Curious Objects

The Magazine Antiques

Through interviews with leading figures in the world of fine and decorative arts, Curious Objects—a podcast from The Magazine Antiques—explores the hidden histories, the little-known facts, the intricacies, and the idiosyncrasies that breathe life and energy into historical works of craft and art.

All Episodes

Ben speaks with Ellery Foutch, assistant professor in American studies at Middlebury College, about a “relic Windsor chair” assembled by Henry Sheldon (founder of the Middlebury museum named in his honor) in 1884. This unusual piece of furniture was built with woods salvaged from structures with local or national significance—such as the warship Old Ironsides, the William Penn House in Philadelphia, and a colonial whipping post.

Oct 6

38 min 10 sec

Time was, many top interior designers sought to conjure a perfectly seamless décor—whether it be all Louis XV furniture, all early American, or all modern. The results could be beautiful—but also somewhat boring, and certainly impersonal. Interior decorator Thomas Jayne suggests another way to put together the spaces we live in: by using creative combinations of striking art and objects from across time to derive a style that’s endlessly evocative, livable, and fresh. In this episode, Ben Miller gets the goods from Jayne on the history of interiors (from the Greeks to the present day); what to budget first; and the spirit of “democratic decoration,” that, historically, has animated American interiors.

Aug 25

51 min

In mid-May, two paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe sold at auction, one in each of the world’s top sales rooms. Green Oak Leaves fetched $1.15 million at Sotheby’s, while Autumn Leaf with White Flower brought nearly $5 million at Christie’s. This month on our Curious Objects podcast, we bring you Reagan Upshaw—critic, dealer, appraiser, and all-around bon vivant—to expound on the lovely filaments, sepals, and stamens of O’Keeffe's oeuvre.

Jul 28

37 min 4 sec

During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration funded an interracial labor program in Wisconsin that employed over five thousand women to craft handmade goods: the Milwaukee Handicraft Project. Especially noteworthy among the rugs, quilts, costumes, and books that the women produced is a run of exquisitely crafted and clothed toddler-sized dolls. Host Benjamin Miller learns from scholar Allison Robinson about how these dolls—made to represent different ethnic groups both foreign and domestic—provide insight into New Deal–era debates over women’s labor, race, and cultural nationalism . . . and into the origins of Barbie and American Girl.

Jun 29

46 min 28 sec

The technique of reverse-painting was introduced to China in the late 1600s by its European trading partners, who manufactured and shipped the plate glass necessary for its production. By the middle of the following century artists specializing in producing images for foreign markets were well-established at China’s primary international port, Guangzhou, or Canton, as well as the capital of Beijing. In this episode, Corning Museum of Glass curator Christopher Maxwell introduces a superlative example of this transnational art. The circa 1784–1785 painting depicts a bullish scene on the Zhujiang River, with junks and sampans crowding the wharf in front of the famous “hongs” (warehouses) flying the flags of Denmark, Sweden, Great Britain, and the Netherlands.

May 26

41 min 8 sec

In April of 1853 a child was born into slavery on an Alabama cotton plantation owned by George Traylor. His first name was Bill and he would take the plantation owner’s last name for himself. A sharecropper and laborer for most of his life, in the decades since his death in 1949 Bill Traylor has became known to the world as an artist. Now, a new documentary tells Bill Traylor’s story on film for the first time. Ben Miller speaks with executive producer Sam Pollard and director Jeffrey Wolf about "Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts," distributed by Kino Lorber and available in virtual theaters via Kino Marquee.

May 5

36 min 38 sec

The Association of Art Museum Directors killed something of a sacred cow last year when it ruled that museums will be permitted to use funds from deaccessioned artworks—previously strictly controlled—to pay for a wider array of institutional costs. On the occasion of this year’s virtual Philadelphia Show, Ben Miller speaks with the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s director and CEO Timothy Rub about the AAMD’s ruling and ripple effects it might have throughout the museum world. In a wide-ranging conversation, which gets into the nitty gritty of collecting and deaccesioning habits and procedures, as well as fundraising niceties, Rub makes a strong case for continuing to keep the departments of museums—and their fundraising efforts—firmly separated.

