Published: November 24, 2020
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy Incollect
ONLINE – The most recent antiques show to migrate to an online version was the Delaware Antiques Show, now in its 57th year and one of the most eagerly anticipated annual events for collectors and dealers of American furniture, folk art, ceramics, metalworks, textiles, lighting and fine art. Annually benefitting the educational programming at Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, the show convenes at the same time the Winterthur Collectors Circle meets and Winterthur fellows reunite for lectures, meetings and other satellite events. It is, in short, ground zero for collectors and connoisseurs, scholars, curators, educators and dealers in all things that have defined the last 400-500 years of material culture, American and otherwise.
When the Covid-19 pandemic made large gatherings unsafe and impractical, the organizers of the Delaware Antiques Show were left with little alternatives but to migrate the show online, to the Incollect platform, November 7-14, where, for a week, nearly 50 dealers in both fine and decorative arts featured virtual booths with not more than 30 items each. By the end of the show’s run, almost 100 items had either been sold or placed on hold for prospective clients.
To parallel the extensive satellite lectures that are typically conducted simultaneously to the live show, Winterthur created a dozen lectures by museum staff and curators who spoke on different topics within their particular areas of expertise. Some tempting topics included “The Cottage, H.F. du Pont’s Last Residence at Winterthur” by estate historian, Jeff Groff, while senior curator of education, Deborah Harper, addressed Henry Francis du Pont’s early collecting focus in “H.F. du Pont Collects Massachusetts Furniture.” For those missing the libations typically on offer on the show floor, “Your Beverage of Choice: Wine-Related Equipage at Winterthur” by senior curator of ceramics and glass, Leslie B. Grigsby, would surely fit the bill, and furniture curators Josh Lane and Kathy Gillis looked at two pieces of furniture in the museum’s collection that were intended to deceive, in “Furniture Fakes: 2 Winterthur Case Studies.”
A keynote address by Katie Ridder and Peter Pennoyer titled “Pillow Talk: A Designer Wife and Architect Husband Open Up About Design, Architecture, and Style” examined the inspirations – both individually and collaboratively – for a design-scene power couple who come from different ends of the aesthetic scale. The annual talks by Winterthur fellows, which are supported by the Decorative Arts Trust, rounded out the virtual and visual offerings. The two Lois F. McNeil Fellows featured in the “Young Scholars Lectures,” were Cara Caputo who discussed a patriotic French glass flask, and Christopher Malone, whose research has led him to examine an anonymous shoemaker’s shop sign.
All the supplemental lecture videos were available for an additional price but could be watched at the viewer’s convenience.
Jill Abbott, Winterthur’s associate director of events who coordinated the show with director of external affairs, Tom Savage, said in a post-show email, “We were excited to see that we had over 12,000 unique visitors to the show, which translated into viewing over 65,000 pages of dealer items. Which means each visitor viewed over five pages, which shows our customers were really looking through the site, and one of Incollect’s highest show results. While we enjoy our in-person experience, these results reached new and wider audiences that ordinarily may not come to Wilmington. Couple that with 250 unique visitors shopping our early access day with almost 2,500-page views and we consider this a first-time online success. Our keynote and lecture series yielded 633 videos, watched through their entirety, enhancing the education value Winterthur brings to an online show.”
One of the best parts of going to a show – any show, in theory, but in particular those shows where the dealers are of such a caliber that the quality of the goods they bring is unparalleled – is discussing works with dealers, learning why they are passionate about their specialized categories, what works they have on hand that resonate with them particularly, and why as viewers we should pay attention to the works, too. That personal passion is often lost in the translation from show-floor to on-screen virtual booth that usually takes the form of a grid-like scrollable page of items.
To bridge the gap and capture some of that enthusiasm, dealers were also encouraged to make short – a minute or two at the longest – videos of works they’d posted in their booths. Some of these videos were simply 360-degree rotating views without sound or personal engagement by the seller. The most interesting videos were those that featured the dealer talking about and holding the piece, providing a sense of scale, pointing out the merits and interesting points of the work. Between 65 and 80 dealer-made videos were posted on the show’s website and during the weeklong online event, some or all of them were opened a total of 925 times, according to data provided by Incollect.
Florham Park, N.J.-based Ron Bassin of A Bird In Hand Antiques had made a video featuring a miniature carved screech owl by Wendell Gilley (1904-1983). In the video, Bassin explained Gilley’s history and the two pivotal moments in Gilley’s career: meeting the Rockefeller family and his association with Abercrombie and Fitch, who sold his carvings. Bassin’s video extolled the virtues of the condition and originality of the painted surface of the owl, which Bassin said was the only known Gilley example of that form. While the video did not result in the sale of the owl, Bassin sold a hanging shelf, a penny rug and some Pennsylvania hinges early in the show, with a weathervane going out the door towards the close of the event. His sales were to both trade and private buyers, with a new connection made.
