40th Connecticut Spring Antiques Show

‘I do think there were a lot of ghosts in that room,’ stated show manager Karen DiSaia. ‘You just think of all the great dealers that did business in that room; it’s pretty amazing.’

 HARTFORD, CONN. — Returning to the site of the original Connecticut Spring Antiques Show, the Hartford Armory, the Grand Dame of antiques shows had reason to celebrate for the first time in more than a decade; in fact it had a long list of reasons to celebrate.

Conducted over the weekend of March 16–17, the show not only marked a triumphant return to this premier facility, it celebrated its 40th anniversary, boasted record crowds and the majority of the exhibitors posted strong sales across the board.

Brimming with natural light flowing into the room through the three-story-high atrium-style roof, this show facility provides a grandeur and ambiance that few, if any, other venues can provide. The building, and the show’s return to it, were the talk of the town, even touted on the front page of The Hartford Courant on Saturday morning as the doors to the show swung open. It truly marked the restoration of the Connecticut Spring Antiques Show to its former glory.

With the armory closed to all public events in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the event moved to the Expo Center, a basic, dark and dingy, unattractive box store-type of facility that provided little more than four walls and a ceiling. When the Expo Center was sold prior to last year’s event, the Connecticut Show was forced across the border into Massachusetts, a move that prompted outcries from the local media, the public and the dealers. Whatever the reason for the armory becoming available for the 2013 running of the Connecticut Spring Antiques Show, it made for a winning situation for everyone involved.

Haddam Historical Society, the show’s benefactor, jumped through hoops to pull this off. It jumped through even more hoops to make sure that local events, such as a road race on Sunday that passed the facility, did not interfere with shoppers getting into the Connecticut show. Organizers made it work, and the end result was that the show looked magnificent; it harkened back to the days of old.

Those dusty, but fond, old memories from the 1970s and 1980s registered in the minds of those who lived those days: Of Fran Phipps (the show’s originator) declaring merchandise unfit for “Hartford” and hauling it out of booths and back behind the curtains that formed her office; the image of Lillian Cogan conducting court from the forefront of her booth, seated in a heart-carved, banister back armchair; Harold Corbin’s decoys; Jerome Blum’s mocha; John Carl Thomas’ pewter; and Zeke Liverant offering great Connecticut furniture and okay jokes.

“I do think there were a lot of ghosts in that room,” stated show manager Karen DiSaia. “You just think of all the great dealers that did business in that room; it’s pretty amazing,” she said.

“Magical” was a word that DiSaia appropriately used to describe the event; it was also a word that throngs of people used as they stopped by to relate their exuberance in regard to shopping once again in that hallowed hall. When people entered the show and looked out into the sun-bathed room filled to the brim with magnificent antiques, the reaction was virtually unanimous — “Wow.” It brought out smiles from customers, those smiles resulted in sales, and that made the dealers smile.

The show was somewhat larger than it has been in past years, with 65 exhibitors, up from 50 last year in Springfield and an average of 60 at the Expo Center. “We didn’t want to make it too big,” said DiSaia, who seemed elated with the size and appearance.

A huge crowd awaited the opening of the show, once again headed up by Massachusetts collector Scott Cook, and the gate remained steady throughout the weekend. Although the counter that Haddam Historical members were using to register the number of attendees was broken for more than an hour after opening, and with tallies yet to be officially compiled, DiSaia commented simply that there was a noticeable increase in the gate.

“There was a real positive feeling about the show,” commented Sam Herrup, Sheffield, Mass., who reported very good sales, including a Rhode Island Chippendale flattop highboy and five pieces of redware. The dealer also reported the sale of numerous good smalls and a watercolor, “It all added up to make for a good show,” he said.

Herrup presented a booth chat titled “The Mystery about Redware” that was well attended, with about 50 people cramming into the small confines of his booth. Sales of redware for the dealer were good, both before the lecture and after, including a rare pitcher attributed to the Goodell-Norcross area of Maine with a nice overall beige glaze and deep brown splotches. “I also sold a small green glazed cylindrical redware jar that had come from my private collection,” said the dealer, and a slip decorated bowl of Pennsylvania origin.  

Just across the aisle was the stand of Grace and Elliott Snyder. It was filled with standout merchandise, including a large sawbuck dining table that stretched across the front of the booth. A trio of combware and slipware plates were attractively displayed there. The rear wall featured an impressive four-drawer chest retaining the original brasses and the original red painted surface. Displayed on top was a newly discovered Hadley carved bible box, circa 1700, of diminutive proportions.

Another item at the Snyders’ stand attracting serious attention was a rare Seventeenth Century English beadwork mirror decorated with pastoral scenes on the top and bottom and also with allegorical figures of Wisdom, Hope, Plenty and Peace in each of the corners. The dealers stated that the mirror was one of three known examples from the same workshop, and the decorative symbolism of a figure of a fox suggested possible ownership by “a member of the Fox family, or a reference to George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends, better known as the Quakers.”

“The dealers were thrilled to be back,” stated Newbury dealer Peter Eaton. “A lot of people who hadn’t come to the show for years did come back. The crowd was enthusiastic and the show looked great.” Eaton noted that smalls were high on the list of sales he observed being made around the floor, yet he listed several pieces of furniture among the items from his booth that went to new homes. “We sold a good Queen Anne balloon seat chair, a stepback cupboard in the original dry red paint and a washstand and dressing table in red grained finish that had been made as a set” and remained together as they sold to the same buyer. Eaton described the chair as a “very good example,” Boston, circa 1760, with bold cabriole legs ending in pad feet.

Filling a large portion of the rear wall of the Peter Eaton/Joan Brownstein booth was an impressive ivory-colored wool bed cover with classic indigo embroidery. The rare bed cover had descended in a Middletown Springs, Vt., family and was decorated with squares filled with abstract flowers and the initials “EMS.”

