RHINEBECK, N.Y. — Memorial Day weekend for many people in the tri-state area is synonymous with the Rhinebeck Antiques Fair, a veritable institution among such events, and so it has been for 37 years, drawing serious collectors and second-home-in-the-country types to the Dutchess County Fairgrounds. Here, in three large buildings, more than 130 New England and New York metro area exhibitors offered a plethora of treasurers to add to one’s collection on May 25–26.
Variety and whimsy are the operative descriptors of the merchandise to be discovered at this show, which offers its fair share of “serious” antiques, but also encourages dealers to fill up their booths with more recent, designer-friendly examples of global material culture, whether it is a small army of colorful vintage silent butlers or a trio of reclaimed keyboard segments from late Nineteenth Century pianos, now silent but compelling as wall art.
The show opened at 10 am on Saturday to a crowd that braved a short, but rigorous burst of rain under overcast skies and a chilly day that thankfully forced most folks to forego alternate pursuits like gardening and picnicking. “We had a wonderful crowd,” said Bruce Garrett, the show’s manager. “The Saturday gate was up 20 percent from last year; Sunday was up, too, and sales were brisk. Surprisingly, a lot of furniture sold.”
Furniture sales included the “mother” of all pieces displayed at the show, a truly mammoth antique hardware store bin that boasted 117 drawers (two had not survived). The circa 1900 piece had come out of Beverly, Mass., according to the dealer exhibiting it, Seaver & McClellan Antiques, Dublin, N.H. Nor was it just a huge, utilitarian tower, for it also featured a decorative egg and dart molding.
American folk art specialist Victor Weinblatt was keeping fingers and other appendages crossed so as not to hex the spring edition Rhinebeck, and the South Hadley, Mass., dealer had his payers answered by experiencing “an outstanding show.” As furniture — and especially painted furniture — sales are particularly noteworthy, Weinblatt’s best circa 1840 Cambridge, N.Y., country sofa in original, untouched red, hand-planed condition, with scrolled arm was among the items he sold. “It had never been upholstered so that the seat also retained its original color and surface,” he said.
The dealer’s sales also included a 1950s collection of nine Adel Rootstein mannequin heads, a circa 1880 “Meals And Lodging” sign from the Midwest; an early Twentieth Century “Bait” sign; and a circa 1940 polychrome “Bird Shop” sign with song lyrics spelled out and spilling from each bird’s mouth.
Weinblatt further parted ways with a “Northampton Three County Fair” pair of signs, circa 1940, “County Fair” and “Memory Lane,” as well as several other signs. A set of three rare mid-Nineteenth Century mercury glass tea cups and saucers left the fairgrounds with buyers, as did a mercury glass candlestick. A rare square configuration weaver’s skarn, mid-Nineteenth Century, a circa 1900 rocking stork German candy container toy, a carved early Twentieth Century Vermont penguin and a circa 1900 polychrome Parcheesi board with a striking pumpkin background also found new homes. Rounding out his sales was a diminutive circa 1840 scalloped stretcher base bench in apple green.
“Increasingly, clients seemed to find joy, rather than anxiety, in the their deliberations and transactions,” observed Weinblatt. “Several major collectors were seen returning to shows and buying after an absence of several years. And, most encouragingly, there were a significant number of sales to a young and affluent demographic.”
Having noted the market shift from traditional Americana in favor of more eclectic offerings during their 30 years of participating at Rhinebeck, Ed and Anita Holden of Naples, Fla., have “tried to restructure our material for Rhinebeck to appeal to a lower price point and to more home furnishings interests. For the last two shows, our changes have worked fairly well. This spring show was the best we have done in recent times,” they reported. The Holdens added that they are also lucky to be able commute from their warmer weather home in Sherman, Conn., and so do not have the extra expenses of room and meals, which really helps.
“Our best sales were with a decorator who purchased three of our higher-end windmill weights and several other nice items and a well-known glass collector who purchased five very nice early American glass items,” said the Holdens, who had some other nice glass sales and quite a few other individual items. “About 25 items overall —but no ‘wood,’” they said, noting that while they had a lot of interest in their 8-foot pine country dining table, circa 1890–1910, and it briefly went on hold, it turned out to be a little too large for the customer’s room. The unusual two-pedestal base pine table that had come out of a home in Wheeling, W.Va., featured a removable top, and both it and the bases fold flat for storage
A late Nineteenth Century oil painting of pansies by Cornwall, Conn., artist Lydia Hubbard (1849–1911) was attracting interest in the booth of Mad River Antiques. North Granby, Conn., dealers Steve and Lorraine German had also brought a fun frog-toss arcade game dating from the mid-Twentieth Century retaining its original painted surface, metal components and — amazingly — game tokens. Stoneware is also a specialty of these dealers and a choice Nineteenth Century 2-gallon redware crock with manganese decoration, probably Norwalk, Conn., was among the highlights, along with an early first quarter of the Nineteenth Century 1-gallon cooler from New York City in salmon pink color.
“We were very pleased with our sales at the show,” the couple reported afterward. “Americana was the big winner for us. We sold four pieces of stoneware, an Indian basket and a sea chest, as well as a variety of smalls. We thought the show looked really good and several of our customers told us that they liked the eclectic selection that was available to them.”
Dan and Karen Olson, Americana specialists from Newburgh, N.Y., have been doing the Rhinebeck show almost continuously since the early 1980s. On view in their booth was a 12-light cherry corner cupboard in original finish with inlaid detail on the bottom, narrow and with a high base, from Pennsylvania, circa 1840, and a Connecticut Chippendale cherry chest with ogee base and carved detail gadrooning, circa 1780.