Jeff Tillou featured a few videos in his show booth, featuring a Scottish Highlander table-top tobacco figure that he deemed his “Pick of the Week,” a watercolor by Mary Knight that is the only known signed example of her work and a carved folk art deer’s head trophy that had been found in Maine. Both the Knight watercolor and deer-head trophy had been in the Mayer collection. The Litchfield, Conn., dealer said after the show that the videos “do receive inquiries as they animate each piece in a way that a thumbnail can not achieve.” He said he’d made a few sales and was following up on a few more.
At the top of Lillian Nassau’s virtual booth was an informational video that ran a few minutes long and featured proprietor Arlie Sulka giving a thumbnail history of the firm and what the New York City dealer currently trades in. Her virtual booth featured several videos that consisted of rotating views that showed pieces up close but without editorial commentary. During the run of the show, a few sales were noted, including two Tiffany Studios cabinet vases, one in blue, the other gold, a Tiffany Studios abalone compote and a Dominick & Haff “Owl” letter opener.
Garden antiques dealer Barbara Israel’s booth featured a video of “two of her favorite statues,” a pair of circa 1900 stoneware figures representing two of the nine muses of Greek mythology: Erato, the Greek muse of lyrical poetry and hymns, and Clio, the Greek muse of history. Both were on associated terracotta pedestals and stood more than 5 feet tall. By the time the show closed, the figures, which were being offered together and priced at $65,000, were unsold but interest in the Katonah, N.Y., dealer’s booth saw holds placed on some carved wood wall decorations and a dining set by Arthur Umanoff.
When we caught up with Kelly Kinzle, he was in the middle of photographing and videographing works he is planning to show on the virtual website of the upcoming Winter Show. The New Oxford, Penn., dealer sold a Philadelphia card table and a sandstone mantel during the run of the show. The mantel was signed and dated by the stone carver, William V.S. Roberts (1780-1859) of Short Creek Township, Harrison County, Ohio. The mantel had been carved for Oak Dale Farm, which was built in the 1820s by Robert Reid Cochran (1771-1861), one of the first settlers in Harrison County. Among interesting elements of the mantel were a central full-bodied eagle flanked by trees with serpents and urns surrounded by vines. According to Kinzle, these motifs would have been familiar to Roberts, who was the son of a pioneer preacher of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
“The show went well; I’m pleased with it,” was the response of Ed Hild of Olde Hope Antiques, when we reached him a few days after the show wrapped. He reported he had just closed the deal on a pair of white-painted cast-iron stove figures of George Washington and Columbia by Alonzo Blanchard that had come from a Rochester, N.Y., estate. Other sales with Olde Hope included a blue painted pine chest, a hooked rug, a Quaker knitted pin cushion, a parcheesi gameboard and an oval-top splayed leg table; a few other sales were made on works outside the show to both new and existing clients.
Arthur Liverant tallied four sales, including a folk portrait of “Old Folks” that is going to new clients in California, a bride’s box decorated with fox and hound that was purchased by a client who had not purchased from Liverant in several years, and a Continental courting mirror that sold to a client who had also purchased something at the ADA/Deerfield Show that had taken place in early October. The majority of the Colchester, Conn., dealer’s sales were made in the first days of the show and Liverant was of the opinion that a week might be too long, noting that shorter shows lent an urgency that longer shows often lacked.
Alexandria, Va., dealer, Christopher Jones was making his first online show venture and was one of a few dealers to sell furniture, closing the deal on a Virginia walnut chest of drawers to an existing client who regularly attends the Delaware Antiques Show. He said he had received a few inquiries from the show, saying “the positive thing is that almost all inquiries were from new customers who were unknown to me. We’re getting in front of people who are new to me, which is great.”
Taylor Thistlethwaite includes with nearly each of his items a simple comment about what he likes about each work. In the case of two pieces he sold at the show, he likened the grace and proportions of an inlaid walnut writing stand, possibly from Norfolk, Va., to a ballerina en pointe and, of an Eighteenth Century English bronze signal cannon, he said, “It’s not every day your doorstop is a cannon, too.” The Middleburg, Va., dealer said he had received lots of interest and inquiries, with both new and repeat customers.
By the close of the show, two pieces of furniture were marked “sold” in the booth of West Chester, Penn., dealer HL Chalfant Antiques: a Berks County blanket chest with unicorn decoration and a pair of Chippendale chairs. When we caught up to Skip Chalfant a couple of days after the show wrapped, he said he had made a few new clients and had inquiries on a good painting.
Michael Corbett of the Federalist Antiques, Inc., Kenilworth, Ill., sold a Pennsylvania Queen Anne walnut dropleaf table and had a hold on an English Georgian mahogany lolling chair. His remaining sales were of very small pieces: an Italian Grand Tour micromosaic pendant and a pair of earrings by Michael Kneebone that depicted mallards.
Even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, large and bulky pieces – whether furniture, statuary or works of art – were often proving more difficult to sell and many dealers preferred to devote virtual booth space to small objects that could be shipped relatively easily, and less expensively.
