The Presentation and the Price — Visiting the Winter Antiques Show

On the first weekend to the Winter Antiques Show,when we arrived a the entrance of Park Avenue Amory, the crowd made me wonder whether Martha Stewart was still in the building.

But inside the lobby, one could immediately sense the pazazz of the show. A long line at the coat check with anxious visitors trying to get in as soon as possible; white snowflakesprojected onto the grand doorway; beyond which well-lit items radiated warmth and colors.  It seemed as festive than ever.

The established shows have fixed faces at the fixed spots. New dealers can seldom step in unless there is a vacancy, which rarely happens. (The death of Elinor Gordon made one spot for other Chinese export porcelain dealers; Cohen and Cohen have been exhibiting for the past three years.)

But unlike the last two years, this show was affirmative as upbeat. A much larger footprint on floorspace by those well-dressed women and men; ever-busy dealers trying to squeeze in time between different customers and most of all, the red dots seen throughout the show all serve as fanfare to declare Wall Street has had a good year and the Winter Antiques Show coincided with a healthy bonus season.

As our New York correspondent David Sokosh is the only name of UAA team under the media press list, we were told by the security staff that no photographs were allowed inside. This sounds like a bit of overkill. Most shows, even some high-end ones such as the Philadelphia Antiques Show or the American Antiques Show, do not prohibit photographing, although individual dealers may have their own policies.

Map dealer Graham Arader of Arader Galleries was at his regular location. When interviewed by Bloomberg, he claimed that there are no middle-class collectors supporting the market, or even upper middle class collectors left and only the wealthy collectors are moving the market now.  If so, I doubt that the crowd on that particular Sunday afternoon were all that wealthy to be able to buy six or seven figure paintings. Maybe this year we can begin to talk again about not only who, but how many.

As we went through isles and isles of stunning artifacts, it became clear that some in the crowd came to enjoy the presentation with an awe toward the price tags. It is in fact in some sense better than the Met, as here one could inquire or even touch the objects without being scolded by the security guard or annoyed by loud beeps, and more importantly unlike those permanent collections of major art institutes, quite possibly these best of the best may not re-surface in the market again for decades.

As we were not allowed to take pictures (although the policy was not restrictly enforced as we saw many taking pictures throughout the gallery, which they have emailed to us), we would not write down in detail about some fantastic items that captured our eyes and hearts. But a pair of Bakewell decanters may well deserve a spot in this report. The pair could be from the set made for President Monroe and besides regular Bakewell patterns such as diamond and strawberry it features state seals, extraordinary for objects that people used for wine.

The decanter is fairly large compared to regular-sized ones in the market. For comparison, a Pittsburgh cellery vase made in the 1830’s-1840’s (possibly also by Bakewell) was sold at Keno Auction for $350. (We left an absentee bid with such an amount, but to our dismay the item went to a floor bidder.) And to own such a rare pair, with beautifully etched state seals, you have to pay $125,00, EACH.

That may seem stunning to the old decanter collector out there, but believe it or not there is some evidence to support the price. A two-piece cut-glass footed vase, signed and dated on the base “Bakewell Page/ Bakewells/ Pittsburgh/ 1825 presented to the Marquis de Lafayette during his last trip to the United States in 1824 and displayed at the World’s Columbia Exhibition brought more than $250,000 at Christie’s last summer.

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