Published: April 3, 2001
BUYING STEADY AT WILTON DESPITE WALL STREET WOES
STORY BY LAURA BEACH
WILTON, CONN. – First we stopped opening our financial statements. Now many of us can barely bring ourselves to pick up the Wall Street Journal. The stock market’s recent declines have been so dramatic that dealers, worried that the panic may spread to art and antiques, have been anxiously taking the pulse of their trade.
So far, so good – we think. The antiques market’s vital signs are normal, robust even. Auction prices remain high. Collectors are still collecting. Increasingly, superb objects are attractive alternatives to volatile financial instruments. For one thing, antiques are a lot more rational. It is far easier to vet a highboy than to anticipate Wall Street’s black moods.
Exhibitors at the Wilton Historical Society Antiques Show said they saw little evidence that collectors were cutting back. If anything, selling at the 34th annual show on March 17 and 18 seemed to be up.
“We had just come back from Heart of Country in Nashville,” said Pat Garthoeffner, a Lititz, Penn., dealer in toys and folk art. “Heart was fabulous. We sold out. When we came east to Wilton, we thought we’d hear more about the stock market. Not one person mentioned it. Enthusiasm for antiques seemed very high. We had a wonderful show. We bought well on the floor. We sold two signs, a nice sampler, lots of toys, all of my cookie cutters, and a decorated stand. I thought the crowd was good. People were educated and asked lots of questions.”
Wilton’s attendance, on the other hand, was off. Marilyn Gould, who aggressively manages the fair, felt that the sour stock market, competing events such as the Triple Pier Expo (also March 17-18), and a spring-break schedule that took some families out of town were much to blame.
“Early buying was significantly down, and the gate for both days was slightly off,” she noted. “Last year, the Triple Pier Expo affected us a little bit. This year we really missed so many familiar faces during early buying.” Gould added that, as a matter of course, she continually works to “bring in new people.”
The stock market, Gould believes, was an even bigger culprit. “The market dropped sharply the week before the show. That certainly had an impact. When our volunteers went outside to sell tickets for early buying, that’s all they heard customers talking about. People are hesitant about spending large amounts of money. There is great interest in keeping money liquid. The antiques market may eventually benefit as people turn away from stock, but I don’t see that happening yet. The loss is too fresh.”
Gould said that the cluster of Americana shows in Philadelphia from April 6-11 had also affected Wilton. “Over the years we’ve lost a few exhibitors to the HUP Show,” the manager noted. Some exhibitors told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that they were holding merchandise for the Philadelphia fairs, and no doubt some collectors were waiting to buy it there.
One Wilton exhibitor said the proximity of the Philadelphia shows actually helped him. “We saw people coming through who were buying for Philadelphia. Dealers were extremely hungry for merchandise,” noted Victor Weinblatt. The Massachusetts dealer enjoyed his best Wilton show ever. “We were up by 50 percent. Coming after last week’s stock market, I was nervous as heck. But retail buying was strong, decorator buying was strong. We sold across the board: a wonderful Shaker work table, New Hampshire, circa 1840; a step back cupboard; pantry shelves; a major figural hooked rug; three skarns; a large, wooden, serpentine-front gate; a birdhouse mounted in an arched frame; nine mirrors; and lots of smalls.”
Weinblatt operates on the principle that absence makes buyers’ hearts grow fond. “I hadn’t done a show since December. I had three months to get a lot of fresh merchandise together. Fewer shows are really advantageous for me. And I don’t keep a shop. It seems to work.” Weinblatt’s next appearance will be April 26, at the Southport-Westport Antiques Show.
Thanks to Marilyn Gould’s constant efforts, the Wilton Historical Society Antiques Show remains varied and interesting from year to year, partly because she adds new exhibitors in unusual specialties, drawing them from disparate regions of the country. She also moves her regular exhibitors around the March fair, and from one fair to another. Newcomers to the March show included Jackie Radwin, a Texas dealer in primitives who enjoyed outstanding sales; Jan Whitlock, a Pennsylvania dealer admired for her fine selection of textiles; and Finnegan Gallery, Chicago specialists in garden antiques and architectural ornament.
