Published: April 3, 2007
As we toured the spacious aisles of the Connecticut Spring Antiques Show prior to the show opening to the public on Saturday morning, there was an obvious sense of heightened anticipation among the exhibitors. Dealer after dealer proclaimed it the “best looking Hartford Show I can remember.” And they were correct.
It all seemed to come together for the hardworking crew at the Haddam Historical Society, show manager Karen DiSaia and the nearly 70 exhibitors that made up the roster of The Connecticut Spring Antiques Show, March 10 and 11.
“I can’t remember a show in Hartford looking this good since we were back in the old armory,” stated one dealer, and in many ways the show truly did reflect those days gone by. Not only did it look great visually, but the show grew by leaps and bounds when you “stopped to smell the roses,” as one so aptly put it. There were stellar offerings everywhere you looked.
A large crowd was on hand for the opening and the enthusiasm among the shoppers was witnessed with sold tag after sold tag routinely appearing in booth after booth. One dealer sold so many items that he openly admitted being embarrassed by the lack of merchandise in the booth a mere hour after the show opened on Saturday.
Like spring itself, the Connecticut Spring Antiques Show was a hive of activity, bursting at the seams with new growth and seemingly ready to bloom.
Was it the new floor plan for the show with spacious aisles, a dozen new dealers and the emphasized diversity of offerings that facilitated the transformation? Was it a new advertising campaign on public radio and CPTV that instilled vigor into the local crowd, not only bringing them out of their homes and into the show, but enticing them to bring things from the show back into their homes? Or was it that the dealers just decided it was time to pull out all the stops and bring great merchandise to a great fair.
It was probably a little of each, but whatever the recipe was, show manager Karen DiSaia and the Hartford show dealers hope it can be bottled and brought back to Hartford each spring as this show makes its way back onto the “destination” list. “We are aiming to have the best ‘first’ show of the spring season that we can possibly put together,” stated the manager.
To keep things in perspective, not everyone did well and there were certainly those that were not pleased with their sales results; regardless, everyone we spoke with had nothing but praise for the show. The quality merchandise that was prevalent around the floor and the accomplishments that have been achieved at the Connecticut Spring Antiques Show over the past couple of years have certainly boosted the show’s stature.
Buyers started lining up at the entrance more than two hours prior to the start of the show and as the gates opened a large crowd flooded onto the floor. DiSaia commented that the gate for Saturday was up ten percent and Sunday’s numbers were on par with last year, although “there were a lot of people that came back to the show on Sunday with their passes from Saturday and they were not included in the count,” she said.
One thing that attracted the attention of many of the exhibitors was not only the large number of new faces that were among the crowd in attendance, but the number of faces that have been seen less and less frequently over the years, and even some that are rarely ever seen.
“We did have people from lots of places,” stated DiSaia in regard the number of people that had traveled long distances to attend the show. “It used to always be that people would fly in for this show,” she said, and then enthusiastically added, “that may be something new that will start happening again.” Management reported people coming from as far as Alabama, Minnesota and Iowa.
Not only did the crowd in attendance comprise a different look and feel, but so did the show itself. For decades, Hartford has always had strict guidelines that centered around displaying only American merchandise made prior to the mid-Nineteenth Century. DiSaia and the Haddam Historical Society show committee put their heads together and those rules were relaxed, to a degree, allowing for a more diversified and interesting assortment of material.
“When I stared to change the ‘merchandise standards’ and made it clearer as to what we expected, dealers really put their best foot forward,” stated DiSaia. “We decided it was all right to add some early English furniture, because those are things that would have come to this country with people that were settling here. We also added some marine dealers. We wanted to make the show a little bigger and also to provide as comfortable a place for the buying public as we possibly can,” she said.
“I thought it was the best laid out and best looking show in at least a half dozen years †and a number of attendees told me that,” stated Newbury, Mass., dealer Peter Eaton. The show started off with a bang for Eaton, with the report of sales that included a formidable list of “ten pieces of furniture.” The dealer had sold tags posted on a slender “Connecticut kast, a New Hampshire chest-on-chest, a Boston Sheraton sofa, a Concord card table, a Connecticut country Queen Anne tea table, a New Hampshire one-drawer stand with medial tray, a New Hampshire Queen Anne dish-top candlestand, a Connecticut Queen Anne candlestand, a Connecticut Valley four-drawer cherry chest and an early corner chair with an applied Windsor back.”
Echoing what others at the show recognized in regard to the buying public, Eaton stated, “Four of the pieces sold to people that I’d not sold to before. I tried to bring good things priced so that ‘price’ couldn’t be a big issue,” he added.
