The weather gods smiled upon Americana Week in New York City, lavishing event sponsors with unseasonably mild conditions for the third week of January, and encouraging buyer traffic. New collector education was an underlying theme of Americana Week, supported by a growing roster of auctions, shows and seminars. Events allowed antiques enthusiasts to buy for their own collections or simply get up close to rare museum-quality pieces.
Americana Week provided antiques enthusiasts at all collecting levels an opportunity to rub elbows with celebrities, power brokers and favorite dealer personalities from “Antiques Roadshow.”
Americana was the umbrella theme of these events and indeed, weather vanes, painted furniture and folk art were well represented. However, there were many fine examples of ceramics, glass and artwork from Great Britain, France and other European nations as well.
Most vendors and buyers agreed that clustering the shows facilitated commerce between vendors but it also permitted buyers to see the range of quality within a category of items. Beginning collectors could see the finest examples of an item that would later help them make educated decisions about purchases within their budgets.
Vendors shared the view that younger customers needed to be brought along as the baby boomer customers begin downsizing their living spaces and collections. Decorators — professional and do-it-yourselfers — were a core customer group during Americana Week, particularly at the mid-level of the market.
New York Ceramics Fair
The New York Ceramics Fair on Jan. 18-22 was a jewel of a show that brought dealers in antique and contemporary ceramics to the beaux-arts setting of the National Academy of Design Museum and School of Fine Arts. Thirty-two dealers filled three floors of the historic building for the Caskey-Lees produced event, creating an intimate environment in which to view the treasures.
Many dealers said they saw better sales than at other recent shows. Dealers reported across the board that the strongest sales were on closing day Sunday. “Contemporary potter Katherine Houston of Katherine Houston Porcelain in North Andover, Mass., had the largest sales of her career on Sunday,” said show producer Bill Caskey. Wednesday also was very strong. John Howard at Heritage, Woodstock, United Kingdom, said Wednesday morning was the busiest day of any show in his career. Garry Atkins reported steady sales with 17 pieces sold on opening night.
“We’ve seen about half new and half established customers at this show. Many of the serious collectors were here the first day,” said Blake Kemper of Solomon Suchard Antiques & Fine Art in Shaker Heights, Ohio. He brought Quimper Faience including items attributed to Baux, who is known to be the director of one of the family faienceries in France.
Kemper pointed out a pitcher for apple cider that would have been made in the Calvados region that featured a botanical cartouche scene of a mother and daughter with a Breton peasant on the other side. “This is an early 19th-century piece and the only one we’ve ever seen.” Another highlight was a plate with a seahorse design that was selling between $10,000 and $15,000.
Santos of London said the Ceramic Fair is “the right show because America is a good market for Chinese export porcelain. People come from all over America, and I include South America, where there are many people interested in collecting porcelain.”
Santos offered an arrangement of unusual leaf-shaped serving pieces with a central motif of a Japanese boy and girl. “They are talking about love, we know because of the mating quails here at the bottom. This is a design that went from Japan to the German Meissen factories, then back over to China for copies for export,” explained Santos. The rare pieces of blue and white Chinese Export ranged from $4,400-$9,000.
Mark J. West, a glass specialist from London, reported a show far superior in sales to last year and included among the works sold a pair of hand-painted goblets by Vedar (Vetri di Arte), Florence, Italy, circa 1925. His booth also featured a dramatic selection of Art Deco black and clear perfume bottles. A collection of vases attributed to Joseph Simon for Val St. Lambert, dated 1930, Belgium, included an amethyst over crystal example for $2,280.
Front and center at Winsor Antiques of Woodbury, Conn., was a 30-inch earthenware pot with the feeling of faux bois from Staffordshire, probably Stoke-on-Trent for $6,500. Cohen and Cohen of London brought several examples of Chinese porcelain, including an important famille vert round charger from the Kangxi Period, circa 1690.