“I’ve never wanted an extremely high-end show,” noted the manager, who knows her market well. “The high, upper-middle is what sells here. I think that reflects the interest and ability of the people who come to the show.” In some instances, dealers known for pricey inventory appeared to have brought more affordable material, with brisk selling as a consequence.
Highly regarded as a venue for Americana, Wilton nevertheless runs the gamut from fine jewelry to art pottery. Furniture, not all of it country, is especially plentiful in the March fair. Jesse Goldberg of Artemis Antiques found Wilton buyers receptive to Federal design. “I had a very good show. I sold a sideboard and a dining table, plus various accessories, ” said the North Salem, N.Y., dealer. “My look is polished and Wilton buyers tend to prefer untouched surface. But I’ve broadened my inventory and I’m seeing results.” In general, Goldberg believes that show sales are declining. “It’s almost as if shows have become an advertising medium, not a sales medium. I’m not happy about that. This time Wilton was an exception.”
Steven and Mary Keeler Rowe also find a ready audience at Wilton for Federal and classical furniture. The Newton, N.H., dealers featured a bird’s-eye maple dressing table with an attached mirror, probably from New York, circa 1840, $4,200. A more formal piece was a classical New York drop front sideboard of mahogany with mahogany veneers, $5,800.
Antique samplers and needlework remain bestsellers. Two leading specialists, Stephen and Carol Huber and M. Finkel & Daughter, each reported excellent results. The Hubers, from Old Saybrook, Conn., sold three major pieces and had two more on hold before early buying had finished. The dealers said they are flush with choice stock, having just bought two important collections.
“It was a very good show for us,” noted Amy Finkel. “We sold a wonderful, large Folwell school silk embroidery; another good, early valuable sampler; a set of six painted chairs; a table; and about six other small samplers – normal, good collector pieces.”
Reflecting on the needlework market in general, Finkel said, “Certainly there is great interest, and [there] has been for about two years now. There is a wonderfully knowledgeable group of buyers who recognize important pieces when they see them and aren’t scared by prices. The collectors are young and old, and a lot of them are men. These are pieces that can be documented to a very high degree. They are usually signed, dated and attributed to a region. There is a lot of security in that for many people.”
Known both for folk art and Canton porcelain, Julie Lindberg also enjoyed excellent sales. “The attendance may have been a little off but the crowd was very knowledgeable and a surprising number of people had good shows. I sold a lot during set up.” The Wayne, Penn., dealer parted with a painted blanket chest, porcelain and portraits. She had exceptional interest in a carved eagle, which she expects to be spoken for soon.
Bill and Marcia King of Geranium Antiques, Dorset, Vt., wowed visitors with a case full of Mocha pitchers and mugs in every color, size and pattern. “We brought our complete stock, about 50 or 60 pieces,” said Bill, shaking his head at the astounding prices realized for Mocha at Skinner’s recent Americana sales.
Redware and New England furniture enlivened Brian Cullity’s display. Highlights included a cherry candlestand with a bulbous, reeded baluster and spider feet, $3,900; and an outstanding New England redware jar, $8,750. Its mottled surface, yellow-green with brown figural design, is unique in Cullity’s experience.
The family of the late antiques dealer Paul Weld and his wife, Margaret, have hired Frank Gaglio to represent the rest of the collection, which even after two auctions and dozens of private sales, remains vast. Gaglio filled his Wilton booth with Weld pieces and sold quite a few as the show got underway on Saturday. “We have three tool auctions from the Weld collection coming up. The first one will be conducted by Ron Pook on April 20-21,” noted the Rhinebeck, N.Y. dealer.
Other show highlights included a Sheraton dressing table in chrome-yellow paint, $2,800; a stack of large pantry boxes in muted shades; and a pair of exceptional barber poles, $19,500, at John Sideli, Hillsdale, N.Y.
Hill Gallery of Birmingham, Mich., offered a Scandinavian drop leaf table with unusual tiger grain painting, $2,800; a painterly hooked and shirred rug with muddied colors and a dog depicted in an almost pointillist fashion, $4,500; and a child’s primitive rocking horse that interpreted the form at its abstract best, $8,500.
