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It is hard to imagine that we are almost in mid- January and soon we will be entering a new season of Art and Antique Shows as well as auctions and private sales. The climate for business has actually changed over the course of the last year and so as dealers we must ask the question” how has it changed for me?” Dealers need to realize that these changes are not universal and depend on the location of your business and what you are selling. Every morning my husband and I watch the News and a business network to hear the latest chatter about the economy. We also read The Wall Street Journal paying close attention to all the luxury markets. Notice, the key word is “chatter” because there is actual little news reporting these days but opinions from commentators. How we long for Chet Huntley and David Brinkley of the NBC News.

Real economic data is important and then we must decide what the data means to our local economy. For example, since November, strong sales in the Luxury real estate market have been reported. As dealers we may be encouraged because these new home owners could be our clients. Our friends outside the trade now phone us with encouragement that we will finally have a great year! Our good wishers have made a sweeping conclusion that because the rich are now buying million dollar homes they are demanding high end antique furnishings. Not so fast! There are underlying factors and questions which should be addressed about these luxury real estate sales. The key question is WHO is buying these homes and WHERE are these homes located? We all must remember a key word is demographics. WHAT are the demographics of your area?

For example, Miami was hit hard the first few years of this lingering economic crisis and many wealthy from other countries swarmed in to grab real estate during a depressed market. Here in Charleston, South Carolina the luxury home, even the famous “South of Broad” neighborhood, has lost over 30 percent of value. The late fall sales were encouraging but these sales were mostly to younger people as second homes. New York City may not have been hit as hard as the rest of the country and is recovering nicely. Colleagues there may be experiencing better sales but not enough to sustain their cost structures. Areas around San Francisco have survived and the markets are back. I can only speak for the markets in the Southern United States and tell you that the majority of the new owners of these homes do not want brown furniture or brown furniture with gilt bronzes. They would prefer the “look” through Restoration Hardware or the new sleek furniture lines they see in the trade magazines.

They do not have a fancy for tapestries, ornate silver and Fine Oriental Rugs because many actually changed their taste years ago in the fall of 2001. Some of us were too blinded to see it. From 2001 to now the antique dealer has slowly been pushed toward the proverbial “fiscal cliff”. Today we are being buried by nostalgia and many have become stuck or given up the profession. Twelve years ago a group of late 40 and 50 year old clients were stopped dead in their tracks with their spending and faced the reality of the world. Some of these very same people (mostly the conservatives scattered across the country) never got over the events of that year and they became more cautious with their spending.

That coupled with the economic events of 2008 along with the housing crisis became the final blow. Europe and other countries across the globe have their own problems and economic disasters. There are but a few countries that have been unscathed. We can continue to try to educate the young, we can encourage the appreciation of our own passion and we can continue to put our best out there for the world to see in the hopes that an even smaller few will appreciate us, buy and collect. For myself, I will always be a specialist in 18th Century French Furniture and I have the Interior Design credentials to carry on with my secondary profession which is also evolving. In order to survive, we have had much time on our hands to reflect what the next chapters will include. For most of us that should be a diversification of talents.

This is a new year and there are some signs of slow progress. Each and every one of us in the antique trade needs to look into our souls and find another spark which can be shared. We are a knowledgeable and talented group and we can make a contribution while making money.

God Bless you and may you have a Happy New Year!

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Britain's most prestigious fair outside the capital takes place this week at the NEC, Birmingham. The National Fine Art & Antiques Fair, supported by LAPADA The Association of Art & Antiques Dealers, runs 18th - 22nd January 2012 and will be the first major test of the market of the new year. The fair enjoys a reputation for high quality exhibits, whether its rare examples of oak furniture from the Tudor period, Italian designer glass or 20th century and contemporary art and sculpture. With most antique furniture pre-dating 1914, most other exhibits pre-1940 and high quality art and sculpture of any period permitted, this fair maintains an adherence to a high level of craftsmanship and artistic endeavour that ensure this event stands apart.

