Published: March 19, 2002
By Steve Sundlof
NEW YORK CITY They are austere at best, but convey a unique venue of what New Yorkers would term as quirky. Where taxis discharge their contents, there is normalcy – glance down the side of each pier on your journey, and you will probably quicken your step wondering why these piers still stand.
But stand they do, providing three distinct corridors of antiques and collectibles. Pier 88 presents all that is deco; Moderne, industrial design and many displays are punctuated by aluminum, chrome and color – lots of color. Pier 90 features furniture, folk art, architectural finds, Arts & Crafts rdf_Descriptions, advertising and World’s Fair memorabilia. Pier 92 showcases formal furniture, art glass, silver, ceramics, jewelry and focuses on the decorator side of antiques. Each pier crosses over the myriad of styles and cannot be defined exactly, but generally, the majority of booths fit these categories.
David Rago of David Rago Auctions, Lambertville, N.J., stated, “The Pier Show is a ‘home base’ event for us so we tend to do well there. Attendance was terrific. I can’t say there were more buyers than usual, but we had a strong crowd for much of Saturday and hear the line on Saturday morning stretched to Pier 88.
“We had merchandise that was just OK, meaning there were some very nice pieces and a fair amount of tired ones. In spite of this, we had an excellent selling show. As usual, there weren’t many furniture buyers – at least for Arts and Crafts – and we didn’t sell a stick of it. But we had many moderately priced sales of decorative smalls, mostly art pottery and art tile.”
Rago added, “Our largest sale was of an unusual and heavily manipulated George Ohr bisque vase for $4,500. We also sold a Mary Davenport Ford squirrel sculpture for $3,000. Most of our other sales, however, averaged no more than about $1,000 each. Nevertheless, it added up to a very good show and one of our best in the last five years at the pier. We’ve been doing that show since the first year, about 20 years ago.
“The mood of the buyers was very upbeat and it would have been difficult to find it reflective of a down market. The only talk of that I heard was from a number of other dealers who had ‘OK’ shows, but nothing exceptional and probably a bit less than they had expected,” he continued.
“The huge crowd that apparently attended Irene’s Stella show in January at the Pier might have set some unreal expectations. As for the Pier, I still see it as the premier facility for a fine quality, upper-middle range antiques show in Manhattan. In fact, exhibitor dollar for dollar, nothing else comes close.”
Rago concluded, “The one-day set-up also allows for good buys to remain on the floor because most dealers are more busy setting up than they are with pre-show shopping. This has been another Stella show trademark since the days at the Meadowlands racetrack. I think buyers know this and it keeps them coming back with the anticipation of doing some buying. I think Stella management runs a superior operation and, after 25 years of doing shows with them, they seem the most dealer-friendly in the trade.”
In a great marketing strategy, Harry Greenberger of Riverdale, N.Y., sent out emails to his customers giving them a glimpse of what he planned to offer for the Triple Pier Show. Greenberger’s email stated, “‘All Polished and Prepped,’ a highlight of the March 2-3 show will be an extensive collection of American hammered aluminum, rare aluminum side tables and servers by the well-known makers Wendell August Forge, World and Everlast.
“Handwrought and artful, these perfectly scaled tables store easily and require little maintenance making them both beautiful and practical for modern living. A dramatic collection of over forty hammered aluminum water pitchers will create a backdrop for the tables. With little applied decoration, these pitchers exhibit a wide range of forms, proportions and designs demonstrating the vast creativity of American metalsmiths.”
Greenberger continued, “Another group of hammered aluminum will show assorted objects from the premier aluminum makers Arthur Armour and Wendell August Forge that all share the same decorative motif. One example from Arthur Armour has eight rdf_Descriptions from a trivet to a magazine rack, all decorated with his famous ‘World Map’ pattern. More surprises will include a space age baker for one potato, streamlined coolers for a hot cup of coffee, architectural oven roasters and wildly styled teakettles. Objects for the home have always reflected the era.”
Marco Astrologo of S.P.Q.R. Lamps & Antiques Unlimited, Elkins Park, Penn., stated, “Since the happening at the World Trade Center, the attendance at all the antique shows was limited to the few usual dealers and buyers. It seems that the confidence in the economy is back and the attendance was beyond expectations at this Pier Show. We have seen an enormous amount of customers that have never been at the show before with good knowledge of the rdf_Descriptions exhibited and money to spend. My personal experience with this particular show has been most successful.”
