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It is a new season and another round of art, antique and design shows are being held across the globe. For the exhibitor there is a hope that the economy is improving and dealers are anxious to sell their collections at shows. Often times the public takes these shows for granted and do not realize that the exhibitor on the floor is not there just to provide “entertainment” but is there to sell and/or engage in an enlightened conversation about their specialty. A dealer has spent an enormous time pulling together the concept of their space and executing the installation of the space.

They have invested money with their inventory, advertising, booth costs, fees, transport, travel expenses and set up to be in a location for a limited amount of time. These people deserve respect for their efforts and I hope to point out here some examples of public behavior which is certainly annoying to all dealers.

Most often at shows there is a “Preview Party” or “Preview Benefit” for a known charity to bring in good sponsors and a group of big donors who have the means to shop at an art and antique fair. Often times these people do not actually “buy” on preview night in order to maintain privacy but they are going to “zoom” in on what they may come back to. During the days and evenings of a show there are often lectures, sponsor parties and other events which attract more visitors. Designers come with or without their clients and this is important for the dealer. I am presenting to you things which have happened to me as an exhibitor or complaints I have heard from dealers in other fields. It is amazing at each show there seems to always be another “story” that circulates of “Bad Manners” at a show.

Never stand with a group of people either in a booth or in the aisle having idle chit chat blocking the view of others to see the booth. Move to a location where the dealer has visibility from the aisle. I have had this done in or out of my booth so many times. It is amazing that these groups will be in one spot for long periods and no one can see in or have an inclination to enter an exhibitor’s booth where this visitation is taking place.

Please do not engage the dealer just to impress your friends with your “knowledge”. Engage the dealer with polite conversation if you wish and come back for a more private conversation. There is always a “know it all” who comes into my booth. Most really knowledgeable attendees are truly aware of their surroundings when engaging the dealer. I welcome these conversations!

Never embarrass the dealer by saying you have the “same thing” you purchased at auction or somewhere else and you paid a considerable lower price. If you choose to enter this discussion do it privately and at your own risk. Almost everything at these shows is a unique item and it is doubtful that you have the same thing or in the case of a painting by the same artist there are many other factors which enter the equation as to price.

Imagine this scene of a group of very attractive “committee” people each wearing clothes which cost thousands of dollars, the ladies sporting “ice cubes” on their fingers, wrists and ears carrying handbags which costs way upwards of $10,000.00 descending on a booth going from one thing to another asking one question after another and then suddenly one of them says “OH! You are soooo expensive I would never pay _____ for that!” Abruptly, they all leave whispering, laughing, posing as others join the circle out of curiosity with giggles and stares as they finally move on.

Now, I ask the Party Chairman who is interested in filling up next year’s soiree to raise money for his/her beloved charity if those are the good manners which would entice a dealer to be back if he/she did not do well at the show?

Please never pull the tags off the walls or remove descriptions.

Never touch a painting or the frame of a painting!

DO NOT pick up any “smalls” in a booth without asking the permission of the dealer.

I wish I had a video camera in my booth at shows to watch the number of people approach a locked piece of furniture and try to open it. French locks can be tricky and most people do not have a clue as to what they are doing which often results in a scene of breaking and entering! Ask the exhibitor to open the doors and drawers for you.

Never set food or drink on any surface in a dealer’s booth. This activity can happen all during a show and it is amazing to watch this.

A dealer is not in his/her booth to collect your garbage. Never hand the dealer your garbage and ask them to throw it out. Your garbage is your responsibility.

Children in strollers need to be in the aisles and not weaving in and out of a booth of beautifully arranged furniture unless you ask the dealer if you can bring the stroller in.

Children not in strollers need to be controlled in a booth. Their hands need to stay to themselves. Please attend to your children. They are welcome but not at the risk of destroying a booth.

Never take out a pen, pencil and a piece of paper and proceed to write on the surface of any top of a piece of furniture. This happened to me in a New York Fair when a man proceeded to come into my booth to write his check for a purchase from the booth across the aisle. The restoration of this desk cost me $1500.00.

Please refrain from playing with the flowers in the booth and interrupting the dealer who is in conversation to ask “are these real” or “where did you get your flowers?”

Never assume that any chair or sofa in a dealer’s booth is there for you to sit on. If you are tired there are usually places provided by the show for you to relax. If you are courteous, a dealer may even invite you to sit if you ask nicely.

When looking at jewelry please do not “occupy” the entire counter with an assembly of friends trying on for the sake of trying on if you KNOW that you are not in the market for another piece. Find another time to come back and “play” when the dealer may not be as busy. You are prohibiting the dealer from valuable viewing and selling time.
Please read the maps or signage at a show and do not interrupt a dealer who is talking to another person “where is the bathroom?” or “where is the café?” I never mind answering these questions if I am not busy and I expect a courteous thank you. Do not run off in silence as if the dealer was there to provide directions.

Often shows are a great opportunity for a dealer to add to their inventory. If you are trying to sell something at a show please approach the exhibitor while they are not busy. Pulling out your photographs immediately and engaging the dealer while there are many people in a booth who could be potential clients is not courteous. Just ask the dealer if you could meet at a specific time.

Shows are a great opportunity to meet restorers and conservationists. If you are in this occupation, introduce yourself with a card and ask when would be a good time to meet.

Antique shows with exhibitors bringing furniture are a great place for the “knock off” furniture makers or “cabinet makers” to attend. They are very sneaky, engaging in an endless conversation about the wood, construction, locks and patina. They may ask for a photograph and then eventually a dealer realizes that this person is gathering information. Sometimes these people actually bring the customer in the booth. As a seasoned dealer I can usually spot them and ask them to step out of the booth so others can view and engage with me.

Other exhibitors or a dealer from the outside should NEVER enter another exhibitor’s booth and talk to anyone in the booth until that person has completely left the booth. Nor should another dealer call out to the person in any way to distract the visitor. Stalking the visitor down the aisle to “snake” them is obscene behavior.

Never put anything on hold unless you are quite sure that you are seriously interested in the piece. There is a limited amount of time for the dealer to sell the item and you must be considerate of this.

Never take something or have something delivered to you unless you are serious about needing the object. Once delivered, you MUST decide quickly because the dealer will need to take it back and try to sell it while He/she has an opportunity.

Never come to an agreement with a dealer about a purchase, take it home whether paid for or not (some dealers will give you terms) and then decide not to go through with the purchase for reasons which are not legitimate. If you have a good reason which is no fault of the dealer then you should be responsible to return the item at your expense. Do not “stick” the dealer with the transport.

Please do not collect catalogues and cards from dealers only to leave them as trash in the facility or on the sidewalk when leaving the show. These cost money to the exhibitor and it would be kinder if you do not take or accept what is offered in the booth if you are not interested.

These are just a few examples of behavior at an antique show. I know there are other stories but I have mentioned the most frequent behavior.

The purpose of these exhibitions is not only for a dealer to sell but to engage with an interested and courteous audience. We love to teach about paintings, furniture and the decorative arts. We welcome anyone who appreciates our knowledge and expertise and hope that we provide a feast for the eyes.

About the Author

Mary Helen McCoy

Mary Helen McCoy

Mary Helen McCoy is a woman with a mission – that is, to deliver to her clients the ultimate in period furniture and decorative arts. Her firm is considered one of the nation’s premier sou...