A big, elegant, scholarly volume that will be sheer bliss for antique collectors and slow torture for anyone else--a meticulous guided tour, in effect, with a vastly knowledgeable docent. The arrangement of objects, however, is not chronological or generic but topical; and the exhibit proper--based on an actual, smaller one at the National Gallery--is preceded by comments on early private collectors and recent public collections. Subsequently Cooper--trained at Winterthur, now at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts--takes up in turn documented objects (including such remarkable recent finds as a piece of slipware dated 1631); upholstered furniture (the product, once, of ""the most prestigious craft profession""); American patronage (specially commissioned objects, many of them paintings, but also silver ""plate,"" pewter, glass--and to commemorate Lafayette's 1824-25 triumphal tour, ""everything from special gold medals to silk ribbons and sashes""); ornamental techniques (painting, carving, inlay); regional variations (""New York and Philadelphia vie[d] for first place in the creation of card tables""; in Boston, tea took precedence); and production outside major style centers. The last chapter, more in the nature of a period room, constitutes a minisurvey of the early 19th-century neoclassical style. Cooper takes note throughout of significant published studies, and now and again injects an intriguing aside--as in referring to the bombÃ‰ chest-on-chest that Maxim Karolik coveted but never succeeded in purchasing. For this voracious audience, ""the great Boston collector"" hardly needs to be identified.