Published: October 27, 2020
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Show Dealers
ONLINE – Entry was free this year for the 46th Annual Fall Fox Valley Antiques Show, presented by the Chicago Suburban Antiques Dealers Association (CSADA). There was no one taking tickets, no line snaking through the Kane County Fairgrounds in St Charles – but there were booths, 75 of them, with dealers from across the United States and Canada offering country to formal, Pilgrim Century to Modernism, folk art to fine art, garden to holiday, jewelry, toys, books, ephemera and more. Welcome to the continuing saga of antiques shows in the age of COVID-19, where the virtual door of this popular suburban Chicago show swung open at 10 am on October 17 and closed at 6 pm on October 18.
The virtual shopping experience was made possible by a new online portal managed by Marvin Getman, well-known East Coast show promoter, that enables anyone with an internet connection and electronic device to see and buy merchandise directly from antiques and fine art dealers who post it on Getman’s platform. From a dealer’s perspective, Searsport, Maine, exhibitor Dennis Raleigh may have put it most succinctly: “I think Marv Getman stole the show with his online format. It’s clearly the best and easiest to navigate, both as a seller and from a viewer’s standpoint. What I like most is sellers and buyers deal directly with each other. There is no middleman.”
The platform’s search capability makes it simple for customers to find items of interest whether searching by dealer, category, keyword or price range. See something that scratches a collecting itch? The dealer’s contact information, including hot-linked email address, is listed under the item’s description.
According to Getman’s postshow statistics, a total of 229 items sold for a gross of $116,000 or an average price of $507. Of the 75 dealers who exhibited, a total of 15 sold at least 25 percent of the items they listed. “That would obviously be considered a success at any show,” observed Getman.
Among them was Thomaston, Maine, bookseller Sandra L. Hoekstra. “Marvin Getman has worked to develop a web platform for book and antiques selling that captures some of the excitement of in-person shows,” said Hoekstra. “There are set internet show dates, and a countdown to the show opening. Once inside, the show is arranged so that the viewer can search by category or seller ‘booth.’ Limiting the number of items that each dealer can ‘bring to the show’ allows for multiple and large photos of each item to accompany its description. While nothing can replace handling books in person and meeting face-to-face with a dealer, visiting these internet book and antiques fairs still allows for a great experience in viewing the book or antique object, and then calling or emailing the dealer for a personal exchange.”
An obvious “gimmee” sale for Hoekstra was Chicago Welcomes You, 1933, a tourist guide to the Windy City, including the scarce shopping guide with listing of stores and their addresses. Authored by Alfred Grange, illustrated by Leon R. Pescheret, the book, complete with color pictorial map endpapers, provides an interesting look at Chicago then compared to now.
Virginia Larsen Antiques of Glen Ellyn, Ill., was another strong seller, finding buyers for 36 percent of the items that she posted. A highlight leaving her virtual booth was an early Twentieth Century Indian maiden tobacconist figure that was found in southeastern Pennsylvania. In very good condition, the figure stood 5 feet 2 inches tall. “Besides the obvious differences involved in selling via picture, limiting offerings to a single page and lack of person-to-person contact, the procedure was a smooth one, well-arranged for dealer and buyer alike,” said Larsen after the show closed. A total of 40 percent of my sales were to new customers, who were very happy with the opportunity to ‘go antiquing’ in the comfort of their own homes. All in all, a positive experience.”
Ontario, Canada, dealer Barry Ezrin showcased an early Micmac beaded watch pocket among his merchandise. From the Nineteenth Century, it measured 2¾ by 2½ inches. He sold an Outsider painting by Reuben A. (RA) Miller (1912-2006) of Gainesville Ga. Titled “Lord Love You,” the 17½-by-17½-inch oil on artist board depicted a devil with a broken pitchfork and had been in a solo exhibition at the High Museum, Atlanta. Of the show’s website, Ezrin said, “The website has many user friendly features that really appeal. The ease of search, both within a dealer’s booth and moving from dealer to dealer was effective. The sold button offers a professional innovation and helps to standardize the website and make it more exciting as customers see pieces selling in real time. While we miss the brick-and-mortar shows, virtual shows allow us to continue to operate and actually reach a broader audience.”
There was plenty of more traditional fine art offered as well, including Michael Graves’s (b 1952) “Peonies,” an oil on canvas measuring 12 by 16 inches, signed lower middle. It was shown by Douglas, Mass., American fine art specialist Donna Kmetz. Graves, a Massachusetts award-winning plein air artist is a member of the Guild of Boston Artists, Rockport Art Association, the North Shore Art Association and Academic Artists. He was a close friend and painting companion to Cape Ann artist Bernard Corey (1914-2000) for many years.