At Maria and Peter Warren Antiques of Wilton, Conn., an English Pearlware figure of cupid on a lion from 1780-1800 was selling in excess of $10,000. The piece, which had been illustrated in English Earthenware Figures by Pat Halfpenny, had some restorations but original gilding on the wings and loincloth were still evident.
Charles Washburne of Chappaqua, N.Y., was one of the many dealers who sold their catalog pieces. Also on display was a pair of garden seats with a figure of a dark-skinned boy priced at $64,000 and a Minton majolica urn with satyrs for $32,000. A Minton majolica ice stand embellished with deer, circa 1865, was listed at $49,000. Washburne also had a vase that had once been in the private collection of Lauren Bacall.
Martin Feinstein of Vintage Interiors II in Potomac, Md., brought items from a variety of price points with the hope of introducing new collectors to porcelain. Collectors could start with a pair of shallow 1820 Chinese Export Jiaqing bowls for $250 or a Derby sucrier (sugar bowl) from 1800 decorated with gilded vines and roses for $350. “For beginners, what’s really important is when you buy it, you’re making a commitment to learn more about (the piece), to read about it and expand your knowledge,” said Feinstein. He did not ignore the more experienced collector, whom he tempted with a pair of soft paste bleu-celeste Sevres fruit coolers for $65,000.
In addition to learning from the dealer experts, Ceramics Fair attendees could take advantage of a lecture series that included seven sessions. Topics ranged from contemporary ceramics to Chinese Export porcelain to European Ceramics at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition.
52nd Annual Winter Antiques Show
The Grand Dame of New York antique shows, the Winter Antiques Show, celebrated its 52nd anniversary this year. The original show in Americana Week ran Jan. 20-29 at the Seventh Regiment Armory in New York’s posh Upper East Side and presented exclusive offerings from 74 U.S. and international exhibitors.
One would imagine that this elegant show, where case pieces commanded $100,000 and more, would have the hushed sanctity of a church. Yet the Armory Show, as it has become known over the years, hummed with excitement and the chatter of dozens of languages as serious buyers and those who could only dream, jockeyed to see some of the finest antiques available anywhere.
Each booth space was decorated like a tiny shop with dark painted walls that highlighted carefully placed items that previously had been juried for authenticity by a committee of 150 experts. The preponderance of discreet stickers on price signs indicated that sales early in the show were healthy.
Stephen and Carol Huber of Old Saybrook, Conn., brought an array of early American silk embroideries and samplers. At the top end of the market was a sampler by Mary Abbott of Salem, Mass., dated 1785, selling for $65,000. Other selections included a silk and linen piece attributed to 14-year-old Elsa Meserole of New Jersey, priced at $5,500, and a French silk embroidery from the early 19th century of a Madonna and child for $4,500.
Barbara Israel Garden Antiques in Katonah, N.Y., brought a breath of spring into the show when she filled her space with garden statuary and a gurgling fountain. Her offerings included a pair of French cast-iron urns decorated with winged cherubs marked A. Durenne/Sommevoire, priced $35,000. Tucked in a front corner of the show floor, Taylor B. Williams Antiques of Chicago had shelves of Canary Lustre from the early 1800s. A Wedgwood Moonlight Lustre compote from 1810-1820 was priced at $2,500.
Down the row, Julius Lowry Frame and Restoring Co. of New York City showcased dramatic carved and gilt frames mainly from the early 20th century. The selection included pieces carved by Boston frame maker Walfred Thelen. Others had gilt composition ornament design by Stanford White made by Newcomb Macklin.
Many of the dealers brought George Washington-themed or Colonial-era antiques to the Armory in support of a special loan exhibition called George Washington’s Mount Vernon. The place George Washington called home loaned more than 50 significant historic treasures including the Martha Washington tea service, the Dove of Peace weather vane and a portrait by Charles W. Peale of Washington done after the Battle of Princeton.