As usual, exhibits are meticulously vetted for quality and authenticity before the fair opens and on every subsequent morning. Exhibitors have travelled from across the country and beyond to be here and none more so than newcomer Camburn Fine Art from France who is showing paintings in ink and gouache on paper by Alan Halliday. Here is a painter who specialises in ballet, opera and theatre subjects, in dress rehearsal and during performances, and has a reputation earned from twenty-five years of achievement and recognition. Halliday made a number of drawings in 1998 during the dress rehearsals for 'Still Life' at the Penguin Cafe by David Bintley, a one act ballet to music by the late Simon Jeffes of the Penguin Café Orchestra, and performed by the Birmingham Royal Ballet. Camburn will be showing several of these finished works including ‘three Penguin waiters’, ‘the Great Auk’, ‘Humboldt's Hog-nosed Skunk Flea’ and ‘Amazonian Rain Forest dwellers’, all of which were drawn in the Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham.

It’s often forgotten that orange blossom was seen as a symbol of fertility in the Victorian period and was worn by Queen Victoria on her wedding day. An oil painting depicting a pretty young maiden with a wreath orange blossom in her hair and a sprig in her hands, by the artist Sophie Anderson, (1823-1903), will be a major attraction the stand of Paul Mayhew, the London dealer. Born in Paris, Anderson exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy between 1855 and 1896 and today her work is associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement. It’s a charming work with a host of associations and meanings worthy of closer examination. The Blackbrook Gallery from Leicestershire specialise in 19th century animal art and have a particularly eye-catching painting by Harry Hall (1813-1882) depicting a famous racehorse of the period. ‘Satirist’ was the winner of the Great St Leger Stakes, Doncaster, in 1841, as ridden by Bill Scott (1797-1848), a popular jockey remembered for riding nineteen Classic winners. Such paintings of a horse and jockey have a special appeal not only for equine enthusiasts but also followers of the turf. Antique armour and costume sometimes speak volumes about a time and period.

None more so than the distinctive garb worn by Cromwell’s New Model Army during the English Civil War. At Garth Vincent’s stand, now run by Dominic Vincent, is a Harquebusiers set of armour, circa 1642 – 1660, complete with the distinctive ‘lobster tail pot’ helmet and buff coat, the sight of which as worn by a troop of advancing cavalrymen must have sent shivers of fear running down the backs of Royalist supporters across the country. The fair offers a feast of special items for furniture collectors. What more could a proper gentleman want for a New Year treat than a particularly superb George III period mahogany dressing table by Gillows of Lancaster on the stand of W.R.Harvey & Co. from Witney This highly attractive and very functional piece features a cross-banded top opening to reveal an adjustable rising mirror, bottle holders, a large moulded edge hole for a bowl and small holes for soap dishes, above a dummy drawer and a cupboard door giving to access the water jug, all above a pull-out bidet formed as two dummy drawers on legs, and still retaining the original white Wedgwood bidet bowl. A fine 19th century bronze sculpture of Venus cast after the original by Christophe-Gabriel Allegrain will be standing proud against a backdrop of fine oil paintings and watercolours on the stand of Benton Fine Art from Moreton-in-Marsh.

Parisian artist Allegrain was influenced by the well-known sculptor Jean-Baptiste Pigalle who was also his brother-in-law. Allegrain’s most famous works include a marble statue ‘La Baigneuse’ (commissioned by Louis XV) and ‘Venus au Bain’, which are both on display at the Louvre. As ever, the National Fair is just the place to discover something you will never find in any dealer’s shop or museum. Such is the collection of silver overlay porcelain belonging to John Newton from East Yorkshire. Among several shelves of brightly colourful pieces that demand to be acquired as part of a new collection is a stunning Furstenberg porcelain vase. This exquisite piece was decorated with its study of magnolias in silver overlay and enamels upon a black-ground in the art studio of Spahr & Co. It dates from circa 1950, the original age of austerity that is now under constant re-evaluation for its significant artistic achievements. This silver overlay porcelain is exactly the kind of serious ‘antique of the future’ so often talked about but so rarely found.