Attractively displayed, a set of six matching fanback Windsor chairs from the Lisbon, Conn., shop of Elisha Tracey, circa 1895, filled the exterior side wall at Nathan Liverant and Sons, Colchester, Conn. Rounding the corner into Liverant’s stand, a host of Connecticut furniture and accessories were proudly displayed, including a Queen Anne high chest of drawers in figured maple thought to be made in Lebanon. A Queen Anne maple tall case clock by Rueben Ingraham made in Plainfield, circa 1770, was offered, as was a stately open top country cupboard from a Marlborough home.

Liverant called this year’s Hartford show a “very positive experience. We did well and it was very exciting to be back in the armory.” Another to term the setting “magical,” Liverant said, “Everyone’s attitude was very positive; it was like returning home after being away for a long time.” The dealer listed numerous sales, including a tall case clock, a Clark Voorhees whale-form weathervane, a “very good” needlework and a bunch of small things.

Liverant presented a chat during the show, “Stories of a 40 Year Old Show,” on Saturday afternoon that was very well received, with between 70 and 80 people listening to his tales from days past.

Another popular talk was presented by historian Bill Hosley. “Browsing with Bill” was a tour of the show that lasted approximately an hour and examined the Connecticut furniture displayed in various booths. The tour was conducted on Sunday morning as the show opened. DiSaia commented that it was very well attended and proved to be a positive start to the second day of the show. “He [Hosley] is such a dynamic person with lots of followers; it was a new feature to the show and a nice little add-on,” said the manager.

Killingworth, Conn., dealer Lewis Scranton’s stand was thick with buyers during the first few hours on opening day. Scranton was observed writing sales slips seated in a Windsor chair; he was also seen writing sales slips standing up — “It is almost as if I am ambidextrous,” commented the dealer with a chuckle. A wonderful tole box in overall red color with black marbling was an instant seller from his booth. “I have never seen another one anything like this,” stated the dealer, who recorded sales of “smalls, all smalls, but a nice lot of smalls. It was very nice to see some people back at the show who I have not seen in several years.”

Dan and Karen Olson brought two vans filled with quality merchandise to Hartford and they left town in one. “We didn’t sell the van,” reported Dan, but the dealers did have an extensive laundry list of items that had sold in the booth. The list began with an important “Chippendale secretary in old surface, two blanket chests in red and black paint decoration, a high-scalloped base six-board blanket box in blue paint, a blanket chest in faux-figured maple grained paint, a Sheraton armchair and a diminutive paint decorated settle.”

Olson recalled their first days exhibiting at the show back in the early 1980s when Fran Phipps was in charge and there was a “definite pecking order,” with the long-established dealers displaying from the front of the show and yet-to-be established dealers in the back, where they were set up. Thirty years later, with a stand facing the show’s entrance, the Olsons did not notice much of a difference in the amount of business they conducted between the old days and today.

Hilary and Paulette Nolan, Falmouth, Mass., reported a good show, with a rare architectural corner cupboard selling from their stand in its opening moments. The barrel back cupboard was in a remarkable state of preservation, in yellow pine and dry-scraped down to the original finish. It sold to collectors that “hadn’t been to a Hartford show since it moved from the armory,” stated Hilary. Paulette celebrated a birthday on the opening day of the show, although she refused to say which one. A colorful helium balloon with birthday greetings flew above a table, a surprise cake and dinner reservations for the evening were delivered later that day, compliments of Hilary and the Chessies.

Tom Schwenke, Woodbury, Conn., related that he has exhibited at the Connecticut show for 39 of the 40 years the show has been in existence. With a booth filled with Federal furniture, the dealer stated, “I am thrilled to be back, it is a fabulous location and the energy at the show was good.” Among the items featured at the show was a rare Hepplewhite sideboard, circa 1785, made in Salem, Mass. “Sold more than 20 years ago at the Connecticut Spring Antiques Show, this rare piece was recently repurchased by the firm and is now being reoffered… back at the Hartford Armory.”

Despite serious interest in the piece, Schwenke reported that he did not sell the rare diminutive case piece. He did list among his transactions “a very good New York table and a large Serapi carpet.”

Old Lyme, Conn., fine art dealer Jeff Cooley, the Cooley Gallery, displayed an interesting assortment of artworks, with the back wall of his stand featuring the works of Old Lyme Arts Colony artist Frank Bicknell. “It sort of came together impromptu,” stated the dealer of the mini-exhibit of Bicknell’s work. “In the last five to six weeks, I purchased five of the paintings and the collection just sort of materialized. I looked at them as a group and they really looked impressive. So, I went with the Bicknell mini-exhibition idea.”

Termed one of Old Lyme’s most consistent artists, the paintings ranged from tonalist works to one influenced perhaps by Monet with strong French Impressionist style. A larger exhibition of Bicknell’s works may be forthcoming at the gallery.

One side wall of Cooley’s booth was what the dealer called his “Hartford wall,” featuring Hartford artists. A C.E Porter “Still Life with Roses” dominated the area. An oil by Dwight William Tryon titled “Venetian Sailboats” was included, as was Henry Cooke White’s “Early Spring” and Walter Griffin’s “Grazing.”

Will the Connecticut Spring Antiques Show return to the Hartford Armory in 2014? That question still looms large. “We still haven’t had the debrief [with the armory’s staff],” said DiSaia following the show. “So haven’t officially been granted permission yet. Things went really well, they were happy with the way we handled things and in the next few weeks we will hear from them. We are hopeful that we will return there next year.”

For further information, contact the Haddam Historical Society at 860-345-2400 or www.haddamhistory.org.



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