Proceeds from the Winter Antiques Show benefit the East Side Settlement House in the Mott Haven section of the South Bronx, contributing nearly 30 percent to the non-profit community service organization’s private philanthropic budget. It is the only major antiques show in New York from which all net proceeds from tickets sold support a charity.
Antiques at the Armory
A few miles downtown at Antiques at the Armory, the “Other Armory Show” sponsored by Stella Show Management, vendors were reporting an excellent show. One hundred exhibitors displayed at the 69th Regiment Armory at 26th Street on Jan. 20-22. The Friday opening was dubbed “Decorator Day” by dealers who eagerly greeted interior designers and their clients. Brisk sales got the show off to a roaring start with some dealers joking they had so little merchandise left they could have packed up Friday and called it a show.
“What sets this show apart is the high quality and wider variety of merchandise,” says Tracey Young of The Elemental Garden in Woodbury, Conn. Young travels to England five times a year to find garden pieces that are just as likely to adorn a room inside as they would the garden. She has been polishing her steel items for some time and sees this as a trend as interest in Modern design grows.
Over at Fisher Heritage, New York-based textiles expert Laura Fisher showcased unique quilts and a big selection of hooked rugs. Hal Gusler reported that “Figurals, houses and animals were commanding the most interest and best prices followed by geometrics and florals.” Gusler advised that age and uniqueness of design — many pieces were hooked from patterns — garner higher prices. A house design run from Pennsylvania, created around 1920, commanded $6,500, and a panther from a pattern was priced at $4,800.
Furniture sold well at the downtown armory and the offerings spanned centuries and styles. Judd Gregory from Dorset, Vt., brought a rare japanned sewing table dated 1830-1860. Priced at $9800, it retained most of its ivory tools and original japanning. He also offered a Pennsylvania Chippendale cherry corner cupboard from 1840 for $14,500.
For lovers of Americana and painted wood for wall display, New York dealer Chris Jussel offered painted signs ranging in price from $145-$7,500. Items from a collection of gameboards could be found at Carlson & Stevenson of Manchester Center, Vt., including an American pine 1920-1930s piece with red and black paint for $900 and a painted board from Canada, circa 1920, for $2,500.
Also tucked into the booth was a portfolio of fascinating watercolor designs for tattoos from around 1900. Found in Ohio, the framed design motifs were priced individually and included patriotic looks such as a ship in an anchor and eagle with an American flag.
Amanda Broomer from A.R. Broomer of New York City captured the attention of buyers with a group of Philippine Santos, religious statues whose artisans drew inspiration from Spanish art. The wood carvings include St. Peter, priced at $1,200, and a kneeling reticulated Christ figure for $1,800. Although the Santos are compelling pieces of folk art, Broomer explained that, “The majority of these people buy them for the religious connection.”
Americana at the Piers
Proving that Americana Week offered something for everyone, Stella Show Management Co.’s Americana & Antiques @ the Piers over on the West Side at Piers 92 and 90 offered items at all quality levels Jan. 21-22. Here you could find items from 300 dealers ranging in price from $5 monogrammed hankies to a $60,000 carousel seat. Buyers were lined up at 10 a.m. waiting for the doors to open. The early hours were a flurry of activity as buyers quickly, and sometimes frantically, conducted reconnaissance of the shows before diving into purchasing.
Vendors took a world view of the Americana theme of the show. The diversity of offerings on the show floor was a metaphor for the melting pot of cultures that make up America. Dealers agreed that buyers were looking for items to decorate their homes, not just to add to collections. Many were courting this following of decorators and tastemakers. An early morning tour by Martha Stewart sent ripples of excitement through the show.
Pier 92 had the most exhibitors of Americana items. “We are seeing two kinds of customers,” said Doug McElwain of Sport and Spool Antiques of Goldsboro, N.C., a business focused on sporting-themed antiques. “The decorator customer is going primarily for the look of an item, and they want the lower-priced items, while the collector is willing to pay higher prices for a hard-to-find piece.” McElwain was offering Indian clubs, once used like dumbbells for exercising, for $89 to $250 a pair. A pair of black leather bowling shoes were tagged $59 and trophy cups were marked $165 to $295 each.
