“Everything about this show was brand new – new name, new facility, new size, new hours, even new exhibitors,” said Frank Gaglio, whose Antiques at the Center was, at 132 exhibitors, the largest of the three Antiques Week in Philadelphia events.
Forced to move from Navy Pier, its home since 2000, the Barn Star show relocated to the Pennsylvania Convention Center, its third venue since its founding in 1997. New, clean, bright and spacious, the attractive Center City location was convenient to the major downtown hotels and to the Reading Terminal Market, where everything from fresh flowers to farmhouse cooking is abundantly for sale.
Despite these advantages, many exhibitors had reservations about the refashioned fair. They complained that the show, at twice the size, was too large; that the one-day setup was too short; that setup logistics were difficult; that the floor plan was not ideal; that attendance and sales were disappointing; and that the show, which opened on Friday, April 16, and closed the next day at 5 pm, only six hours after the anchor Philadelphia Antiques show opened for general admission, was too short. Still, they praised Gag-lio as a talented, hardworking, sympathetic promoter whose hand had been forced by the loss of Navy Pier.
“I really appreciate the effort put forth by every dealer. It was not an easy show to get off the ground,” said Gaglio, who spent six months planning the new event. “It was my first experience working in a fully unionized facility, and we had to dig deeply into the budget to let people know that we had moved. Both things were extremely costly.
“I didn’t leave the Navy Pier by choice, but I think this is a great facility. Things went incredibly well. We learned from the experience. I hope exhibitors will give it another shot next year,” said the promoter, who plans to return to the Pennsylvania Convention Center, making only minor changes to the show.
“I have a third day reserved already. There are some things about the floor plan that I will change. When you walk in, there will be a wide aisle going straight back,” he said. Gaglio dismissed complaints about parking. “There are 40 parking lots around the facility, and the convention center itself has a parking lot,” he said, adding that the show’s size is on par with Marilyn Gould’s Wilton shows.
He added, “If the dealers want a two-day setup, I will be happy to increase the booth rent to accommodate them. As a former dealer, I am trying to run this lean and mean to save them money.”
Gaglio also hopes to appeal to urban customers. “We brought in a photography dealer this year and a wonderful gentleman who deals in carpets, J.M. Sorkin. I would like Antiques at the Center to evolve into a more cosmopolitan kind of show,” he said.
If evidence was needed that Philadelphia will support a hip fair, Jackie Sideli, a Massachusetts dealer, supplied it. “I sold my cabinet to an architect who is designing a Philadelphia townhouse for a young doctor,” said Sideli. “It was a very exciting piece because it was so different,” referring to her pink micarta and aluminum sideboard, designed by modernist Donald Deskey in 1958.
Antiques at the Center, arranged horizontally with five aisles separating the dozens of exhibitors, was notable for its high quality and varied selection. Highlights included a rare carved documents box of 1685, $85,000, at Stephen-Douglas Antiques, Rockingham, Vt.
Shoppers had furniture available to them, from a Rhode Island slant front desk on bracket feet with a shell carved, fitted interior, $14,000 at Thomas Brown, McMurray, Penn.; to a three-part mahogany dining table, $16,750, at Trela Antiques, Baltimore; and a Wethersfield, Conn., flattop highboy, $34,000, at Judd Gregory, Dorset, Vt.
New York dealer John Russell showcased a Rhode Island Chippendale card table in curly maple, $24,000, and a Shaker pantry cupboard, $20,000, marked with a shipping label from Miss Prudence A. Stickney of Sabbathday Lake, Maine. Betty Berdan Newsom meant untouched when she brought a chair table, $29,000, in old paint. The Maine piece was original down to its bottom drawer, which was still filled with generations of old letters and bits of string.
“The only one like it is at MESDA,” said Missouri dealer Chris Marcum.
Among dazzling textiles was a charming pictorial quilt, $9,500, illustrated with a hunter, stag, dog, trees, birds and flowers at Jan Whitlock, Chadds Ford, Penn. An unusual pieced and stenciled coverlet, $14,500, drew visitors to Pam and Martha Boynton’s display. More proof of Colette Donovan’s impeccable eye was a large, painterly hooked rug decorated with a basket of flowers on a lattice ground with roses, birds and hearts.