As with so many fine pieces at the fair, enjoy it while it can be found!

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Auction houses offer the essential service of telephone bidding for clients who cannot personally attend an auction.

It is a service, like most of their services, which has a caveat meaning that if they don't get in touch with you, it is too bad. Like taxi drivers whose bad driving makes all taxis culpable, one poorly run auction house tars the rest. Some auction houses are very well organized and others are not. I might add that I have known small auction houses that service their clients very well and large well established ones that just can't do anything right.

I am on this subject because an auction house missed a bid of mine. How would you feel if it was your item that didn't have all the bidders on it that were possible? Stuff happens, but in the last year I have had three bids lost out of approximately twenty I have left in place.

If I was a consignor, I would be concerned!

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The “go-go” years of the antiques trade in the 1980s relished the economy’s inflationary bias. The effect on prices for these objects was devastating, in a good way. Prices, like homes values prior to the present “Great Recession” had no where to go but up, up, up. As long as I can conceive of pricing in this industry, the possibility of a contraction was not only remote, but strictly limited to small segments that might go out of fashion. The comparison to real estate is uncomfortably similar.

Real property and antiques are tangible in a different manner than gold, jewelry, or stocks & bonds. Real estate and an 18th Century chair take up space and require care and maintenance; they don’t fit into a safe deposit box unless you want to pay rent to store it in a warehouse like Christie’s new facility outside of Manhattan. Of course that way you can deduct not having any aesthetic pleasure from its asset value on top of the storage rental! But the difference between real estate and antiques splits off when you think that you can’t overbuild antiques like houses. Anyone who has been involved in the antiques market knows that this field and the art segment of the industry are different.

The two sometime go in tandem, but the 1980’s saw a definite divergence when art and especially Impressionist art prices collapsed with the Japanese art investment bubble. That time period however, was pretty good for antiques and they were in fashion. But in my mind, it was the first time the industry had actually experienced a deflationary cycle. Prices in that art category fell for several years and even today its market demand has been commandeered by contemporary art. Are we now seeing this in the antiques business? Prices are not what they were, period. The deflationary effect of oversupply and contracting demand is self evident.

The present environment does still create record prices both from auctions and private transaction for many items, but as a broad based industry trend, even the red hot mid-20th Century decorative arts period has hit a bit of a wall. Like real estate, antiques need an increase in demand to strengthen any form of market price support; we don’t and never did it with mortgages or sub-prime loans. Deflation in the pricing of antiques has become the new reality of the market. With interest rates skewed to the haves and have-nots, financing a purchase is not an option. The present state of affairs could be systemic, or just a short term casualty from the existing economy, perhaps even a long overdue price correction.

In the end we are subject to the whim of the market, and if deflation is even on the minds of the Federal Reserve Board, they can take a glimpse at this market to see the possibility.

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Jon Huntsman, the one Republican candidate that doesn't seem to worry about cozying up to the Republican right, skipped the debate last night in Nevada, reducing the field to seven. By all accounts, it was an attempted mugging of Mitt Romney who I have heard strapped his dog on the top of his car to go on vacation in Canada.

It seems like ever since the Bush campaign accused John McCain of having a love child of mixed race in South Carolina in 2000, that there are no restrictions on what can and can be said about someone. Never mind the truth. Politics in the late 18th century in England were no less raucous. Scandals erupted regularly and King George III's detractors flocked to the Prince of Wales.

The Prince, possibly one of the most feckless heirs to the throne in British history, and that is saying a great deal, abandoned his allies when he did eventually become King. Further, he tried to divorce his wife in Parliament and lost that battle. He was no politician. You might think the same of the Republican field. Every debate has landmines that you know are bound to sink a candidate's bid if they fall onto them. And, of course, all the candidates are shoving hard to make sure someone makes that faux pas. This is the reality show of party politics and it is not limited to the Republicans as the Democrats are quite capable of similar back stabbing. Personally, I don't think I can vote for a politician that doesn't believe in evolution.

Who cares what their politics are?

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