To that end, silver seemed to be selling relatively well. Portsmouth, N.H., dealer Jonathan Trace, for whom the event was his first online show, had what might be considered beginner’s luck, logging nearly a dozen sales of early American and English silver and brass, with a tea caddy on hold a few hours before the show closed. “I was very pleased,” he said, characterizing his sales as being split “50-50” between new and existing clients.
Marseille, France-based Silver Arts by D&R had a few pieces on hold towards the end of the show, including an antique French confiturier and a French Empire silver drageoir by Jean Nicholas Boulanger. Southampton, Mass., dealers Spencer-Mark had interest in Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau pieces by such makes as Alvin Silver, Leonard & Wilson, Baldwin & Co., and Shreve & Co.
Mo Wajselfish of Leatherwood Antiques routinely chalks up several sales during the shows he participates in. The show fell a little short of his expectations but he still saw several sales throughout the week, all of which were of small works. Sales included a carved wooden “flowering bouquet wall plaque, a Vienna bronze woodpecker on tree vase, a Vienna bronze sculpture, a cold-painted Vienna dog-form bronze, an inlaid games set, a carved walnut fox-form jewelry box and a heart-shaped lined box. When asked about the secret to his success, he said “We have a big following in Delaware, we chose things that you can ship easily and, from a price point, we did not have huge prices.” He said he had many inquiries, largely from existing clients but he said he did make a few new connections.
One of just a few international exhibitors in the show, Northamptonshire, England-based Martyn Edgell traded a few things, including an English heart-shaped pickle dish and some Prattware, mochaware and creamware. Manheim, Penn., dealer Steven F. Still sold a carved and painted pheasant, a folk art painting of a blacksmith’s shop and a calligraphy drawing of an eagle executed by Jacob Trego.
A scrimshaw busk made by Captain Robert Tabor and a portrait of the American yacht Fleur De Lys by Antonio De Simone (1850-1920) were reported as sold by The Hanebergs Antiques from East Lyme, Conn. Doug and Bev Norwood from The Norwoods’ Spirit of America sold a whimsical hooked rug depicting “Three Little Kittens” early in the show. R.M. Worth Antiques, Inc., saw interest in a pair of Chinese export armorial plates and a creamware cockle pot, while Mark Allen sold a bear-form food chopper and an iron fork. An existing client of Elliott & Grace Snyder bought a pipebox they had seen earlier at the Historic Deerfield/ADA Show.
A sizeable percentage of the booth of William R. & Teresa F. Kurau featured historical Staffordshire from a collection that had been 50 years in the making and was fresh to the market. Among sales of historical Staffordshire that the Lampeter, Penn., dealers closed were a pierced tray depicting the Battle of Bunker Hill, a beaded rim bowl with a view titled “A Ship In the Line of the Downs” and a child’s mug with a portrait of George Washington.
A pair of Chinese famille verte glazed biscuit porcelain fu dogs in the booth of Ralph M. Chait Galleries found a new home. Polly Latham Asian Art sold a few pieces of Chinese export porcelain, including an American ship-decorated teabowl and saucer, a Jack Flag trio comprising of a teabowl, handled cup and saucer, a mid-Seventeenth Century Chinese export porcelain transitional period ewer with underglaze blue decoration and a gold Fitzhugh dinner plate.
Textile sales were modest. Sandy Jacobs sold two New England samples – the earlier one worked in 1802 by Melinda Welds and one made in 1825 by Emily Pickett. Darnestown, Md. Quilt and jewelry dealer Stella Rubin wrote up sales for a circa 1920 Pennsylvania hooked rug with cat decoration, a circa 1920s Ohio Amish “Star of the East” quilt and a circa 1870 Pennsylvania album quilt that featured flowers and berries done entirely with stuffed applique.
Of the fine art dealers who participated in this edition of the Delaware Antiques Show, few sales were reported. Middleburg, Va., sporting art dealer Red Fox Fine Art Gallery sold a watercolor by Ogden Pleissner, while Philadelphia paintings dealer Schwarz Gallery wrote up a pair of portraits and a view of Chestnut Street attributed to Alexander Benjamin Clayton. Local Wilmington dealer Schoonover Studios had interest in works by Stanley Massey Arthurs, Frank E. Schoonover, Henry Cruse and Bernard Stafford Good.
Marcy Burns American Indian Arts, LLC had just one reported sale, a San Ildefonso jar attributed to Dolorita Vigil that was marked as sold within a few hours of the show opening. Hand-coiled out of native clay and slip, with a stone polish, the jar was approximately 10 by 10 inches and dated to 1900-10.
As more and more antique shows continue to take place online, various platforms are making subtle adjustments to improve the overall experience for both sellers and buyers. A couple of exhibitors commented on the “Make an Offer” tab that Incollect attaches to each item, lamenting that this encourages potential buyers to negotiate a lower price than what is asked. Another comment that came up in post-show follow-up was that both dealers and clients had difficulty finding the show on the Winterthur page.
The 2021 Delaware Antiques Show is scheduled for Friday-Sunday, November 5-7, with an opening night on Thursday, November 4. For more information, www.winterthur.org/exhibitions-events/events/delaware-antiques-show/.
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