Apr 22

1 hr 11 min

More popular than the Bible: that’s what the richly illustrated volumes known as books of hours—which helped worshipers keep track of each day’s seven canonical prayer periods—were during the Middle Ages. A trove of these objects from the Elaine and Alexandre Rosenberg collection is up for sale on April 23 at Christie’s, and in this special episode of the podcast Ben and Christie’s specialist Eugenio Donadoni zoom in on a particularly opulent example illuminated by the mysterious Master of the Paris Bartholomeus Anglicus.

Apr 14

25 min 32 sec

Only nine times in his seventy-eight years did Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot paint on anything other than canvas, paper, and panel. On one occasion, offended by the crude wooden lunchbox carried by his friend Alfred Robaut, Corot had a new one constructed, which he decorated with a plein air painting, "Fraîcheurs matinales" ("Morning Freshness"). It’s a mini-masterpiece made all the more charming by its humble setting, a breezy landscape of trees and hills awash with sunlight and enlivened by one of Corot’s favorite motifs: a flash of red, the hat of a small figure coming over a rise. Host Ben Miller gets the story from the dealer who sold it, Jill Newhouse, and the collector who bought it, Ray Vickers.

Mar 31

44 min 22 sec

Glenn Adamson makes his second appearance on Curious Objects to discuss his new book, Craft: An American History. As his research shows, artisans from Paul Revere and Betsy Ross to Patrocino Barela and George Barris played a crucial and under-examined role in the formation of the United States’ national character. And what’s more, he tells us, the communal-slash-individual nature of craftwork could represent an antidote to the country’s current polarization.

Feb 24

47 min 50 sec

From an early Renaissance list of statutes stipulating the amount of wine that every man, woman, and child of Bologna would receive daily, to a chunky twentieth-century cocktail ring, you’ll hear about wacky objects and the wild stories behind them from some of the Winter Show’s most irreverent dealers: Daniel Crouch (Daniel Crouch Rare Books), Carrie Imberman (Kentshire), and Keegan Goepfert (Les Enluminures).

Jan 29

41 min 45 sec

Bright young antiques dealers Pippa Biddle and Benjamin Davidson come on the pod to talk treasure—specifically, a homely wooden box that punches above its weight, thanks to its curious Revolutionary War provenance and a Herman Melville connection. Also—certainly music to the ears during this holiday season—the pair sings the praises of untrammeled accumulation as an interior design strategy.

Dec 2020

58 min 42 sec

Around 1930, two British artists, Agnes Miller Parker and Jessica Dismorr, went to work on a pair of paintings—one a modernist Madonna and Child, the other depicting a highly symbolic portrait of a rampaging cat—that are now on view at the Fine Art Society’s galleries in London and Edinburgh. FAS principals Emily Walsh and Rowena Morgan-Cox explain to Ben how two women painters made their mark during a time when the art world was still male-dominated.

Nov 2020

44 min 21 sec

Dalva Brothers, Inc., specializes in the sort of lux 1700s French furniture—ebonized wood, gilded rococo flourishes, parti-colored marquetry—that just screams ancien régime. Some 250 of the choicest items from the firm’s inventory are being offered at Christie’s this October, and Dalva Brothers' principal David Dalva III, along with Christie’s specialist Jody Wilkie, talk with Ben about the crème de la crème: a secretary-cabinet resplendent with Florentine pietra dura figurative panels and gleaming ormolu mounts, possibly handled by noted marchand-mercier Dominique Daguerre.

Oct 2020

49 min 31 sec

Dealer Adam Ambros and curator Ed Town join Ben to talk about a collection of mostly small objects made in Britain between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, many of them marked with a date. During the discussion, Town and Ambros tease out the material history and forgotten figures behind six of the most quotidian of these objects—two Elizabethian shoehorns and a powderhorn by little-known craftsman Robert Mindum, and three beakers by Nathaniel Spilman—and reveal that for the emerging middle class these were not merely useful objects, but status symbols.

