To the Editor:
About a month ago, an article in Antiques and the Arts Weekly ( The Newtown Bee ) featured an update on recent developments with the Philadelphia Antiques Show. Let me please note that we do not, and never have, exhibit at that show. Our perspective is offered here, as Helen and I both feel this scenario represents a pivotal issue regarding not only this show and its respective exhibitors, but every member of the antiques world, especially those belonging to the three, principal American antiques associations: the Antiques Dealers’ Association of America, Inc (ADA); the National Antique & Art Dealers Association of America; and the Art and Antique Dealers League of America, Inc.
Among the issues alluded to in the article was the location change of the Philadelphia Antiques Show, with several of the exhibitors being dropped from the roster, ostensibly due to a smaller venue. The article also mentioned the anonymous nature of the committee who decided which dealers should be dropped, and there appeared to be great secrecy regarding the reasoning for its selections.
We are going to restrict our views expressed here to Marcy Burns (Schillay), as we are less familiar with the other dealers and their material. Marcy is a longtime member of the ADA. She serves as a board member. Though she deals in American Indian items, and we deal in another form of textiles (antique carpets), we know some of the same clients and have a basic sense of the quality of Marcy’s inventory.
Marcy is consistently considered among the foremost specialists in her field in the United States. In the interest of disclosure, I should also note that Marcy’s husband, Richard Schillay, and Marcy herself, are extremely close friends of ours. That said, several universal and important issues are at stake here, with practical implications for all of us.
First, the anonymous nature of the committee and the enigmatic nature of its deliberations are completely inappropriate, as the committee plays a role not only as steward for the best interests of the antiques show and the charity beneficiary, but also has an impact on the reputation and income of the exhibitors. I have served on the boards of the ADA and the Art and Antiques Dealers League and still serve on the vetting committee for the Winter Antiques Show, and while positions such as these thankfully carry legal indemnification (and one would reasonably expect the Philadelphia committee to expect no less), one still is recognized as playing a role in matters that affect others’ lives, and those impacted have the right and opportunity to question and appeal issues.
Second, we asked some friends (collectors of Indian items and other antiques) to read the article, and they were stunned that a dealer of Marcy’s reputation and quality would be dropped from a show. None of us would want to be dropped from a major show due to space considerations, and we would note that if each dealer took two fewer feet for his or her booth, the show could approximately accommodate the dropped dealers. This is particularly relevant with the Philadelphia show because the ADA represents a huge percentage of the exhibiting dealers.
Third, as a concomitant to the first issue above, the anonymous nature of the committee and secretive nature of its decisions means it can drop dealers with impunity. This is the most dangerous aspect, because it gives way to the potential for a sort of despotic power on the part of one or more committee members. The danger in this, of course, is that if anyone objects, he or she too can be “dropped” from a dealer roster (this applies to all shows), with no concrete reasons being put forth.
Fourth, antiques organizations such as the three mentioned above have a responsibility not only to the public, but to the members of those respective organizations.
Professional sports, and particularly ice hockey, offer notable analogies here. There are unwritten codes of conduct where one stands up for one’s teammates, whether it comes at an individual cost or not. Professional unions serve much the same purpose. And, lest we be naive, prestigious schools, clubs and “old boy” (or girl) networks also serve as springboards and, sometimes, protective shields for their members.
For ADA members, especially, but all dealers as well, the issues surrounding the Philadelphia Antiques Show offer a superb opportunity to “stand up,” not just for a member (two, I believe), but for the principle that we are an industry that values quality, equitable treatment of dealers and the buying public, and accountability and transparency pertaining to those who make decisions that impact people’s reputations and livelihoods. Beyond that, it says that organizations are more than social clubs but are groups where members share common interests (both academically and economically) that transcend short-term, individual gain.
Of chief importance, dealers must show we have courage to stand with our colleagues when they are the recipients of unfair or inconsiderate treatment. As impressionable, young dealers approximately two decades ago, Helen and I greatly respected the decision of a Winter Antiques Show exhibitor to resign in protest when other dealers were unfairly cut from that roster. We still remember and respect that act, and that sort of courage should serve as a paradigm and goal, not just for members of antiques organizations, but for the dealer community at large and individuals with the potential to influence the administration and policies of antiques shows.
Douglas and Helen Stock
D.B. Stock Antique Oriental Carpets