Astrologo added, “After I sold a small Tiffany lamp, I had three different customers that came back to buy it but it was too late. One of the customers asked me the name of the buyer so he could contact him and buy back the lamp from him. I think the confidence in this market is growing bigger and bigger and soon enough we will be back to where it should be. I am the largest Tiffany desk set dealer on the East Coast and my display of over 300 rdf_Descriptions on the table was very impressive and many customers not familiar with this kind of merchandise were extremely curious to know the origins and history of the world-renown Tiffany.
“At the beginning of the show while we were setting up the booth I bought from another dealer a magnificent Tiffany lamp base. At the end of the show, the base had already changed hands four times ending up in the collection of a prominent Japanese collector. He was extremely happy with his purchase and he said that the price he paid was extremely reasonable.”
Astrologo concluded, “Certainly, the organizer of the Pier, Stella Show Mgmt. Co., did a marvelous job as usual in order to facilitate the setting and the closing of the show. Everything was nice and smooth with plenty of space to move and also many customers were happy with the convenience of transportation from the Pier to Midtown.”
Richard Suydam of Lahaska, Penn., reflected, “As usual, Stella’s staff was focused and performed beautifully throughout the show. From a dealer’s viewpoint they are super to work with. Neat rdf_Descriptions displayed were an automaton store display from the 1920s and a good selection of cast-iron architectural banks, country furniture and paintings and prints. Country furniture was absolutely dead in the water and what I saw selling was mostly newer decorator furniture and lamps and mirrors seemed hot.
“Disappointingly, there was way too much new stuff in many categories on Pier 90. If there is one area in which the Stella show could be improved on, it is policing the show for reproductions and fakes. Show attendance seemed off on Saturday with fewer shoppers and less sales. Sunday the attendance seemed higher and there was much more energy and sales on the floor.”
Suydam ended by saying, “Don’t think the buyer’s confidence is there yet… In fact there was a lot of ‘let me think about it for awhile,’ and they are still thinking! I only had one sale that would fall into the impulse buying category, not like the norm at the Piers. If they ever get the construction at the piers done it will be a vast improvement. The pier management still needs to do something to eliminate the sun glare on the right side. Impossible to see into some booths!”
Bunny Brogdon of Round Ends Farms Antiques, Stanton, N.J., reflected, “We had consistent traffic throughout the show with lots of attention to our theme of ‘red.’ It takes a few years of buying to bring together a color theme booth that makes sense. And ‘red’ is always our best received. Gate attendance felt good as we had almost constant traffic into our booth, with a line developing sometimes.
“We sold a number of our handmade wooden rdf_Descriptions like shelves, string holders, etc. We sold out of stuffed bunnies and sold several cast-iron doorstops. The most unique object displayed was ‘the bomb,’ sold to a gentleman from Connecticut who is putting it in a museum. It’s not really a bomb, but was a folk art piece – red and white, of course, or it wouldn’t have been in the show – that was made of tin and stood over five feet tall and looked like a torpedo with a point at the top. True Americana funk.”
Replying to the question of buyers’ confidence returning to normal, Brogdon continued, “I’ve honestly not seen it faltering. We did the Long Valley Antiques show in New Jersey the weekend before and it was our best Long Valley show ever. This past week on the Pier was a real success. I know that some people are having it tough, but we’ve been at the same level of sales or better ever since 9/11. Our weak shows were last summer – they were awful, so I would have to say ‘YES’ that sales are much better than the summer of 2001. When we did Atlantic City in October 2001, we also had a good show.”
Ira and Miriam Raskin of Bethesda, Md., stated, “Thanks to great advertising, the Pier Show on March 2-3 was well attended. Buyers were on hand throughout both days. We actually sold more on Sunday than on Saturday, an unusual occurrence for us at this show. Key rdf_Descriptions displayed and sold were a pair of seven-foot screens with delightful Deco design selling on Sunday, books and magazines from the 1930s-1960s, a Fox print, a streamlined chess set, and Scandinavian serving pieces.
