Are Antique Shows in Dallas A Thing of the Past?

Booth at Tower Antique Show a few years back

There was a time when you couldn’t leave the house on a Sunday without tripping over an antique show or two. They were held on rooftops, in barns, in private homes, church basements, hotels, and convention centers.

Collecting antiques was really big in America and Dallas was no exception. Walk through the Dallas Museum of Art and look at the labels on the decorative arts. Many of the items came to the collection with the help of the Dallas Glass Club, the Dallas Antique Dealers Association, the Tri Delta Charity Antiques Show and others.

Some say the shows are coming back.

Let’s start by getting something out of the way. Language purists like to call the antiques shows because they are shows of old objects, not old shows. But you won’t find many search results for antiques shows and if you look at Google Trends, most people call them antique shows.

The Tower Antique Show still held in Fair Park is an example. It’s been running for a couple of decades. But the shows here go back a lot further.

In the beginning, an antique show was just a show rather than the sale we expect today. Someone, or a group, collected items from the past and invited the public to view them. Some brave souls held them in private homes.

People collected different types of antiques, and often specialized. That might mean European, Asian, African or objects made in America. Collectors may focus on one kind of objects like duck decoys, furniture or folk art. In the U.S., interest in English and European items probably came first as well as ancient objects from Greece, Rome, China and other places. Interest in American antiques seems to have started with the 1876 Philadelphia Exposition, marking the first century of the U.S. as a nation.

Sometime in the early 20th Century, displays of antiques in department stores became common. A November 19, 1930, Dallas Morning News article notes a concert, tea and antique show at Sanger Bros.

List of Some Antique Shows in Dallas 1930s-1990s

The stand-alone show, which means a sale, came into its own in the late 1920s. By that juncture, many prominent Americans collected Antiques. J. P. Morgan, Henry Ford, Henry Francis du Pont and Houston’s Ima Hogg among them. Antiquarian Magazine noted the First International Antiques Exposition would be held in the ballroom of the Hotel Commodore, New York City in late March 1929.

A note in the January 30, 1935, Dallas Morning News references a show of “Dallas-owned antiques” at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts.

The first annual Texas Antique Show was held in 1938 on the roof and in the ballroom of the Jefferson Hotel. This seems to be the first reference in Dallas to the kind of show that dominated for the remainder of the 20th century. I can’t imagine a rooftop show taking place very often, so that may have been a first in the nation. It ran for several decades and at least in the early years stayed open until 11 p.m.!

The headline for a November 6 article looking forward to the Texas Antique Show read Antique Prices Soar as Specializing Becomes Fad. Other articles note a growing preference for antiques from America.

The Southwestern Antique Show was held at the Adolphus Hotel in the 1940s. Also at the Adolphus, in 1945 the Dallas Antique Show featured furniture of Pennsylvania Dutch origin and French furniture from the gay ’90s. It ran for many years.

By the 1940s the Oak Lawn neighborhood was scattered with antique shops, many advertising for customers to stop in after the shows. The center, Sale Street there is entirely residential now, but it then known for shops and later a popular street fair. While most of the buildings that made up the area at that time are gone, a residential building housing one of the shops, Rose Driver’s Antiques, still stands. Driver opened the shop in the 1940s and operated it until her death in 1985.

There were other shows in Dallas- the Kiwanis Club held a show that ran from the 1950s into the 1980s. The Dallas show dealers today seem to remember is the Tri-Delta Sorority Show. I wasn’t here to experience it, but while in production in the 1980s and 1990s Dallas still had a reputation for being a city in love with antiques.

What happened? There is still interest in antiques, but shows and small shops are far fewer than in decades past. The focus today is more on decorating than collecting. A public interested in design may be interested in finish and uniqueness but not necessarily in what a thing is or where it originated.

Younger generations are more likely to be into urban flea markets. Where wood furniture and glassware was a mainstay in decades past, now popular items include vintage fashion, typewriters and midcentury modern furniture.

Traditional antiques performing strongly in the marketplace today tend towards the high-end. That has limited the appeal of events like antique shows which cater to a broader audience. Some have adapted to appeal to a younger audience or focus on design. Auctions have taken some of the market.

Other reasons for the market shift commonly given include smaller homes, better marketing, and pricing from furniture brands, changing aesthetics, or possibly a shorter attention span (more time spent on mobile phones) as finding good antiques take time and effort. Or maybe most of the good stuff is just gone (probably not).

Researchers say consumers today are more likely to spend money on experiences than on things. This could be where antiques come back into the picture. Antiques are not a thing the way other luxury items are simply nice manufactured objects. Finding and learning about antiques -the hunt- is an experience comparable to no other and the objects contain a lifetime of stories, many years of history and intrigue.

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