Published: January 16, 2007
Operations at this Newark airport are not affected by fog, the New Jersey Turnpike or even airplanes coming and going. Formerly, the Swinderby Airbase was for training the Royal Air Force of England; today it is an exhibition grounds, a place for Arthur Swallow Fairs to have its huge antiques and collectors fairs each year.
Now more than 3,000 dealer spaces are marked out in big marquees (tents), small tents and even out in the open along the old runways. It is the site with access from the major highways and shuttle buses from the Newark train station in this Nottinghamshire area. It is in the north of the United Kingdom where customers coming from around the world congregate for just two days to buy early English and European antiques. Furniture, household objects and even some personal accessories and jewelry were there in great abundance.
For the latest gathering, show days were Tuesday and Wednesday, December 5–6; the dealers began their assembly in the outer reaches of the airfield early Monday morning, December 4. By 11 am there were about 2,000 vehicles on three lines waiting to be let into the show areas for setup. This gathering was delayed for a short time, however, for on Sunday, record high winds blew down 11 tents that had to reerected by showtime.
The dealers were not to be deterred; while in the lines they began trading. A Dorset, Vt., dealer was pleased to report finding a large quantity of antiques for her inventory; an Irish furniture dealer reported selling five major pieces and many others had good sales.
Shortly after noon the then-swollen lines of cars, trucks, vans, campers and tractor trailer rigs were released to move to their spaces. This drive was something like a Keystone Cops silent movie, but with plenty of noise. An airport is flat whether paved or not so the drivers, all of whom knew their places, pulled out of the lines as soon as they could and took the shortest route to their space. Driving was chaotic and pedestrians had to keep a sharp eye to the oncoming traffic from many directions; the good part of this was the speed was slow so it looked more threatening than it actually was.
After the first 20 to 30 minutes most exhibiting dealers were unloading their collections and selling began among the several thousand people visiting their competition. The offerings were so vast that with just exhibiting dealers on the field that day all those great early deals were still there the next morning.
Among those who unloaded first was Steven Dochert from Montrose, Scotland, with more furniture than would fit into his tent. Promptly he began to make deals with several dealers, including two from New Hampshire and Florida. These buyers found good deals in a painted stand in one case and a chest of drawers in the other.
In a nearby tent, Diane Baxter and Keith Benbow from Northumberland were setting out their collection of small household items. Baxter offered two silhouettes painted in black on black on white paper. From about 1800 they were priced at $136. In England the US dollar is not accepted, so American buyers exchange dollars for pounds at nearby ATMs, banks or currency exchanges before coming to the shows. The rate of exchange in early December was fluctuating from $1.96 to $2.04 for the pound, so for this report, the selling dealer’s price is listed at the exchange rate of $2.
Just beyond Baxter and Benbow, Derek from Suffolk was offering a collection of early brass and glass items. Horse brasses were from the Nineteenth Century with prices ranging from $6 to as much as $30 each. He said the value variation was based upon the rarity and condition of each brass as well as the age.
Neal and Joy Airey, North Nottinghamshire, are specialists in barometers. In the Twentieth Century these delicate instruments were of much diminished importance but in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries they were the only scientific instrument that gave some indication of weather changes. They became a status symbol for the affluent farm owner; barometers were made to show off as well as to give a window on the weather, and the Aireys collect, restore and trade these instruments.
The fair has a very diverse collection of offerings. Cottage Collectables is a dealer of early scales, the kind used in farmers’ markets and grocery stores 100 or more years ago. This West Yorkshire dealer had walls in its tented space filled with the scales.
Fine English furniture from the Georgian period was Hubbard Antiques’ inventory. This Ipswich dealer was offering a very well made desk with inlays and fall front for “a couple thousand [$4,000].” Pine furniture was the principal ingredient in Hazel Leatherbarows’ inventory. From nearby Leek, Staffordshire, she said her collection was from the north and west, with most showing the bare pine in a waxed finish.
William Pocock shared his large tent with two other dealers offering collections of silver flatware and hollow ware, most of it in boxed sets. There was also a large array of early English porcelain and some soft paste dishes. These dealers were from Halifax, Yorkshire, which is farther north of the show area. Peter Hanson, County Durham, was offering a large assortment of small things — salesman’s samples of furniture and even a hand powered washer complete with wash stick.
Many of these dealers from “The North” as the region is known, think that shows are the most important medium for selling their collections. One dealer’s opinion — shared by several others — was “the South has the shops, but there is not enough visitor traffic in the North to keep a shop, so we sell here. This show and the others in the area draw customers and then I don’t have to keep a shop open.”
Many of the dealers at the show also attend the Newark International Show conducted later in the week. They seem to identify with the Swinderby show’s owners, Peter and Heather Burgoin, however, who are former dealers themselves. In fact, only because of the enormous work load at this show have they stopped setting up to sell. They still talk like dealers and in fact admit to missing the selling fun.
Arthur Swallow Fairs runs six times each year. For information, www.arthurswallowfairs.co.uk or 1298 27493
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
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