Sep 2020

53 min 58 sec

Scholar Torren Gatson, guest editor for the current edition of the MESDA Journal, comes on the pod to talk about an iron fireback (a metal plate protecting the back wall of a fireplace) produced at the Vesuvius Furnace in Lincoln County, North Carolina. Established by revolutionary war veteran Joseph Graham, the furnace depended on slave labor—oftentimes quite skilled—as well as that of freedmen and white women. Gatson’s research paints a compelling picture of the unique work culture this state of affairs produced.

Aug 2020

46 min 26 sec

According to some, underneath our feet is a second, inverted world, home to strange beasts, the Lost Tribes of Israel . . . maybe even Hitler. In the nineteenth century, a booster for this “hollow earth” theory was one John Cleves Symmes of Sussex County, New Jersey. Accompanied by a perforated wooden globe, between 1818 and 1827 Symmes crisscrossed the United States delivering lectures on the existence of portals to this “underworld” located at the poles, and urging an expedition be undertaken to discover them. Drexel University’s Robert McCracken Peck comes on the pod to talk about the theory and the globe in this episode of Curious Objects.

Jul 2020

33 min 27 sec

This month, Ben speaks with Tiffany Momon, visiting assistant professor at Sewanee University in Tennessee, and founder of the Black Craftspeople Digital Archive, a scholarly resource that explores the contributions that African Americans have made to the material culture of the United States. Tiffany and Ben focus their attention on a chair made by enslaved craftsmen at Leonidas Polk’s Leighton Plantation in Louisiana, and Tiffany offers tips on what institutions and researchers can do to ensure they’re telling the full story of the decorative arts.

Jun 2020

52 min 18 sec

In 1834 a law was passed in South Carolina that prohibited slaves from reading or writing. The punishment for transgressors? Fifty lashes. That same year, Dave Drake, an enslaved potter at work in Edgefield County inscribed his first poem on a large stoneware jug he'd made. In this episode of the podcast, Ethan Lasser, chair of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, tells Dave’s story and that of an 1857 storage jar that bears the epigrammatic lines: "I made this Jar for Cash-/ though its called lucre trash/ Dave.”

May 2020

38 min 58 sec

It's kinetic sculpture, it's haute couture, it’s . . . armor! This month, Ben speaks with Chassica Kirchhoff, an assistant curator at the Detroit Institute of Arts, about a suite of metal suits from the 1500s that were worn and jousted in by the dukes of Saxony. Emblematic of the feisty Protestant state’s chivalric past and supreme examples of Saxon metalworking prowess, by the 1700s the suits of armor had come to represent “a fulcrum between the early modern past and the Enlightenment present,” Kirchoff says. Shortly thereafter they went on display at the famous Green Vault in Dresden, a precursor of modern museums.

Apr 2020

46 min 47 sec

Art historian Isabelle Kent regales Ben with the tale of five stained-glass roundels gracing the windows of her childhood home in London's Bedford Park, and he tells her all about his pair of telescoping Sheffield plate candelabra. Bonus tidbit: tips on how to distinguish between a bogus antique and the genuine item.

Apr 2020

52 min 52 sec

Ben and Michael, like everyone else, are stuck at home, but they aren’t a pair to shrink from silver linings. For them these include the opportunity to spend time among the beautiful things they've acquired over the years: silver candlesticks, German watercolors, maps, and portrait miniatures. And they’ve got a fate-tempting prediction for the future: “A lot of people are going to come out of this crisis thinking, ‘God, I wish my walls weren’t so white . . . or bare.’”

Apr 2020

1 hr

Having spent his entire life in and around the antiques trade, dealer David Schorsch has seen it all. In this special episode, he talks with Michael about how the likes of Albert and Harold Sack, Florene Maine, and Ben and Cora Ginsburg weathered the Great Depression, and how this time around, “the Internet could very well be the thing that saves the antiques business.”