“It seems the business is alive and well in Hartford,” commented Betty Berdan, Newsom & Berdan Antiques, Thomasville, Penn. “We thought there was great fresh merchandise for sale and people did sell,” she said.
“The reputation of the Hartford show brings out many people that don’t ordinarily go to shows anymore,” stated Lorraine German, Mad River Antiques, North Granby, Conn. “We did see some clients that we haven’t seen at other shows lately,” she said, adding, “The Connecticut Spring Antiques Show looked beautiful and the merchandise offered was of the very best quality.
“There was also more electricity in the air than we’ve seen in awhile,” stated German. “Those who attended were knowledgeable and enthusiastic †not the usual ‘tire kickers. Our sales were better than most of the shows we’ve done this year,” she said, “and were as good as last year’s Spring Hartford. We sold to both old and new clients †including some important pieces,” such as a Hartford-made Seymour Pottery three-gallon stoneware butter churn decorated in cobalt with a large folky horse across the front.
“Art is important, art transcends, just like rugs; no matter what your decorating style is you need rugs and you need art,” stated DiSaia in regard to the numerous paintings dealers on the floor of the show.
Old Lyme, Conn., dealer Jeffrey Cooley, Cooley Gallery, presented a stellar assortment of paintings, including a Carl J. Lawless work titled “Vespers” that depicted a pastoral Connecticut riverfront scene with a small hamlet and a river in the foreground and the steeple from the local church extending upward into a luminous cloudy sky.
“We enjoyed two strong sales, one to a couple already known to the gallery, but who hadn’t purchased in some time, and the other to a nice couple who had visited the shop on several occasions but hadn’t yet made a purchase,” stated Cooley Gallery representative Joseph Newman. “We were also able to buy several exciting paintings, making the show doubly successful.”
The popular Hartford artist C.E. Porter, a talented African American artist who lived his life in poverty, was represented in Cooley’s booth with a well executed oil on canvas titled “Still Life with Apples.” Other Connecticut artists featured in the booth included Frank Vincent DuMond, Ben Foster and Bruce Crane.
“I thought that this year’s show looked wonderful,” stated American paintings dealer Donna Kmetz, David and Donna Kmetz. I was pleased to see a combination of existing and new clients and was pleased to see and meet several younger couples.” The dealer reported being “quite happy with my sales, which ranged from a small pastel to two of my best paintings, making this one of my best Hartford shows. However, not everything was cash and carry,” stated Kmetz, “several things closed via phone calls on Sunday and Monday.”
“The Connecticut Spring Show is a special show,” stated Shelley Brown, Blue Heron Fine Art. “It takes a lot of dedicated work to keep a ‘destination’ show vibrant and healthy. Happily, our gallery had a successful show,” she said, reporting “visits from repeat clients” and “a new client on Sunday.”
Queen Anne and Chippendale furniture of the “brown” variety has been a staple of Hartford’s diet ever since the show was guided to prominence by Fran Phipps and Betty Forbes. And while Phipps’ unerring eye might have widened at the sight of some of the items displayed around the floor, she would have been tickled pink with the superlative offering of early American furniture.
Nathan Liverant and Son presented a stellar offering with a Chippendale mahogany chest-on-chest with a highly unusual pediment top taking the spotlight in the booth. According to the dealer, family tradition stated that the chest-on-chest was owned by Commodore Isaac Hull, a naval hero of the War of 1812, and was displayed in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms at the Department of State. Believed to have been made in nearby Norwich, Conn., the case piece was stickered at $85,000.
“It was invigorating,” stated an elated Arthur Liverant in regard to the show. “It was exciting to have such a wonderful attendance, people were enthusiastic and it was great to see them scurrying around and buying things.” The dealer reported numerous furniture sales, yet he stated that the items that attracted the most attention were the furniture fragments that he displayed on the outside wall of the booth.
“My family has collected them for years and I decided to put a grouping together,” stated Liverant. Cabriole legs with shell carved knees that ended in stylish ball and claw feet, Seventeenth Century raised panels, parts of chests, slats, stiles and stretchers were all combined to present a visually stunning display.
“Museums collect ancient Roman statuary fragments and they are accepted as great works of art. I have always looked at furniture fragments in much the same way, as elements of a successful piece of furniture. When broken down, each of the elements, the crest rail, the stiles, the splat, the legs and the stretchers, they are all just components of a unified whole. People took notice and they were fascinated by the different pieces and they tried to envision the piece as a whole just by looking at a leg,” he said.
