Sunday, May 17, 2015


Sometimes I think that antique dealers purposely speak in a language that bears no resemblance to English.

My suspicion is that they speak that way because they're extra-terrestrials (that is, not of this world)-and being aliens, they can't master our earthling vocabulary…..except for the one phrase: "TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER." All aliens know that one.

But back to our story: Here's a great example of antique mis-speak: When an antique is painted as opposed to stained, it's called "polychrome". Ok, fair enough since polychrome means many colors. But what do we call furniture that's painted in only one color? Monochrome, right? Wrong. It's still called "polychrome". Why? Dunno. Probably because even the most sophisticated alien beings can't collect painted antiques (painted finishes burn up in Pluto's atmosphere and so can't be transported back to their planet). 

Shown below: An 18th Century "Polychrome" and Parcel Gilt Settee and pair of Arm Chairs en suite:

Here's more proof that antiquarians are from outer space. In their "antique speak", the 19th Century doesn't include 1800-1830.

Yep, even the top auction houses agree that the first quarter of the 19th century is not really part of the 19th century at all. To illustrate my point, here's a recent quote from Sotheby's: "The 19th Century Furniture Department at Sotheby's deals with items produced after 1835." Strange but true: aliens have taken over Sotheby's!  And that explains those phony English accents…Blimey!

Ok, so what do you call antiques made in the 19th century prior to 1835? Well, in France, you call them Empire (the period under Napolean from 1800-1815), Second Empire or Louis XVIII (1815-1824) and after that Charles X (1824-1830). In England, it's called Late Georgian (1760-1820) and then Regency (under George IV from 1820-1830). In Italy, you can just call this period Italian Empire or Neoclassical.

Shown below: A pair of Polychrome and Parcel Gilt 1815 Empire Benches with later upholstery embroidered with the symbol of Napoleon, the bee centering a laurel wreath.

The reason the first quarter of the 19th century is often separated from the rest of the 1800's because the furniture styles that emerged between 1800-1830 were new and unique (as were those during the 1700's). And so they got fancy period names.

But after 1835, styles were really just revivals or reinterpretations of earlier designs. Examples would be Neo-Gothic Style in England, Neo-Grecque Style in Paris during the 1860's and 70's and Louis XV/XVI revivals throughout the latter part of the century. 

Boring side note: The furnishings from post 1835 are perhaps best encapsulated by the series of Great International Exhibitions. Although the idea of exhibitions of this type developed in France in 1798, the first truly International Exhibition did not take place until 1851 in London.

These exhibitions became popular throughout the world, although the most important were in London and Paris. They were intended to follow an eleven-year cycle (another alien concept aimed at confusing us earthlings), with Exhibitions in Paris in 1855, 1867, 1878, 1889 and 1900. London had another exhibition in 1862 but due to financial losses at the time the idea was never really followed through in England in the same way as in France.

How can you spot an ALIEN antique dealer? Easy. They all look like either gassy babies or (quite curiously), a young and luscious Liz Taylor.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


A common question I get is "Who's Da Boss?" Well duh. It's Tony Danza of course! I loved that show with Alyssa Milano as his innocent young daughter before she got edgy, got tats, started smoking and got pregnant. Poor thing. But this has nothing to do with debossing, embossing, or the critical hygienic technique of FLOSSING (PLEEZ don't forget to floss--it's so important! This is a PSA from the ADA). So….uh…so there.

Turning to our topic, would you be surprised to learn that everything you always thought was embossing is not embossing at all? Shocking but true! Even more shocking is how nobody gives a rats-ass about this, not even me. But I'm still going to blog about it because my blog hits have taken a nosedive.

So let's start out with a sneaky trick question like this one: "Don't you just love the rich look of a table that has a beautifully gold-embossed leather top like this one?"

Answer: "Most definitely Buzz, and not to brag but we have an embossed desk just like it in our pied a terre in Barthalona!" Retort: "Oh, gimme a break Buckwheat. You don't have a pied a terre in Barcelona-you have an Efficiency with a hot plate in Canoga Park. And lose the Catalan accent. It's annoying and my diet pill is wearing off." But getting back to our topic, if you did have that desk, it's not embossed at all, it's debossed!" Read on to learn how I know this.

C. Mariani is famous for doing this type of specialty leather work. And we do it all by hand (a very steady hand I might add) and in 22k gold leaf. I've spent (OK, wasted) many hours watching Claudio Mariani take his 200 year old tool set, select one of his 35 antique engraved embossing wheels, and then meticulously apply the pattern and the gold to leather desk tops.

He works very slowly and always grumbles that "left turns are the hardest"--of course, I have no idea what he's talking about. I think it's either his driving skills or laying down the perfect left curving gold debossing on these leather surfaces (he's a master at this and insists on perfection!).

But none of that matters now because I just found out that Claudio and C. Mariani have never embossed anything! All of these desk tops, blotters, and other leather specialty pieces we've been supposedly "hand embossing" over the years ARE NOT EMBOSSED AT ALL.

Quel scandale, oui?! Who knew? Certainly not The Buzz. I wonder if my education was deficient and  I should have been assigned to "special ed" when I was a tween.

But alas, back then, the only "special ed" available was just being called stupid. So my desperate cries for a tudor were sadly misunderstood as just being an overly ambitious tweenage phony trying to claw his way into private schools. Oh the humanity! {Cue the sobbing}. I always wanted to use that quote (it's from the 1937 radio coverage of the Hindenburg disaster). It makes no sense in this context, but I just wanted to use it anyhow.

But back to our story. So we're now going to learn exactly what EMBOSSING really is and how it differs from the gold leather decorating we've been doing for years, which is called DEBOSSING.

Embossing creates a raised relief image while debossing creates an indented/recessed image. So all this time we've been debossing those dang desk tops.

Sub-question that comes to mind here: what's blind embossing? Blind embossing is just creating a raised relief impression (from the back) with no gold or inking on the raised surface. So what we usually think of as blind embossing is really blind debossing because we do it from the top. In fact, there are many other types of embossing as well, none of which I care about. But just for the record, they include registered embossing, combination embossing, pastelling, glazing, and scorching.

I think the only time I used the term embossing right was when it came to "engraved" stationery. I always said it was EMBOSSED, VERY classy, VERY APPROPRIATE for anyone aspiring to be an old money East Coast WASP. And I was right (finally!) because "engraved" refers to the metal stamp that embosses the stationery. In fact, the widespread use of this engraving that creates embossed stationery is far more widely used than the hand-applied debossing we do at C. Mariani.

Want more details?  I know you don't but I have to continue….Embossing applies pressure to the backside of leather or paper stock to alter the surface, giving it a three dimensional raised effect. To do this, a die maker engraves the desired impression (it can be just about anything from text to images to design motifs) into several metal plates (embossing dies). So it's embossing that creates the elegant and understated stationery that no one under 60 uses anymore. Sigh.

Debossing, on the other hand, applies pressure to the front side of the leather (or paper or whatever) forcing the material away or down from the surface.

Placing gold foil between the stamp or roller (rollers are used for continuous lines like desk top trim) lays the gold down in the pattern or motif desired. The best gold debossing (and what Claudio is so good at) is really an old-world process that involves hand stamping/rolling and embossing at the same time. It requires complete concentration to keep the image and foil matched precisely. This is one of the many techniques in our workshop that only Claudio himself does. In fact, it's such a closely guarded trade secret that he's never trained any of our staff in this technique that only he can do.

Strange but absolutely true. Informational closing factoid: Despite everything I say in this post, EVERYONE still calls debossing "embossing." and I don't think this  blog is going to change that so feel free to misuse the term with abandon! I certainly do. :)