Said Kmetz, “Although I have never traveled to Chicago for Fox Valley, it has a great reputation as a community show with dedicated volunteers. The online debut was a very pretty show that brought across the established identity of Fox Valley and CSADA. The show was light and fun but did not compromise quality. I think this level of vetting is really important to differentiate shows as more come online.”
Kmetz, who has done four online shows this year, acknowledged that online or in person, all shows require planning, preparation and customer outreach. “But with online, once that’s done, you simply hope for the best. Online seems to work best for selling smaller objects, typically with lower prices, but every now and then I’ve been able to sell a painting. For the price, [online shows] are low risk and an alternate channel, but cannot replace my very best shows. They might just replace my borderline shows! Love no loading and unloading.”
“There was quite a range of objects and values in the Fox Valley show,” observed Scott Ferris, owner of J and R Ferris Antiques based in Boonville, N.Y. A silver snuff box marked 800 silver depicting an indoor tavern scene – sitting around a table, one person is seen eating, another drinking and a third, standing, holding a fiddle – no doubt resonated with anyone suffering from COVID-19 restrictions fatigue. Ferris sold a Staffordshire lamb with full, bright colors.
“I had a call from a buyer shortly after we ‘opened,'” Ferris related. “She, as you saw, focused in on smalls – a Staffordshire piece and two small boxes. While chatting with her, I learned about the types of items she sought and as a result was able to add to her proverbial basket. I mentioned other items that I have, snapped photos of them, and sent them to her for consideration and final approval.
“This is the new face of interacting with potential clients versus live shows,” Ferris continued. “One thing that I will mention is that the Fox Valley site did not have a magnifying tool that a buyer could use to examine an object.”
Jane Langol of Medina, Ohio, said she was thrilled with her tally – “I had four sales and two sincere inquiries,” she said.
One of her sales was a Weller Pottery biscuit jar. She also parted with a blue/white cotton quilt with a pleasing design and fine stitches and a Popeye wooden doll, popular from 1930 to 1942, amazingly retaining his original pipe. “The biscuit jar is by Weller Pottery of Zanesville, Ohio, and is part of a line of pottery called ‘Woodcraft,'” Langol explained. “All pieces in the line feature woodland creatures, such as owls, rabbits, squirrels, birds, etc. This piece is exceptionally hard to find and is a lovely softly glazed piece, made in the 1920-30s.”
Langol said the Fox Valley online show was her fourth attempt at a virtual selling event. “I had failed miserably at the previous events,” she added. “At two of them – sold zero. So discouraged. Therefore, when this event came along, I was very reluctant to participate. But the platform that Marvin Getman offered was wonderful to use – easy directions, uploads were well marked on where/how, the images were clear and bright, etc. I was impressed!”
Regarding antiques shows in the age of COVID-19, Langol said, “I do miss the real thing! The excitement of the antiques marketplace is a great boost to one’s spirits. The interaction with the customers, the meeting of fellow exhibitors, the colors, the ability to touch and see antiques, etc., can’t be duplicated. But the online show has its own excitement level. I loved talking on the phone with my customers, arranging payment and shipping details, After everything closed in March – this was a real boost I could enjoy in my own home.”
For his part, Getman said he is gratified that the platform he created with a software developer is getting high marks from the trade. “I am late to the game as far as virtual antiques shows go, as I’ve concentrated on building the more profitable part of my business, namely, the book fairs, which are going along very well with five other promoters licensing the platform. The Rare Books LA fair was very successful the same weekend as Fox Valley.
But now that this one has proven successful with the help of some very committed committee members, without whom I would never be able to recruit such good dealers, I am hopeful that my platform will be seen as it should be – simple to use for both buyer and seller and a straightforward, no-frills platform to simulate the experience of walking through a live fair. It works! I promoted this show very heavily, not only in the antiques press, but on social media along with a heavy PR campaign where we got exposure around the country. My goal is to build an email list of people who appreciate antiques and the idea that they can ‘attend’ a show from their homes. The lead up to the show added 1,000 new emails to my list. Those people don’t care where the show would be physically, they just want to see good antiques from reputable dealers.”
Getman said his next show, the New York Antiques Show, will take place over three days, January 29-31. “I believe the business can have a new lease on life during and after COVID, and I hope to be a part of that growth.”
For more information, email contact@CSADA.com or visit www.CSADA.com.
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