Feeling good in Philadelphia

Antiques Week is a winner

Antiques Week in Philadelphia brings the finest examples of Americana to one of the most historically significant cities in our country. Anchoring the “week” was the venerable Philadelphia Antiques Show at the 33rd Street Armory on Drexel University’s campus. A few blocks away on 23rd Street, Barn Star Productions brought together dealers for the Original 23rd Street Armory Antiques Show while Jim Burk took over the Navy Pier. Offerings were top shelf and collectors responded by making the early days of the shows strong selling days, despite a damp and nasty Saturday.

Americana, particularly American furniture and folk art, were the stars of these shows. Offerings were clearly influenced by the location of the show. Booths spotlighting premium examples of weather vanes, whirligigs, wool hooked rugs and tramp art were juxtaposed against others featuring rare examples of Revolutionary War-era furniture from the Delaware Valley, most often, Philadelphia. Painted pieces from New Jersey and Pennsylvania Dutch Country also were represented.

The Philadelphia Antiques Show, now in its 45th year, is the keystone of Antiques Week in Philadelphia. The show, which ran April 8-11, was presented by a group of 250 volunteers to benefit the University of Pennsylvania Health System. This year, proceeds specifically profit the Department of Surgery, Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, to fund total artificial heart technology to support active heart failure/transplant programs.

Each year, the show presents a special exhibit. The loan exhibit for 2006, titled The Schuylkill Villas, showcased the history and architecture of 18th-century houses in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. A roster of special events revolved around the show, reinforcing the event as a happening and destination show. They included the New Collectors Evening, “The Art of Seeing” Garden Photography with Alan Detrick and Picnic in the Park with Lilly Pulitzer.

Visitors will find premium examples of Americana at this show. Furniture boasted original glass and brasses and can be attributed to generations of a single family. In other instances, pieces were rare with only a few examples known to exist. For example, Leigh Keno of New York City brought a Federal satinwood and mahogany inlaid and figured mixing table with an alabaster top that hailed from Maryland, circa 1795. Philip H. Bradley Co. of Downingtown, Pa., brought an unusual Pennsylvania architectural walnut 24, light Dutch cupboard, circa 1790.

James M. Kilvington of Dover, Del., showed a Delaware Valley Queen Anne side chair in rare original preservation made from walnut and yellow pine, dated 1750. An oval-top candlestand in mahogany, circa 1780, was priced at $7,500. A walnut Delaware Valley blanket chest inlaid with the initials “CL” and dated 1781 was thought to be from Montgomery County and made for a member of the cabinet maker’s family.

Alfred Bullard Inc. of Philadelphia showed a Regency inlaid harewood and satinwood library table for $40,000 and a George III Fine inlaid shaving mirror from 1790 for $7,500. A pair of Queen Anne carved walnut side chairs dated 1760 commanded $38,500 in the booth of C.L. Pickett of Yardley, Pa.

Tall case clocks generated a lot of conversation as dealers said they were showing some of the best examples they’ve ever owned. C.L. Picket also showed a Hepplewhite inlaid mahogany tall case clock from Elizabethtown, N. J., dated 1800. Philip H. Bradley also highlighted a wide paint-decorated settee from Baltimore, priced at $150,000.

Other painted items could be found at James and Nancy Glazer of Bailey’s Island, Maine. A two-drawer painted pine blanket chest from Center County, Pa., dated 1835-1845, was priced at $40,000. On top, a rare and unusually decorated slide-lid box linked to Delaware’s Spruance family was marked sold.

In the area of ceramics, redware and crocks abounded. Examples of Mocha Ware put in an appearance with a lovely collection of 18 Mocha pepper pots at James and Nancy Glazer showing the wide range of colors and painting techniques employed. Samuel Herrup Antiques of Sheffield Plain, Mass., offered a redware jar with three-color slip at $12,000 and a redware jar from Bristol County, Mass., dated 1800-1820, for $7,500. A very rare late 18th-century redware tea canister from Philadelphia was priced at $14,000.

Weather vanes were a winner across the board. Alan Katz Americana of Woodbridge, Conn., sold an elegant arrow weather vane complete with cast brass lighting rod finial, circa 1870. Old Hope Antiques had an active show, selling a dolphin weather vane with a surface of verdigris and gilding. A 64-inch horse and plow American weather vane hailed from the mid-19th century.

David Wheatcroft Antiques of Westborough, Mass., sold a large J. Howard & Co. horse weather vane made from zinc and copper. He also showed a rooster weather vane from J. Howard & Co and a flying steeplechase horse weather vane of copper and zinc dated 1865 from A.L. Jewell and Co.

In the category of art on the wall, Frakturs were well represented. Greg Kramer & Co. of Robesonia, Pa., brought a collection of Fraktur Taufschein from eastern Pennsylvania dated early 1800s with prices ranging from $3,750 to $8,500. Diana H. Bittel Antiques of Bryn Mawr, Pa., showed a group of extraordinary sailor’s valentines composed of tiny colored shells ranging in price from $12,500 to $28,000.