Other sculptural objects were displayed by American Primitive Gallery, which offered a charming carved wood basin with birds perched on its rim, $5,500, and a Penobscot, Maine club with a rather satanic looking face, $2,800.
Three of the most winsome rdf_Descriptions anywhere turned up in Colette Donovan’s booth. The Massachusetts dealer displayed three fancifully rendered boot jacks, priced from $195 to $695. All dated[LB1] to the Eighteenth Century and had wonderful flourishes and spirals.
Russ and Karen Goldberg’s striking display posed colorful gameboards, decoys and painted furniture against well-lit black walls. Of the decoy market, Russ said, “It’s never been stronger. Things really took off with the McCleery sale a year ago and the Internet has established a lot of new interest.”
Boston, Mass., dealer Stephen Score turned his refined eye on English and continental decor, combining a pair of French armchairs in old tapestry covers with a French serpentine front commode and a lavishly carved Italian commode table.
Heller-Washam Antiques sold a Hartford tall-case clock by Timothy Cheney. The Maine dealers’ still ample selection of furniture and folk art included a Hepplewhite serpentine front sideboard, $22,000, and a pair of Cambridgeport, Mass., painted fire buckets, $24,000.
A New Hampshire serpentine-front chest, $6,500, anchored the booth of Cheryl and Paul Scott. The New Hampshire dealers also featured a Chippendale slant-front desk of maple, circa 1780, $11,000.
Kathy Immerman of Kuttner Antiques, Sheffield, Mass., was proud of her Sheraton country drop leaf table, $5,900. Its top, of flaming birch, was one of the most dramatically figured surfaces anyone had ever seen.
Woodbury, Conn., dealer Wayne Pratt sold a graceful Boston reverse serpentine chest. His booth’s centerpiece was a mahogany breakfront bookcase with eglomise panels, $58,000.
Another Woodbury dealer, Harold Cole, featured a New Hampshire highboy, a good Norwich desk and a very interesting Newtown, Conn., blanket chest. Cole bought the Newtown piece, which is configured like a high chest with two false drawers over three real drawers, years ago and recently took it back in a trade. Cole was asking $5,500 for the circa 1780-90 piece.
Peter Eaton’s handsome stand included a Rhode Island Chippendale tall chest, $18,000; a very pretty Queen Anne Massachusetts slant-front desk, $16,500; and a North Shore, Mass., Chippendale side chair, $18,000.
Delaware dealer James Kilvington combined English and American furniture with Pennsylvania paintings. A carved English oak blanket chest was $26,500.
At SAJE Americana, Short Hills, N.J., a fully articulated Massachusetts ladder back chair of the Eighteenth Century was $5,900, while a Pennsylvania corner cupboard with panel doors, raised moldings and teal-blue paint was $17,000.
Bringing the show up to the Twentieth Century with Arts & Crafts furniture and accessories, Boston’s JMW Gallery offered some interesting Grand Rapids pieces to go along with a L & JG Stickley drop armchair and book table. Pottery – both vessels in cases and tiles framed and on the wall – included works by Grueby, Marblehead, Newcomb, Weller and S.E.G.
Mo Wajselfish of Jesse Leatherwood Antiques outdid himself with his latest display. His tripartite booth contained a vignette on each of his major specialties. The first alcove housed Black Forest carving and rustic decor; the second had garden ornaments, rare tin rhubarb forcers and French, Japanese and German metalwork. In the last alcove were sailors’ woolworks and carved wooden angels, all continental and made between the Seventeenth and Nineteenth Centuries.
“I see some uneasy times ahead, but I am hopeful that art and antiques will benefit in some way. It may take another month or two before we really know,” Marilyn Gould said after the stock market’s dramatic tumble the week of March 19. Added Victor Weinblatt, “A lot of the people we see still have money through recessions and stock-market plunges, and will continue to buy. During bad stock markets, people are more comfortable putting money into art and antiques.”
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