Published: May 23, 2017
Review and Photos by Laura Beach
NEW BEDFORD, MASS. – The Nautical Antiques Show, back at the New Bedford Whaling Museum for its eighth annual appearance on Friday, May 12, is the tail wagging the dog, or the dorsal fin propelling the orca, if you will. The one day, in-and-out affair precedes the Scrimshaw Weekend, the colloquium for collectors and scholars approaching its 30th year.
Richard Donnelly of Richard’s Antiques & Art, Barrington, R.I., and Sanford Moss of Sandy’s Tools in Westport, Mass., organize the show. They recruit the fair’s roughly 20 dealers, many of them leading specialists in their field; liaise with museum staff; and help install the simple, tabletop presentation in the museum’s third-floor Harbor View Gallery, a glass-sheathed aerie overlooking the city’s lively, much storied port.
The swap meet officially begins with early buying at 11 am. General admission gets underway at noon for five hours of intensive selling. Scrimshaw and other sailor-made items predominate, but marine-themed fine and folk art, ship models, instruments, tools, lighting, logbooks, journals and other ephemera are plentiful.
“I heard good reports overall. Most dealers made money, buyers were happy and there were few wrinkles,” Moss told us.
“Business is always competitive, but there is great esprit de corps among dealers here,” said Donnelly.
What with the show’s nominal cost to dealers, profits for some vendors are handsome. One of this year’s winners was White’s Nautical Antiques of North Yarmouth, Maine. Dave White told us, “This is one of the two or three best shows I do all year. I sold across the board, from an iceboat model to a half-hull. It’s just an extremely knowledgeable crowd.”
Hyland Granby Antiques reportedly sold a superb inlaid scrimshaw box by Spencer Pratt, a Bristol, R.I., maker working in the mid-Nineteenth Century. Elsewhere in these pages, we showcase the fair’s most spectacular offering: a journal written and illustrated by the whaleman John F. Martin at Richard’s Antiques & Art.
Two prominent experts were unable to make it this year. Paul Decoste took ill at Brimfield and withdrew from the show at the last moment. Decoste is on the mend and expects to be in fit shape for the 60th New Hampshire Antiques Show in August. Nantucket, Mass., dealers Jack and Ciara Fritsch handled their own stand as well as one for their colleague Nina Hellman, detained on island as she and her husband, Bob, settle into new quarters and resolve the disposition of Bob’s outstanding whaling collection. In a note to show patrons, Hellman wrote that, while it would be the couple’s preference to keep the collection intact, “We are working with several museums that will be the beneficiaries of some of the objects.” The Hellmans intend to preserve a record of the collection online for scholarly purposes.
Following the show’s close, enthusiasts stayed for a keynote presentation by authority Stuart M. Frank on the John F. Kennedy scrimshaw collection. Other notable presentations included Judith N. Lund’s discussion of American offshore whaling voyages and a review of scrimshaw in Tasmania by Hobart, Australia, collector Colin S. Thomas.
As in past years, Andrew Jacobson reviewed scrimshaw sales over the past year, analyzing confirmed sales prices by dealer John Rinaldi and at Eldred’s and Raphael Osona, who have been auctioning the Mittler and Memishian collections. Given the volume of material for sale, the market is remarkably resilient, Jacobson said. As the Hamilton, Mass., dealer and appraiser put it, “Since last May, good to great material has come to market without let up. There has been almost too much to absorb. Once again, selectivity has been the rule. This has produced seemingly high prices balanced by bargains. There have been some fine opportunities for the alert consumer.”
With the Mittler collection, he said, “the highs countered the lows, resulting in a positive to break-even event” relative to the collector’s initial investment. Eldred’s third and final installment of the Mittler collection is scheduled for July 20.
Jacobson published his findings in Scrimshaw Observer, the newsletter of the Antique Scrimshaw Collectors Association. For more on joining this group dedicated to education and legislative advocacy, visit www.antiquescrimshawcollectors.org.
For more on the Nautical Antiques Show and Scrimshaw Weekend, www.whalingmuseum.org.
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