and positive feedback.  I still do.

But the old website remained online and I wondered how and when I would decide to kill it.

Then Patrice started to get involved in website design and video production.  We made some YouTube videos together and they were a hit.  He spent long hours after work creating a replacement for my original site.  I was not much of a help, as I had already decided that it was not worth it.  He persisted.

Just recently he began converting my magazine articles to a pdf format.  I was impressed and thought it would be great to post them on my blog.  It turns out you can't do that directly.  You need to link to a website which hosts the pdf files directly from the blog.  Who knew?

So I got excited for the first time in 25 years about and helped him with a bit of copy.  He was able to take down my old site and post the new one this weekend.  Wow!

Please visit by clicking on the first link on this blog page.  Look for the videos and pdf files.  I think you will be impressed by what he has been able to accomplish.  Except for some typos and small errors in the copy it is wonderful.  Of course the typos and copy errors are because I didn't take the time to proof read that's my job.

I hope you like it.  You can thank Patrice for not giving up.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Edwards & Lejeune

Edwards & Lejeune Label

 In the history of furniture making, there are several examples of successful partnerships.  Goddard and Townsend come to mind.  (I am not making a direct comparison.  Please.  I am just pointing them out as one of the most famous examples...)

As some of you may know, I worked for nearly 4 decades absolutely alone.  I built the workshop and furnished it with rare woods and period tools.  I met with the clients, bid the jobs, did the work and delivered it when it was done.  I opened the mail, answered the phone and paid the bills.  It was exhausting but I had the energy so I did it all.

The first thing which changed in this business for me was when I convinced my wife, Kristen, to stop teaching art in High School and come to work with me.  She was able to take over all the office duties and interface with the clients very successfully.  My phone skills were basically, "Hello, I'm busy, what do you want?"  Her phone skills were very advanced and I noticed a real change in the business as the clients were happy and I was able to work at the bench without stopping every 10 minutes to answer the phone.  A real bonus was that I did not have to think about the money flow.  From time to time she would mention that we needed more money, but that was the extent of it.  What a relief.

The second change was when Patrice Lejeune was able to move to San Diego from Paris and work with me on a H1-B visa.   I had some reservations about sharing my work space with another cabinetmaker, but we hit it off immediately.  We went from working together to close friends to actual business partners.  We encourage each other, criticize each other when it is appropriate, and divide the work load according to our specific talents.

Patrice Removing Paper From Marquetry

Over the past decade Patrice and I have completed some wonderful projects.  One of the most successful has been the Treasure Box series.  The Treasure Box Series #1 sold out before we were able to finish them.  The current Treasure Box Series #2 has sold 3 of the 4 boxes and is nearly complete.  That means we only have one left.  They should be done soon, as the only thing left to do is get the leather writing surface embossed with gold and apply the French polish finish.  (Actually there is a bit of ebony and bone trim to do, but that is now much of a problem, considering all the technical problems we have solved to get this far.

UPDATE:  After I posted this I received a call from a past student (of ASFM) and good friend who expressed disappointment at not purchasing a Treasure Box Series #1 before they were gone.  She saw this post and decided that it was time to get one.  So now they are all sold.  Patrice and I are in the process of designing Series #3.  Stay tuned!  We both appreciate the support.

These boxes are a labor of love and a tribute to our passion for creating objects which are authentic to the late 17th period in every detail.  They are, in my humble opinion, some of the best work available anywhere today.  They take nearly 2 years to make, and are certainly  worth much more than we are asking for them.  That is why it is so easy to find people willing to buy them and then wait for us to finish them.

Last week Patrice and I glued the marquetry surfaces to the lid, pressing them in the heated press.  We had to pay close attention to the orientation of the birds, as the bird on the inside of the lid needs to be upright when it is open and the bird on the outside needs to be upright when it is closed.   As we glued 8 birds to 4 lids we were both checking each other to make sure nothing went wrong.  We made a video of the process, which we will post soon.

It was a real pleasure watching Patrice wet the paper on the surface and scrape away the paper and glue to expose the marquetry for the first time.  Since we work from the back of the design, gluing the elements face down on stretched Kraft paper, we never see the finished surface until it is finally glued down to the substrate.  That is our ultimate reward for a job well done.

Removing Wet Paper and Hide Glue From The Marquetry

Here is a close up of the work.  You can see it requires quick work to remove all the paper and glue before the mastic begins to expand or the veneer elements start to lift.  Of course, working with sawn veneers which are 1.5mm thick helps.

Blue Bird of Happiness Surrounded By White Bone Flowers

 Here is the top marquetry surface, cleaned of all the paper and glue.  It needs to be sanded and scraped flat before polishing begins.  However it shows the elements of a careful and professional collaberation between two experienced craftsmen.  It begins to look like another masterpiece will be delivered soon!

Top Surface of Treasure Box Series #2

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Student Becomes Teacher

Paul Miller and his Work

I look back on my career and realize how fortunate I have been to have met and studied under great teachers.  Not only in my physics career at UCSD but in my other studies in American Decorative Arts and related European Decorative Arts.  On both sides of the country and both sides of the ocean I have spent time with great scholars, many of whom are no longer with us.

Pierre Ramond, in particular, realized that even though I was an average worker in the field of marquetry, I had a certain talent to communicate ideas and concepts which gave me the ability to educate others.  That is why he pushed me into getting my workshop accredited by ecole Boulle and positioned to receive his students as interns for different stages of work.