Mar 2020

17 min 26 sec

This month, Ben and Michael speak with Jennifer Tonkovich, curator of prints and drawings at the Morgan Library and Museum. The focus is an odd bronze bust of a crying child—once believed to have been sculpted by Michelangelo—but the trio’s conversation quickly branches out, touching on subjects as diverse as the collector/connoisseur divide in the 19th century; the role of “creative restorers” in the history of antique fakery; and the intercontinental flow of fine and dec arts treasures from Europe to the collections of tycoons like Morgan, and from there into the public domain.

Mar 2020

58 min 58 sec

We’re pushing out a series of new episodes that will examine the COVID-19 pandemic from the perspective of the antiques world. First up, Tim Martin of S. J. Shrubsole. Inspired by Boccaccio’s Decameron, a collection of stories told by plague-stricken raconteurs in fourteenth-century Italy, Martin decided to publish anecdotes from the curious lore of precious silver, keyed to objects that have passed through his shop, online. In this episode, Martin reads one of those stories, “The Customer is Always Right . . . Eventually.”

Mar 2020

15 min 29 sec

Join us on a journey to ancient Egypt as we explore the quirky material history and dead-serious religious significance of a very curious object: a 2,500-year-old Imsety-headed canopic jar—i.e., a vessel made to hold a mummy’s liver. Charis Tyndall of UK antiquities dealer Charles Ede guest stars.

Feb 2020

45 min 36 sec

Special guests James Boening (James Robinson, Inc.), Ria Murray (Lillian Nassau), and Taylor Thistlethwaite (Thistlethwaite Americana), join hosts Ben and Michael at the Park Avenue Armory during the Winter Show for a lively discussion about a Tiffany favrile glass pig, a silver molinet, a pair of Scottish Highlands pistols, a c. 1770 New York card table, and a fetching portrait miniature from the German school.

Jan 2020

1 hr 1 min

Ever wondered how the otherwise-unremarkable locales of Meissen, Staffordshire, and Sèvres became Europe's porcelain-producing polestars? Or what outsider artists like Bill Traylor and William Edmondson, discovered by the art establishment in the 1930s and ‘40s, made of their newfound fame? The experts at Christie's have the answers!

Jan 2020

56 min 36 sec

Michael Diaz-Griffith treks to Colonial Williamsburg to talk with chief curator Ron Hurst about a new exhibition, "British Masterworks," in which objects like gilded chandeliers, a colossal Chippendale bookcase, and an armchair upholstered with a parrot and a basket of fruit—collected by curators in the early twentieth century to flesh out their conception of 1700s Williamsburg—tell very different stories today from the ones they were bought to support.

Dec 2019

1 hr 3 min

The first American flag Peter Keim collected was a hand-sewn thirteen-star specimen that he found poking out of a paper bag at a farm sale. Happily for Keim, the flag turned out to be a hand-sewn beaut from 1862, worth $10,000. Keim now owns approximately four hundred American flags.

Nov 2019

53 min 44 sec

Only a small number of people have the resources and wherewithal to collect Hepplewhite furniture or Paul Revere silver, but plenty collect baseball cards, including our guest this month: Randall, the voice behind the viral video The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger.

Oct 2019

48 min

There’s a tried and true method for curating art exhibitions: paint walls, hang pictures, write labels, and Bob's your uncle. But what happens when a neuroscientist gets involved? This month, CO examines how researchers at the Peabody Essex Museum are analyzing the ways people look at art.

Sep 2019

48 min 56 sec

A suite of furniture made for the storied Beekman family of New York has one extremely over-the-top feature: the pieces are upholstered with export-quality French tapestries, i.e., material that wasn’t good enough for the French to hold on to. One man's trash . . .