Some dealers cited the growing interest in Mid-Century Modern overtaking the interest in country-themed items. Carol Waldman of Back Roads Antiques in Sea Cliff, N.Y., said, “At this show, people want to buy country even though the trend is Modern. The quality of country here is really good.” She and husband John offered a large painted sign with “HONEY” spelled out in bottle caps for $485 from Honey Lake, Ind. A 19th-century wooden steamship model was marked $950 and a country kitchen dining room table with green and white paint went for $1,400. A 19th-century Vermont Windsor rocker with original yellow and red paint was marked $750.
Susan Goldsweig at Sage Antiques said that buyers were looking for “Frames, smalls and inexpensive weather vanes. It doesn’t look like people are looking for large pieces of furniture at this show; they are looking for collectibles and home decor. They are asking themselves ‘Can I use it?’ and ‘Is it cheap?’” In addition to a variety of items, including a vintage painted plant stand and a pair of garden urns, Goldsweig had a yellow painted child’s rocking chair for $275.
Scott Smith of High Street Antiques in York, Maine, indicated that he and partner Mindy Schwarz had been selling a lot of frames and furniture. His business has evolved over the years. “We started selling to the younger customer in 1999. This customer wants different things than our older customer. They are buying things because they like the lines, things that are a little funkier. They are not really buying ‘brown’ furniture.” Smith and Schwarz were hoping to catch a buyer’s interest with a pair of large early 20th-century lanterns found in Maine priced at $2,100.
Karen and Bill Podmore of Antiques and Fascinations of Centerport, N.Y., stayed true to the theme of fascinations. Novelties included an early papier mache taxidermy form, perhaps for a deer, that was priced at $195. A wall chart of the human body, marked St. Johns Ambulance Association in London, was commanding $395. Old glass spherical fishing floats still bearing their knotted cords were priced at $75 each.
John Gould of Yorktown Heights, N.Y., is a familiar face at Pier Shows. He brought a selection of gold frames, predominantly gold leafed versions in a variety of sizes. An 8-inch by 10-inch frame was priced at $245 and prices rose with size. For example a 19-inch by 26-inch frame was priced at $1,100.
Pier 90 housed a much diversified group of exhibitors with more emphasis on vintage clothing and textiles, jewelry and mid-20th century collectibles. Susan Tillupman displayed a deep selection of art pottery including pieces by Robert Turner, Charlotte Reed and Rookwood. She said sales were good but that customers were not buying on impulse. “Customers have been very selective,” she said. “They are returning four or five times before making the decision to buy.” Ordinary Folks brought pop culture collectibles from West Virginia that appealed to buyers’ memories of youth. Offerings included a 1963 Mr. Zip sign of a postal carrier for $3,200 and a Sprinklin Sambo for $900. He also had a wire 1940s grocery store display and a 1950s Gulf Serviceman sign.
Overall, dealers reported that business was brisk in the first hours of the show and that they were pleased with the event. On Pier 92, some indicated that they “made their show” within the first three hours and this was evidenced by some blank walls and plenty of walking room within booths.
Leanne Stella of Stella Show Management commented that, “Major sales were amongst Americana and folk art dealers, but business was accomplished across the board. It was positively refreshing to see how vibrant the shows were. There was an energy amongst the customers. People were very interested in shopping and ultimately, a lot of shopping was reported.”
Opinions on the amount of dealer-to-dealer buying at the Pier Shows were mixed, ranging from “Great because my prices are low” to “A dealer would have to sell something in his booth before he would buy from me.” Mary Webb of Mary Webb Antiques felt that there wasn’t the dealer-to-dealer buying as in previous years, adding, “We’re here to find out what appeals to a young customer and to educate the customer’s eye — to show them what is available.”