“We sell an eclectic assortment of functional nostalgia, and there was demand for our entire range of merchandise. The most unique object displayed was a brass cylinder that was to be used for leaving a last message for the deceased within the coffin. The cylinder was in a box and never used, and was provided by a casket company. We got a lot of questions on this rdf_Description and sold it on Sunday.”
Ira continued, “The buyers seemed to evince a mix of enthusiasm and continued caution. This is reasonable in light of the difficult emotional and economic problems experienced by New Yorkers and the rest of the US. Yet, there was interest in learning more about what we sell, delight in our candy available for those who walk the distance to our booth, and promise of new customers at future shows.
“We enjoyed providing early printed versions of the Aida score to a member of the current Broadway show. Set-up and packout were fairly easy and timely despite ongoing construction at the Piers and the loss of an elevator on Pier 88. Stella’s staff does a great job despite these obstacles.”
Ira reflected, “After doing so many shows at the Piers, one tends to get used to some of the peculiarities of this show setting. Certainly the concrete floors are uncomfortable, the bathrooms are less than appealing, and construction residua are problematic barriers. Yet, the appeal of New York, the taste treats of its restaurants, the appearance and manners of its buying public, and the attendance at the show make this an exciting event. Also, the opportunity to revisit our home town and family make this a great show and the facility a minor problem.”
Kenneth Stern of 20th Century Scandinavian Design, New York City, always has a stellar display of ceramics, glass, wood and artwork by the masters of Twentieth Century Scandinavian Design including works by Friberg, Kåge, Lindberg, Salto Nordström, Wirkkala and Lundin. He commented, “The gate appeared to be down and there was a feeling of inertia. Perhaps it was too soon after the January show, which attracted a huge crowd in a buying mood. Most people I talked to were slightly disappointed; buyers are still cautious.”
Stern concluded, “Nonetheless, the Triple Pier Show continues to be a major venue for antiques in the city. Hopefully, things will improve for the fall season. There are definite signs that people are responding to the slightest upturn in the economy. Antiques are perhaps the front line of consumer confidence, and there is no better place to demonstrate their confidence then at the Triple Pier Show.”
Joseph Cantara of Bayside, N.Y., responded, “I exhibited at Pier 88 and believed the crowd was thin; not at all like the last Pier. I sold mostly 50s rdf_Descriptions with several sales of Fornasetti objects. Traditionally the first weekend in the spring is slower than the second weekend. There were more lookers than buyers and I think you will find that opinion across the board.”
Cantara added, “From what I understand, business at 88, which is more Deco and 50s rdf_Descriptions, was better than at 92, which had more traditional stuff. In talking with other dealers, those who dealt in high-end rdf_Descriptions with names such as Tiffany did well. Again, people seem to have more confidence in rdf_Descriptions with a proven track record of appreciation, such as Tiffany. I picked up several new customers at the show; it was quite successful for me. Setup was a breeze, but breakdown a nightmare; a combination of construction in front of Pier 92 as well as new porters unfamiliar with the layout and system added to a delayed break down.”
Jeff Bridgman of York County, Penn., said, “Although attendance was a bit lighter than usual and the energy seemed slightly muted, I had a fantastic show and sold some of my best things. My favorite was a fabulous pair of American child’s pastel portraits that I sold to a client from Great Britain. He was ecstatic, and was taking them to the British Museum to be conserved and for minor repairs. I sold a number of Nineteenth Century American flags, including a great Centennial example with hand-sewn stars in a wreath pattern. I also sold a wonderful country make-do settee in black paint that came off a camp on Lake Champlain and was made in the mid-Nineteenth Century.
“Stella Show Mgmt. Co. always does a great job of getting me the right customers in New York, and I regret that there are no shows for me there until October. My only negative comment would concern the horrible nightmare that has developed during load-in and load-out. It used to be very smooth, but it’s now a task that is certainly not for the meek. This time I arrived at 10:15 am – upon the advice of Stella Shows to avoid the early morning jam – but even so I did not get on the elevators until noon, and setup ended at 5 pm: I challenge anyone to do what I do there alone in five hours. I hope they can do something to fix what has become a very difficult setup.”
Jim Elkind Lost City Arts, New York City, believed, “The show was lacking the immediacy that usually accompanies the opening of the Pier show. Normally, the customers run into the Pier like lemmings to the sea. I always wondered what could be so interesting at the rear of the Pier. People were not elbow to elbow in the isles, as we as dealers have experienced with prior Pier shows.