“The show was steady for us throughout the two days selling our usual traditional Americana,” said the dealers. Furniture sales included an Eighteenth Century American settle in old red paint, a spice chest with original decoration, Windsors, candlestands, small tables and a galleried desk. Smalls included several pieces of spongeware, baskets, decorated stoneware, early lighting, andirons and other iron.
For Jenkinstown Antiques owner Sanford Levy, this edition of Rhinebeck “felt like the good old days.” Levy, who has maintained his shop in the historical township of New Paltz, N.Y., for nearly 40 years, was showing a wonderful campaign chair, early Nineteenth Century, and a green corner cupboard from the Hudson Valley with unusual butterfly shelves. “I had a great show at Rhinebeck. Sold my corner cupboard, kas, lots of smalls and a great painting,” said Levy. “Strong crowd both days. Sold the kas on Saturday and 15 minutes after that, someone who looked at it earlier called to say they would buy it — they didn’t believe me when I said I had sold it!”
Great New England paintings were once again on offer by fine art dealer Donna Kmetz, Douglas, Mass. Vibrant brushstrokes in a New England landscape by John Fabian Carlson (1874–1945) in a painting titled “Winter Woods” gave a palpable sense of this New England season, and a pair of longhair cats — one with Persian features and the other with orange fur had a “hold” sticker on it. The wonderful double portrait, reminiscent of Milton Avery, had been painted by Marty Woodruff.
“Rhinebeck was its usual eclectic good time, and I sold quite a wide range of things, including some early frames, a wonderful Gloucester pencil drawing, a French painting — staying local— a Canadian painting —going to Vermont — a Cape Ann painting — going to Texas, and an abstract painting, reported Kmetz. “My sales were all at the very affordable end of what I brought, and while a ‘bigger’ sale would have been nice, we had a good time!”
It was Ed and Lilly Miller, Pioneer Folk Antiques, who brought the small army of silent butlers from their collection in Ellsworth, Maine. The array of eight, all distinctive and colorful, included some unusually attired as a cocktail waitress, woman in an evening gown and one in a cook’s uniform. Some proffered ashtrays, while others offered a surface to set down one’s drink. Other notable folk art included a circa 1920–40s highly graphic metal farm tractor part that took on otherworldly qualities when mounted on a wall, a circa 1960s highly decorative metal wall frame that could double duty as a mirror and a circa 1970s Cutis Jere metal sculpture aswirl with Modernistic fish. Folky furniture included a 1940s pair of folding garden chairs in butterscotch yellow.
“We did indeed have a very successful show, selling a wide range of antiques to both collectors and dealers,” said Ed Miller. “In addition to parting with four of the eight silent butlers, we sold seven signs, including a ‘Pool Room/Cigar’ store sign, a barber shop pole sign and a 6 mph boating speed sign, two small concrete garden fountains, one depicting a seal and the other a frog, a pair of metal cat-faced ‘tree guards,’ a 1920s–30s oil painting of a dove and a demilune table. I thought that there was a strong gate of energetic buyers throughout both days.”
Karen and Paul Wendhiser, Ellington, Conn., had an early Twentieth Century full-body running horse weathervane with zinc head, 34 inches long, some fun bottle cap art, including a shelf with Orange Crush and Spur Cola caps, and a pair of chip and dip servers as male and female figures and brightly painted game wheel. Karen Wendhiser is also well known for her stock of Mexican silver and standouts in the jewelry cases were a sterling bracelet marked “Mina, Eagle 3 Taxco,” a sterling free-form ring in a rose design and a pair of sterling angel wing clip earrings.
South Road Antiques dealer Susan Wechsler from New York City admitted that with only four years under her belt as an exhibiting dealer she is still on the learning curve about the market. She said she did “okay” at the show, selling mostly fine art, observing that “people are looking for things beyond pure country, at least that’s how it played out for me.” Her sales included a Nineteenth Century “Plumbing” sign, and she reported a lot of interest in hand painted playing cards depicting characters from HMS Pinafore. Also getting attention was a Doris Lee litho of cows in a Woodstock, N.Y., pasture. “Overall, I see this show as good exposure for my business,” she said. “The contacts are good.”
And for those who did not get a chance to visit the display of Lisa Gaffney, who offers wonderful art pottery with a naturalistic theme, they will not have another opportunity. The Sharon, Conn., dealer who does business as Terra Mare Antiques, announced that this Rhinebeck was her last show. She is moving to Mexico and taking her inventory with her. Missed opportunities here included a group of Meiji period pieces with such natural forms as spider webs and birds, and a small tray from about 1860 to the early 1900s
Rhinebeck Antiques Fair will return to the fairgrounds on Columbus Day weekend, October 12–13. Meanwhile, show manager Garrett is wrestling with a new wrinkle at the venerable venue that would have an effect on next year’s show season. The fairgrounds, he explained, has changed the way it is doing business, and instead of offering him a package deal for the two holiday weekends, will charge by the day. “This is a ‘big time’ change, meaning the rent will probably double,” said Garrett. He said he will continue to try to negotiate with the fairgrounds, but the change may result in truncating dealer pack-in or possibly a one-day show.
A decision will be made in the future and published in this paper.
For additional information, www.rhinebeckantiquesfair.com or 845-876-1989.