Fortunately, Pierre gave me the idea to create the American School of French Marquetry so that when he retired from ecole Boulle I was able to offer his teaching process to the public.  This is significant, since as far as I can determine, there is no other school where historic French marquetry methods are taught using the "chevalet de marqueterie."

In the last 15 years, since ASFM has been operating, we have seen an amazing number of talented students pass through our doors.  Professionals and amateurs of all ages show up and spend time cutting small pieces of woods on the chevalets.  It is always a pleasure to see the results at the end of the week, when the paper is removed and the work is finally exposed.

I really enjoy teaching.  It is exciting to meet new people and be able to answer their questions.  I feel that my years of stuffing information into my brain is worth while when I can then "download" it into other inquisitive minds.  The popular idea of "play it forward" is how I perceive my job as teacher.

Thus, it is very satisfying when I hear from a person who I might have influenced in some positive way.  A good example of this is Paul Miller, who lives in the North West corner of the states.

There are a lot of professions which use wood as a medium.  People build houses, furniture, instruments, airplanes, boats, cars, tools and sculpture, to name the most obvious.  Each of these trades requires study, skill and experience to do properly.  It is not common for a specialist in one field to be able to transfer to another, but it does happen.

Paul Miller builds boats.  That is a simple statement of fact.  However, it is safe to say he is a master of boat building, judging from what I saw on his videos.  Some of you will appreciate the skill and technical difficulties involved in making a boat not only functional but at the same time a thing of beauty.  This is what Paul does.

When he came to my school just a few years ago he wanted to learn how to make marquetry.  He had never seen the tools or the French process or heard of sawn veneers.  I introduced him to the methods, showed him some books and told him to buy as much sawn veneers as he could afford, before they disappeared.

He went to Paris and broke the bank.  He set up a chevalet in both his homes and started cutting.  He created a web page on Lumberjocks called the "Chevy Club" and attracted a large following of woodworkers who were new to the "sport."  As much as I have worked to introduce the tool to Americans, he has done more.

He was fascinated with the jewel cabinet I post as the masthead of this blog.  He decided to make a version of his own and communicated on a regular basis with my partner, Patrice Lejeune, to work out the issues.  His efforts were also well documented on the Lumberjocks page.  You need to check it out.

When he finished, he hired a photographer to take his photo with the box, in exactly the same pose as I did with my work.  This photo he sent to me in a private email message, with the subject "For your eyes only."  Apparently he was not sure how I would react.  His concern was that I would somehow be insulted that he had copied me?  I am the last person on earth who wants to be placed on a pedestal.  I am just a guy who loves what he does.  That's it.  I am not even the best at what I do.  I know many others who are more skillful in this trade.  I just have a lot of passion for marquetry and furniture, good wood and old tools.  It keeps me going.

I am very flattered by his photo.  I am pleased that he has taken my advice and followed his muse.

It validates my life.

Patrick Edwards and his Work

Monday, May 4, 2015

New Study Finds No Link Between Antiques And Cancer

Modern Construction Not Determined Safe?
I have been around the block a few times, to put it simply.  I worked in the Nuclear Physics industry for many years.  You have no idea what types of dangerous materials we were exposed to and how it was considered "normal business" to be around them in the workplace.  One of the reasons I quit my job and walked out the door was personal safety.  The other, and more important, reason I decided to leave the industry is that I did not want to support further research into atomic energy if there was no honest desire to mitigate the serious problem of radioactive waste.  I am sorry to say that I do not see any real improvements to the problem over the past 40 years.

Industry is generally driven by profits.  Rarely are the safety concerns of the consumers considered in the formula unless there are restrictions imposed by governments.  For example, when I learned to drive, gasoline was filled with lead, dashboards had sharp knobs everywhere, bumpers were "decorative," and seat belts were for Nascar drivers only.  Also, smoking was encouraged by medical doctors as "safe" and "healthy" forms of recreation.

Without effective government regulation this would still be the case today, I believe.

Modern Industrial Woodworker vrs, Old Lady

So this morning I read on the front page of the New York Times about "serious" efforts by lobbyists to stop regulations limiting the use of formaldehyde in household products.  Since I am a woodworker and know a few things about chemistry, I support the ban on urea formaldehyde glues as well as other finishes and materials which contain hazardous chemicals.

These chemicals are not stable.  They decay over time and "out gas" into the surrounding environment which expose consumers to hazardous fumes.  It is amazing to me how many things modern consumers live with which are not healthy.  Fabrics, carpet, glues, finishes, paint, and plastics all contribute to a cloud of chemicals unseen or undetected by the person living in their home.

The article mentions the argument by the industrial defenders of formaldehyde use that banning it would force "millions" of workers out of a job.  How about the argument that directing these "millions" of workers to find safe alternatives would not only allow them to keep their jobs but improve the product?

I have done 45 years of research into the relationship between living with pre industrial furniture and cancer.  So far my intensive research has found no link at all between cancer and sitting in a chair upholstered with cotton, silk or wool fabric, stuffed with cotton and horsehair, and finished with shellac.  I also have found no relationship between putting my hands in animal protein glues or shellac finishes and cancer.

I will continue my research.  I expect that I will be able to study this problem for several decades.  In the meantime, my contribution to the solution remains available: Old Brown Glue.