“Furniture sales were quieter than usual. It seemed that people wanted to indulge and buy, but when push came to shove, they were reluctant to actually purchase tickets. Price sensitivity definitely was an issue. We sold mostly decorative objects and smaller proportioned furniture. In all, there seemed to be a somber quality to the show.”
Roy Mennell of The Bradford Trust, Harwich Port, Mass., reflected, “While the attendance was half or less than the January Antiques on the Pier, there were dedicated art buyers and our sales were right up there with a very successful January show. With back-to-back ‘wow’ shows we feel the market for 2002 seems to be in great shape. We were most pleased to see collectors, dealers, decorators and even a motion picture company all out there buying our artworks. A first for us is supplying art for a motion picture set. Can’t wait to see the movie. We do not know why the market has returned but we are thankful. Perhaps people can only not buy for so long.”
Bill and Pat Huestis of Mountain Thistle Antiques, Ridgewood, N.J., summarized their weekend, “The Pier was a great show for us – our best Pier ever. I felt we benefited from the recent reduction in the number of shows in NYC due to September 11. There definitely seemed to be pent up demand for good quality rdf_Descriptions. We sold a varied mix of merchandise at all price points.
“Our favorite sale was a wonderful Venetian glass wisteria lamp. One couple looked at it and left. A second couple came into the booth and was looking at it when the first couple returned to buy it. The second couple, completely oblivious to the other couple, debated long and hard with much discussion amongst themselves and with us about the lamp. The original couple was having fits until the other pair left to debate the purchase privately. Couple number one immediately purchased the vase with great relief.”
Concluding they noted, “We also sold a great deal of Shelley china. Stella Shows did their usual fine job promoting the show and delivering a large interested audience. Pack-in and load-out went smoothly. Our experience in 2002 has been very, very encouraging, as all of our shows so far have been the best of venue ever for us. We feel that the public is very interested in buying. Perhaps, we’re benefiting from the ‘stay home’ philosophy that many people have embraced in the aftermath of September 11. While they may forgo that trip to Europe or the islands or wherever, they are doing other things like buying a nice antique to make themselves feel good about themselves and life in general. And why not, the last six months have been trying for everyone to say the least.”
Susan and Jim Harran of A Moment in Time are specialists in English and Continental porcelains and have literally written the book (actually three of them), Collectible Cups and Saucers Book I and II and the newly released, Dresden Porcelain Studios. Susan comments, “We had a very good show. The gate was down slightly from shows in the past; most noticeably missing were some of the foreign dealers, i.e., Japan, Italy and Germany.
“The majority of our sales were middle to high-end antique cups and saucers. We also were happy to sell a number of our brand new book, Dresden Porcelain Studios, published by Collector Books. We sold two covered chocolate cups and saucers, one a Capodimonte with a cupid on the finial of the lid and a rare French trembleuse.
“We also sold two Dresden framed paintings on porcelain of children by the famous artist Franz Till. Yes, we are seeing buyers’ confidence returning. Outside of the absence of the foreign dealers, business was as usual. We actually did a little better than last year’s March show. We think the Triple Pier is one of the top quality shows in the East Coast.”
The first weekend of the Triple Pier Show closed to a smaller than anticipated crowd buying fewer antiques than the Antiques at the Piers (January 26-27). At this time of year shows come fast and furious and like the recent Leonid Meteor showers, sometimes you’re not really sure where to look. Many dealers stated there are too many choices for buyers to make, though the resounding phrase was that buyers are ALWAYS looking for quality rdf_Descriptions. Some dealers believe that antiques are the new vehicle to place money into, a less risky gamble than the stock market.
It will be interesting to see the effects of the Dow climbing back to 10,500 during the week of March 11-15. Will people buy fewer antiques, again placing their confidences in the stock market or will the shows prosper because buyers finally are having returns on their investments and feel they can spend money after waiting for six months?
No one knows, of course, but it is always interesting to try to quantify something that perhaps will never be statistically cornered. Too many factors, too much speculation.
What awaits or is uncertain is part of the thrill of collecting and the Piers will continue to provide a place to meet old friends, seek out great deals and realize what a great show really does for the psyche.
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