New to the show was Calderwood Gallery, which presented room settings of French Classic Art Deco and French Modernist Art Decor by renowned designers including Jules Leleu, Dominique Sue et Mare, Paul Follot, Jouber et Petite and others. The booth, with its sleek and elegant Art Deco furniture, may have seemed a sharp contrast to the early American furniture and art, but the quality of the offerings put it in the same league in terms of rarity.

The mood was extremely positive and upbeat as visitors packed the historic armory. The main aisles of the racetrack layout were accented with cafe tables and chairs creating a marketplace environment where dealers and buyers could sit and catch up while discussing their latest acquisitions. That touch made a serious show accessible and friendly at the same time.

One dealer enthusiastically responded “business is great.” Others conveyed agreement with guarded smiles. Some gushed at how “pretty” the show was while others were pleased to see strong traffic and return buyers. The preponderance of discreetly stickered price tags indicated early sales were solid. Joanna Pessa of The Stradlings in New York City said the show was “busy and had a good energy and good vibe.”

Ten blocks away at the 23rd Street Armory, The Original 23rd Street Armory Antiques Show presented by Barn Star Productions, enjoyed a relaxed yet friendly mood. The 10-year-old show had returned recently to the 23rd Street Armory after some previous shows at the Navy Pier.

Barn Star Production’s 23rd Street Show ran April 7-9, overlapping the beginning of the Philadelphia Antiques Show. It allowed folks who traveled in for the Philadelphia Antiques Show to whet their appetite and do some early shopping. “We started the show in conjunction (with the Philadelphia Antiques Show) to give buyers another option to make the most of their trips,” explained promoter Frank Gaglio.

Many of the furniture and decorative arts items were linked to Philadelphia, central Pennsylvania and into New England. Ben Franklin-era antiques included a 42-inch Philadelphia Queen Anne table with birdcage tilt top, circa 1770, at Kembles American Furniture of Norwich, Ohio. They also offered an earlier example circa 1750 walnut Queen Anne Philadelphia low boy with original brasses and a fan back Windsor arm chair with old black paint.

Maple furniture lovers would not be disappointed. Over at Holden Antiques of Sherman, Conn., a 19th-century Sheraton tiger maple sewing table was priced at $4,800. Dated around 1820, it had a unique shape and likely hailed from New York.

Unlike the painted pieces featured a few months earlier at New York Americana shows, the paint palette ran towards the golds, browns and brown-reds. At David H. Horst Antiques of Lebanon, Pa., a painted New England chest with original brown, black and white painted design was priced at $7,500. A yellow and red cabinet with tin “sink” was priced at $3,850. Thurston Nichols American Antiques of Breinigsville, Pa.. sold a late 19th-century fancily painted door with original crab lock.

One of the more unique furniture pieces could be found at Clifford A. Wallach of Greenwich, Conn. The tramp art specialist had a furniture piece that was made by a husband and wife. The husband had started the piece then went off to war before finishing it. When he returned injured, his wife helped him finish the piece. “It is signed and dated with the time it was completed,” said Wallach. “It is one of the few known pieces done by a woman.” The masterpiece tramp art desk with carved trees commanded $22,000.

Collectors could find unique examples of weather vanes, building ornaments and whirligigs at the 23rd Street show. Down from Bristol, R.I., the folks at The Splendid Peasant Ltd. offered a pair of rare Civil War Soldier whirligigs. A pair of Halley’s Comet building ornaments, circa 1910, had adorned a Philadelphia building and were probably created in celebration of the celestial event. They were priced at $9,500.

The Splendid Peasant also showed a copper quill-shaped weather vane that had probably adorned a library or school and was priced at $16,500. Over at Charles Wilson Antiques & Folk Art of West Chester, Pa., a copper rooster on an arrow was priced at $8,500.

Fine examples of hooked rugs could be found at 23rd Street. Gemini Antiques of Water Mill, N.Y., presented a hooked rug with two dancing peasants and trained bear for $3,250. A Bird in Hand of Florham Park, N.J., displayed a collection of holed rugs from Newfoundland, Canada, ranging in price from $325 to $3,000, including a Polar Bear ($1,200), an Anglican Church ($1,700) and Dog Sled ($2,600).

Dealers reported Friday and Saturday were strong days although Saturday attendance may have been dampened by storms. Wallach reported that he had sold one of his “best frames ever” to a collector. Sandra Whitson of Van Anda’s Antiques in Lititz, Pa., a specialist in figural sterling napkin holders dated from 1869-1900, said she had made her show early on.

Some dealers felt they benefited from the “sticker shock” at the Philadelphia Antiques Show. Additionally, dealers reported that a single newly married couple was responsible for many of the show’s sales. The couple, said to have been visiting from out of town, happened upon the show, and picked up between 30-40 items, including some important furniture pieces to decorate a new home.

“I was extremely pleased with the response to our show this year. The fact that we are back in the 23rd Street Armory — being closer to the Philadelphia Antiques Show — increased our gate and resulted in a steady flow of buyers who were full of compliments. We will be back at the armory again next year,” reports Gaglio.