Aug 2019

49 min 1 sec

Philip Hewat-Jaboor is chairman of Masterpiece London and owner of a fine alabaster and rosso antico marble vase. The vase has a fascinating transnational backstory, but, maybe more importantly, it's beautiful, a factor Philip says is “coming back into the equation” with regard to works of art.

Jul 2019

50 min 56 sec

If you find an Old Master artwork in your attic, how can you be sure it isn’t fake? This month Ben and Michael consider the case of "Judith and Holofernes," a painting attributed to Caravaggio and estimated at $100–$150 million that sold to a private buyer on June 25.

Jun 2019

1 hr 2 min

Scholar and curator Glenn Adamson reminds us how important it is to pay attention to the objects in our immediate proximity in this episode keyed to Art Carpenter’s Wishbone chair

Jun 2019

42 min 41 sec

This month we focus on a quartet of curious objects at Freeman’s auction house: a marble-top pier table long believed to have belonged to General Washington’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman, a quirky painting of Noah’s Ark by foppish Lancaster polymath John Landis, and two stoneware wine bottles in the shape of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Apr 2019

28 min 49 sec

In collector Noah Wunsch's private life one rule guides his hand: “no matter what you're buying make sure you like it.“ In this episode, Ben takes the measure of Noah’s treasure, which ranges from a 60 BC Visigothic belt buckle to the zany artwork of Genieve Figgis.

Mar 2019

45 min 34 sec

Austrian-born economist Friedrich Hayek’s 1974 Nobel Prize in economics and his personal dog-eared copy of The Wealth of Nations have come up for auction at Sotheby’s. Ben Miller calls on the expertise of Duke University professor Bruce Caldwell and Sotheby’s specialist Gabriel Heaton to put these and other items in historical context.

Mar 2019

31 min 53 sec

For the Winter Show’s 2019 diamond jubilee, Curious Objects hosted a panel discussion between four young lights of the antiques world, who'd gathered to announce the birth of a new club: the New Antiquarians.

Jan 2019

55 min 10 sec

Ben Miller talks to John Stuart Gordon about glass formed by the Trinity nuclear test and a stained-glass window smashed by a dining hall worker in 2016.

Dec 2018

46 min 32 sec

Rare book dealers Heather O'Donnell and Rebecca Romney drop some knowledge about Henry Highland Garnet’s "Memorial Discourse,” the first address delivered to Congress by an African-American.

Dec 2018

54 min 24 sec

Happy birthday, Curious Objects! In this special anniversary episode, we take a look back at the work we’ve done these last twelve months.

Nov 2018

49 min 58 sec

A virtual tour of the suite of Gilded Age mansions built for the Vanderbilts, Oelrichs, Astors, and Berwinds in Newport, Rhode Island, by the likes of Richard Morris Hunt and Stanford White.

Sep 2018

33 min 10 sec

This time it's your turn. For the last two months, we’ve been asking listeners to post their curious objects on Instagram, tagging #mycuriousobject and @antiquesmag.

Aug 2018

30 min 10 sec

The founder of Geographicus Rare Antique Maps goes into detail about a big, blue, Qing-era map of the empire's tribute system: a network of cities, tribes, and nations that extended as far as Europe.

Jul 2018

40 min 5 sec

Instagram doyen Levi Higgs tells Ben Miller about a jewel- and enamel-bedazzled treasure by a jeweler whose work can often be seen on the red carpet.

Jun 2018

33 min 10 sec

Antiques Dealers' Association executive director Judy Loto goes into detail about an antique powder horn that's the apple of her eye. She also has some tips for new collectors.

May 2018

33 min 54 sec

Benjamin Miller talks with Paul Becker, the fifth-generation owner and director of Chicago-based Carl Becker and Son, a 150-year-old luthier business.

Apr 2018

45 min 19 sec

In this episode of Curious Objects & the stories behind them, part two of our special coverage of the 2018 Winter Antiques Show, Ben Miller gets the dish on mace-like molinets, impeccably-preserved highboys, gem-encrusted jewelry, and five-legged card tables, among other masterpieces.

Mar 2018

36 min 1 sec