"I am under no illusions as to my pictures. I am not an artist, and it is most disagreeable to me to be called one. I am a clergyman with a love of the beautiful."
I look for examples of antique furniture online. I've noticed an interesting phenomenon; museums have crummy websites. I bet they don't think they're crummy. I imagine they think they're swell. More about that later.
I'm interested in Wallace Nutting. If you've never heard of him, that's understandable. He's not exactly Britney Spears, but he was fairly notable in his way. Born at the dawn of the Civil War, passed away at the start of WW II, to my endless amusement he hailed from a place called Rockbottom, Massachusetts.
He was the bluest of bluebloods. Pilgrim ancestors, Phillips Exeter Academy, Harvard. He was a minister, and then he started his second career as an antiquarian when he was about 45 years old. Sounds partly familiar. He first took pictures while out in the country, and later employed a staff of ladies to hand-tint them. They were nature scenes at first, and then he began to buy and renovate colonial houses, furnish them in period style, and depict domestic scenes using models dressed in period clothes. Here's one called Backgammon:
They were often referred to as "chromos." He sold ten million of them from a catalog. He wrote books about his peripatations. I have a copy of a few of them. They're like reading a somber version of Henry David Thoreau's Cape Cod. If Nutting ever told a joke, I've never heard about it. He made his contemporary, Calvin Coolidge, look like W.C. Fields in comparison.
He opened up a few houses as museums. He was always hustling, so you could pull something off the wall and buy it if you had a mind to. That brings us back to museum websites. Nutting was a colleague of a fellow with the triple barreled name of William Sumner Appleton. Appleton was a founder of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. Appleton and Nutting went in on some projects together, and Nutting contributed his words, pictures, and items to the Society.
But Appleton and his SPNEA brethren didn't like the taint of filthy lucre on their history. They had a falling out over Nutting's commercialism, and they went their separate ways.
Nutting opened up a shop making reproduction furniture. His furniture, though it's less than a hundred years old, is collected as if it was original. His books are highly prized, though most are out of print. I refer to Nutting's Furniture Treasury all the time.
I can find all sorts of information about Nutting and his furniture, furnishings, and opinions all over the place, for free or for short money. The SPNEA? I can't help noticing their website parses out information with an eyedropper, desperately trying to coax you to spend some money to get them to part with it. They're now trying everything they execrated Nutting for then, renting out restored properties for weddings, licensing copies of antiques and selling them, along with the usual begging.
I can go to an auction house website, and get dozens of high-quality photos of all sorts of antiques, along with measurements and a little provenance, and it doesn't cost a penny to look. The auctioneers aren't doing it out of the goodness of their heart. But Adam Smith will tell you it doesn't matter why it happens. The SPNEA website wants to show me a dreadful slideshow using the execrable RealPlayer plugin. No thanks.
No profit is made, no doubt, and thank god for that. It all must go to keeping trustfund babies employed at above market wages, harrumphing at cocktail parties about mercenaries like Wallace Nutting, and people like me too, I suppose, while they hoard the information they should be trumpeting everywhere and charge like a phone-sex line for what little they deign to mete out.
Hey, look how well that worked out for The New York Times. I'm sure it will turn out swell for the museums, too.