While the fragments sold well and generated quite a bit of excitement, so did the intact examples of furniture offered, with a pair of William and Mary side chairs becoming early sellers from the booth. With heart and crown pierced crests, the chairs were attributed to Andrew Durand, Milford, Conn., circa 1720‱745. According to the dealer, the unusual bulbous front stretcher is known on only one other armchair. An attractive William and Mary maple stretcher base tavern table with the old “Spanish brown” painted surface on the base and scrubbed pine top was also among the items sold.
Taking DiSaia’s comments regarding “art” to heart, Liverant also displayed a wonderful folky portrait of a young girl holding an apple that was attributed to Massachusetts Deacon Robert Peckham, circa 1840; it was pair of Erastus Salisbury Field portraits, however, that sported sold tags shortly after opening.
Don Heller, Heller Washam Antiques, Portland, Maine, was another to present a quality offering and among the numerous sales reported was a nice Connecticut River Valley joined chest and a stately pair of Windsor side chairs.
Buckley & Buckley reported a good show, although things started out slow for the dealers, with only smalls selling on opening day. “One thing we like about Hartford is seeing old friends,” commented Don Buckley, who has been a regular exhibitor at the Connecticut show for more than three decades. “It was a beautiful show with very good quality,” he said, reminiscent of the “magical moments” in the old armory.
Sunday turned out to be a better day for sales for the Salisbury, Conn., dealer as an old customer arrived on the scene and purchased an important country Chippendale card table with scalloped base in an old black paint. As the transaction was nearing the end, the client, who had been admiring the chandelier from the same period that was hanging over the table commented, “Well, I guess I’ve got to take that, too.”
Illinois dealers Ben and Judy Karr also listed numerous objects sold, “both furniture and smalls,” according to the dealer. Ben Karr commented that he sold to old clients as well as establishing relationships with a couple new ones. “It was a very good crowd,” he commented, “and good buyers to boot.” The dealer listed an Eighteenth Century tavern table that retained a wonderful varnish darkened surface over an original mulberry red painted base and scrubbed top among his sales. Another major sale was a tiger maple pie safe with 15 pierced tin panels decorated with spread winged eagles and stars. “It was from either Virginia or Kentucky,” stated the dealer, ” and it really was a very special thing.”
Early American pewter was selling well in the booth of Wayne and Phyllis Hilt, with the dealers commenting that they were “really pleased with the show. We were busy making sales all day on Saturday,” stated Wayne Hilt, “right up until closing as one customer made a purchase ten minutes before the show closed.” Hilt reported making sales on Sunday as well. One of the first items to sell from the booth was a Jacob Whitmore pewter mug that listed Charles Swain provenance, having been purchased a couple weeks earlier by Hilt at Northeast Auctions’ landmark sale.
Hilt commented that they entered the show with some trepidation as virtually all of the pewter collectors in the Northeast had been at the auction and many bought heavily. “Just coming off the Swain Collection sale that brought in over $700,000,” said Hilt, “we were a little worried, but we were pleased to see that our customers still had some money left to spend with us.” The dealer reported plates, porringers and teapots among their numerous sales.
Newburgh, N.Y., dealers Dan and Karen Olson reported making 30 sales at the show that ranged from cupboards to the smalls that were displayed inside of them. Olson’s laundry list of sold items included two tall chests, two step back cupboards, a couple stands, a pair of Windsor armchairs with strong turnings, mirrors, paintings, a needlework and decorated stoneware.
Popular booth chats and a lecture also took place with Edward Maeder, director of exhibitions and curator of textiles at Historic Deerfield, delivering a talk, “The Chicken and The Egg: Fashion Furniture in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Century,” to a large and receptive crowd on Saturday. Booth chats on Sunday were presented by Grace Snyder as she discussed “The Development and Dating of American Hooked and Sewn Rugs.” Karen Wendhiser discussed “Decorated Northeast Native American Baskets” and Collette Donovan presented “The Hearth as the Heart of the Early American Home.”
“There is a level of excitement, a certain amount of buzz and excitement about the show within the business,” stated DiSaia in the days following the Connecticut Spring Antiques Show. Management has announced that the show will always take place on second weekend in March, “We are committed to that, that way everyone knows when the show will be and people coming from distances can make plans to attend well in advance,” she said.
Arthur Liverant summed up the show by commenting, “The Haddam Historical Society has been working hard, they have a wonderful show now and they can continue to build on it for the future. Everyone has heard how good the show was, really good dealers are asking to exhibit, and the collectors that didn’t come this year realize that they missed out and they certainly won’t miss it again,” he said. “Next year bodes well for the Connecticut Show. The upside is limitless.”
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