Appealing to Pennsylvania taste, Susan and Otto Hart brought a circa 1910 bird tree (surprisingly, it was from New England) with 19 variously carved and painted birds. Noted Pennsylvania artifacts experts Don and Pat Herr were on hand with a signed, reverse appliqué Lancaster County album quilt.
Portraits were in order at Joan Brownstein, who showed an anonymous pair of primitive likenesses on panel, $65,000, that had been exhibited at the American Folk Art Museum in 1969. At Marna Anderson, eight fraktur from the copybook of Adam Hodom were $26,000.
Gaglio said attendance increased 30 percent versus a year ago. A number of exhibitors reported excellent sales. Connecticut dealer Fred Giampietro parted with a six-figure weathervane. New Jersey dealer James Grievo sold his initialed and dated “J.J. 1882” Soap Hollow step back cupboard in red and black paint with stenciled decoration, $130,000.
“We had a terrific show,” said Massachusetts dealer Victor Weinblatt, who wrote up a large, blue Quebec armoire; an apple-green chimney cupboard; a splay leg stand in ochre paint; an unusual, putty colored graduated high chest of drawers; two farm tables; trade signs and hooked rugs.
Noted Weinblatt, “We’ve been doing the Wilmington, Del., show for the past five years and I was eager to come back to this area in the spring to tap that market. About half of my Wilmington customers came up. This is the first time that I’ve done one of Frank’s shows and I was very impressed. We had buyers from California, New York, Washington and Baltimore.”
“We did very well,” agreed needlework specialist Ruth Van Tassel, whose treasures included a rare Eighteenth Century Philadelphia Dresden-work picture, $55,000. “Out-of-town buyers were here, and there was definitely crossover from the other shows. There were a handful of New York decorators who we expected to see, but didn’t.”
“I sold my big Boston sofa and had some other good sales of silver, glass and garden antiques. We have customers in Philadelphia and most of them seemed to come through,” said Maryland dealer Aileen Minor. There were other tempting classical sofas to choose from at Gary Sergeant, Jenkinstown Antiques and SAJE Americana.
With firefighting a theme of this year’s HUP show, similar artifacts turned up at the convention center. Some of the best were offered by Pennsylvania dealers Pat and Rich Garthoeffner, who featured Nineteenth Century Philadelphia parade hats, $14,500 to $15,000 each.
“I brought a number of signed Philadelphia pieces, including a quilt, a woven coverlet, an early Berlinwork picture and a spread pieced together from Centennial souvenir kerchiefs, ” said Manhattan textiles dealer Laura Fisher, who draped her back wall with an 1843 broderie perse album quilt made by Maria M. Fish of Trenton, N.J.
“I did very well, but I do think that the facility is cavernous and that there are too many exhibitors. You can’t split the pie that many ways,” said Manhattan dealer Judy Milne. “However, I support Frank and appreciate his dilemma.”
“I consider myself very lucky. We sold across the board – furniture, folk art, paintings and weathervanes,” said Thomas Longacre, who attributed his success to a bounty of fresh, well-priced merchandise. Though happy with his own sales, the New Hampshire dealer believes that rising costs and declining profits are hurting many show dealers. “Unless you start getting thousands and thousands of people to come through the doors, these massive shows don’t work.”
George Spiecker believes that the trade has become unrealistic about “destination” shows, such as those in New Hampshire, Nashville, New York and Philadelphia. Said the Rye, N.H., dealer, “This year, I sold a card table, a turtle-top stand, a half hull and a whale’s tail shelf. That’s ten percent of my average Philadelphia show. My best sale was my card table. The woman had narrowed her list down to six and chose mine. But I bet there were 50 card tables on the floor to pick from. The market is just not that big.”
“I truly hope that the dealers will try Antiques at the Center again. It was a first time. The reality is that most major shows take three years to develop their sea legs,” said Frank Gaglio, who will keep giving it his all.