In 1982, Clark Graves, the owner of Clark Graves Antiques, took newly minted graduate Robert Morrissey on board at his renowned store. After Graves passed away, Morrissey took over the shop, regarded as one of St. Louis’ finest antiques sources. Ladue News spoke with Morrissey about his penchant for antiques and what people can do to learn more about them.
LN: What led to your interest in antiques?
RM: I’ve been a collector of objects since I was a little boy. When I was in college, I had paintings hanging on the walls in my dorm room from local antiques shops. Everybody else had Farrah Fawcett posters! So when Clark Graves hired me here in 1982, I just took to it immediately.
LN: What do you specialize in?
RM: We have 18th- and early 19th-century English and Continental furniture and accessories. I do a lot of my buying in France and England, and have developed a really great network of contacts, especially in France: Paris, in Alsace in eastern France, and in Brittany in western France. I bought a very beautiful south German chest of drawers in Alsace on my last buying trip, walnut with very beautiful inlays and architectural details. It’s $12,000.
LN: What is a typical day working in antiques like?
RM: Fortunately, there’s no typical day. Today I had a meeting with my architect; we’re moving on to the next phase of the remodeling and restoration of the shop here, which has been an ongoing and exciting project. Later on I have some research to do—I’ve got a large library I’ve been building for the last 12 years. I’ve got a painting that’s going to be sold in Vienna, and textiles that are going to be sold in Pennsylvania, and furniture that’s going to Washington, D.C., so I have a lot of projects in the works. I’m researching a stone sculpture that was brought to me about two weeks ago. There’s a lot of investigative work. It’s one of my favorite things about being a dealer.
LN: Do you have a favorite piece that you own?
RM: I started working here in September 1982, and by October, I was collecting. I still have the first antique I ever bought from Clark: a pair of Georgian salt cellars, English, circa 1790. I have accumulated a lot more since then!
LN: Are there some general ways someone can tell a true antique apart from junk?
RM: Antique porcelain tends to have no marks or logos on it, as a general rule of thumb. If you see the word ‘England’ or ‘France,’ it puts it to the fourth quarter of the 19th century. If it says ‘Made in’ then it’s 20th century. So there are general ways of dating porcelain. Dating a piece of furniture, there’s a lot that goes into it. Proportion is very important, construction details, antique furniture obviously needs to be handmade. Modern furniture is machine-made, and you can often see signs of that, like dovetails being completely regular.
LN: What’s one coup you’re particularly proud of?
RM: I’ve had a lot of those, but the one that rises to the top happened in 2006. I stumbled upon the watercolor paintings of a local artist named Stan Masters, about 250 paintings. He was an almost unknown artist and, in my opinion, the finest watercolor artist St. Louis has ever produced. It has been a fantastic project working with his widow on bringing Stan’s art to a wider audience. I’ve had three exhibitions, and more are planned. I’ve also lectured at Milliken University in Decatur, another highlight.
LN: What else would you like to let our readers know about the antiques field?
RM: Going back to the question of how to distinguish period things, I would urge people to keep looking. That’s really a very good way to learn: look, look, look, and ask, ask, ask. We’ve got an auction house with an awful lot of materials going through, Ivey-Selkirk, and there are also shops all over town, travel opportunities and museums.