Published: February 14, 2012
“This is the best one yet,” said an admiring fan, one of several gathered around show promoter Melvin “Butch” Arion a couple hours after the Original York Antiques Show opened to the public on Friday morning, February 3. And even though similar comments are repeated at each of the twice-yearly shows, they certainly rang true once again.
Arion’s York show is one the top Americana antiques shows in the country †without doubt.
It is also without doubt one of the best-attended shows around these days. “I know they are going to be talking about us around the show circuit, wondering how we keep pulling this thing off,” stated Arion a couple days after packout.
While Arion has steadfastly refused to release actual attendance figures to the press ever since taking over the show 16 years ago †”Mum’s the word on that,” he says †there is little doubt that when he says attendance “was up,” he means it. And his conservative nature aside, that usually translates into a significant increase.
“We figured out Friday night that we had the largest opening day crowd since 2003, and it was even larger on Saturday,” stated Arion. A pleasant surprise to both management and the exhibitors was the size of the crowd on Sunday (Super Bowl Sunday), with people coming in steadily all day long.
When asked for his recipe for success, Arion commented, “I give the dealers the credit first; they have all been handpicked over the past 16 years, they are an honest and sincere bunch, and they go the extra mile to bring their very best merchandise onto the floor. Also, I spend a lot of money on advertising,” he said.
From a business standpoint, “Things went very well,” said the promoter. “Not only were a lot of things selling, but a lot of expensive things were sold.” Arion rattled off a very unofficial and impromptu list that included several cupboards, a couple of tables, an early secretary desk, six tall case clocks and a host of smalls. With a mischievous glint in his eye that only a guy called Butch could possess, he said, “We are back on the road to the good old days; the attitude of the crowd, the enthusiasm, it was all positive.”
Things did not start out quite so rosy, however. In the weeks leading up to the event, Arion reported 13 cancellations, a couple due to economics, but 11 were due to serious illnesses. The list of dealers wanting to exhibit at the Original York Show is long and strong; subsequently, one barely noticed the change in lineup from previous years and the show came off without missing a beat. “I was extremely pleased with the people that stepped forward and filled in; their presentations were great. My big problem now is that they all want to come back and do the show again, and if the dealers that canceled come back, there simply isn’t enough room,” said Arion.
The line for the show began forming well before 8 am on that brisk Friday morning, and occupying his normal spot at the head of the line was Massachusetts collector Scott Cook. Two hours later, as Arion prepared to let the crowd onto the show’s floor, the line of anxious shoppers awaiting admission snaked throughout the entire lobby of the York Fairgrounds building. Red tags began appearing immediately as rare items were snapped up around the show floor.
“There are lots and lots of things around this show that you just don’t see for sale anymore,” commented Clear Spring, Md., dealer Lisa McAllister, who was quick to point out a possibly unique redware vase coated in a white slip with green swags all around it that was displayed in her showcase. Bearing an unusual mark by J. Eberly, Strasburg, Penn., the dealer repeated herself, stating, “You just don’t see these things anymore.” Indeed, relatively few people saw the rare jar, as one of the first collectors by her booth snapped it up from her showcase, had her wrap it up so no one else could see it and it was gone from the view of other shoppers. A Gonic, N.H., redware jar was another treasure, tucked away for a client who had called about a day before the dealer left for the show.
Richard “Smitty” Axtell was very impressed with the show, stating that there was a good crowd each day and that the people in attendance were genuinely interested in shopping. “I sold my best carved wooden Indian scoop with an eagle effigy figure, my earliest butter stamp dated 1779, a tiger maple candlestand and lots of other items,” he said. A handsome Connecticut Chippendale blanket chest in vibrant blue original paint was a standout at the booth, mulled over by one young couple that returned three different times to admire it; however, they just could not pull the trigger.
“I’m going to bring it out one more time at the Connecticut Antiques Show and give people another crack at it; if it doesn’t sell there, I won’t be upset. I’m going to retire it back into my collection,” Smitty said. “It really is a great thing.”
Harry Hartman reported a “very good show,” selling several pieces of furniture and lots of smalls. “Attendance was fabulous,” said Hartman, “we sold as many things on Sunday as we did on Friday.” The dealer reported a bench with four drawers selling quickly from the booth. Other furniture included a four-drawer chest and a round-top chair table in old paint. The dealer also reported redware, stoneware and yellowware pottery selling well, along with early iron and an Impressionist painting by Walter E. Baum.
“I did very well,” stated New Oxford, Penn., dealer Kelly Kinzle. “It was packed all three days and I sold all three days,” he said, listing three tall case clocks, “two from Lancaster County and one from Huntington County that sold to local collectors.” The dealer also reported a Philadelphia tea table, an early paint decorated cupboard, a Pennsylvania painting, two English paintings and a Philadelphia portrait among his sales.
Phillip Bradley, Downingtown, Penn., was exhibiting at the show for the first time and an early seller from his booth was a tall case clock, one of nine or ten examples offered from the stand. Among the other featured items was a Windsor bench, an early tavern table, a monumental Dutch two-part cupboard and a profusely carved Philadelphia Chippendale dressing table.
A sold tag was spotted on a nice cupboard in old red paint at Greg Kramer & Co., Robesonia, Penn., where other items on view included a stellar selection of Pennsylvania redware and stoneware, carved wooden plaques and a good selection of illuminated fraktur.
Returning to the show after a couple years off, Heller Washam Antiques offered perhaps the largest mocha bowl seen for sale in many a year. Measuring more than 24 inches across, the nicely decorated piece was priced at $14,500. Classic formal New England furniture found favor with a couple buyers, and attracting interest was a Chippendale blocked end reverse serpentine chest of drawers on ball and claw feet with origins of either Boston or Salem, Mass., circa 1775. A smart-looking oil on canvas depicting the Hartford, Conn.-made two-masted schooner Elisha Taylor Baker was offered, along with a stately Queen Anne bonnet-top secretary desk made in Connecticut, circa 1775.
Another opportunity for mocha collectors to obtain an incredibly rare piece came from the display of John Chaski Antiques, Camden, Del. In a wonderful blue glaze, the robust jug was decorated with white and black sprigs and was signed on the base by the maker in large script “E.J. Burslem.” Furniture in the dealer’s stand included a Delaware Valley highboy, circa 1765, and a Philadelphia Chippendale chest, circa 1770.
Closing out the show on a positive note, Arion reported that on the final day of the event, he was called to the show office by his staff to answer a telephone inquiry. He was greeted on the line by a shopper who had been at the show on Saturday and the caller explained that he wanted to “speak with the dealer in the center aisle of the show that has the pair of corner cupboards.” After a short while Arion figured out that the caller wanted to speak with Thurston Nichols, whose display included a pristine pair of paint decorated corner cupboards by a “well-known York County cabinetmaker.” Nichols was summoned, and within moments a deal was struck for the rare pair of high-waisted cupboards on turned feet.
While the York show was one to “write home about” in a variety of ways, the show’s brochure started the event off on a bittersweet note by acknowledging the passing of three regulars at the fair. We would be remiss for not following suit in remembrance of exhibitors Doris Arendt and Sandra Lee Axtell, and longtime York Show staff member Donna Mae Hannigan.
For additional information about the Original York Antiques show, 302-875-5326 or www.theOriginalYorkAntiquesShow.com .
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm