Published: July 29, 2003
Taking place in June, the Summer Olympia Fine Art and Antiques Fair has established itself over the last three decades as an important event on England’s antiques calendar. With nearly 400 dealers offering a range of furniture, paintings, porcelain, glass, silver and jewelry – with a dateline of antiquities to postwar design, and every object vetted by a team of experts to ensure authenticity and accuracy of description – it has also become a business bellwether for the art and antiques trade.
Conventional wisdom holds that Summer Olympia is a good indicator of how profitable the previous year has been, and can predict the success of the following year for the antiques business. And with good reason. The ten-day fair attracts international trade and retail buyers, including a loyal following of influential collectors and dec- orators whose buying patterns do indeed reflect the recent past and immediate future of the industry.
There is no doubt that a recent difficult economy coupled with terrorism fears has led to a general downturn in the art and antiques world; there has hardly been an aspect of the trade that has not been negatively affected by the ripple effect of the decline. Despite its longevity and strong track record, Olympia is no exception. As with many 2002 fairs, if not most, that year’s postshow reflected both the reduced attendance and greater number of dealers reporting fewer sales than in the past. Mindful of this trend, Olympia organizers, Clarion Events realized the importance of changing that pattern.
“Our research has shown that a new market is developing for antiques; it’s younger, style-conscious, and not restricted to buying from one period,” said Dan Gorton, Olympia Fair director. He continued, “I think it’s time we cater to the increasing influence of interior design on the antiques scene.”
Building on these statistics in tandem with some existing structural changes begun last year, this most recent Olympia Fair broke new ground with a modern, streamlined look, a simplified, expanded layout and extended datelines. The show’s long-time tagline “Olympia, Something for Everyone” was replaced by “Olympia, Discover Something New.” The result: a “new” stylish, updated Summer Olympia Fair, which ran successfully from June 5 to 15.
While attendance was down about five percent from last year, with a count of 33,500 visitors, it was tempered by a significant return of American and Continental trade buyers. Dealers said clients were spending again, an opinion underscored by the two shippers on site at the fair, who both reported an increase in business.
Always competitive, many Olympia dealers spend the preceding year sourcing the best and saving it specifically for Olympia, leading to high expectations for both buyers and sellers. Despite talk of spotty sales and tired (even occasionally retired) inventory being trotted out by dealers, healthy sales and exceeded expectations were reported by others.
J. Roger (Antiques) Ltd, a private London dealer specializing in Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Century furniture, typifies the dealer contingent pleased with business, citing steady sales and overall satisfaction with the fair. She sold a Regency bookcase, circa 1815, to Oprah Winfrey, a celebrity for whom this is a new area of collecting. Winfrey spent two additional days exploring her new field of interest and purchasing several pieces of Regency period furniture.
Craig Carrington, a private dealer from Gloucestershire, clearly counts himself among those whose sales exceeded expectations, with a sold count of 80 rdf_Descriptions ranging from $750 to $75,000. David Hansord and Son, specialists in Eighteenth Century clocks and furniture, sold so well to American clients that replacement stock had to be brought from his Lincolnshire base, and 50 percent of that sold too.
Jan Van Den Bosch, Camden Passage dealers in fine silver and jewelry from the Skonvirke, Jugendstil and Art Nouveau movements, had their best fair ever; Eighteenth Century furniture dealers from Kent, Freeman & Lloyd, claimed their best fair in more than two years, and London sculpture dealer Robert Bowman’s numerous sales included a Rodin bronze.
Van Gelder Indian Jewelry Baroque Pearls, The Netherlands, sold several Indian Nineteenth Century bracelets in 20 carat enameled gold heavily set with rubies, diamonds and emeralds. Their most expensive sale took place in the final minutes of the fair’s last day with the purchase of a major necklace by an American buyer who had seen their booth on previous Olympia visits but had never bought from them.
Others delighted with the new Olympia include first-time Dutch exhibitors Vanderven and Vanderven Oriental Art, who had a number of major sales including a Tang dynasty (618-908) horse at $110,000, and a substantial and significant camel with riders from the same Tang period for $230,000.
Positive reports also came in from Belgian dealer Yannick David, who sold “La Republique,” an 1883 oil on canvas by Charles Giron, for a very significant sum, and Julian Simon with sales of 11 Nineteenth Century paintings, including an important sporting work. Among Mallett Gallery’s sales was an ivory and ebony center table, and Jeremy Knowles, dealer in Indian works of art, was pleased and surprised to find several new clients interested in his specialized market. His sales, largely to British private buyers, included three large Tenth Century Indian sculptures and two pairs of carved Indian screens.
However, although times will likely change for the better, opinions are mixed and a clear consensus is not yet on the horizon. Predictably, Olympia Fair director Gorton joins the optimistic camp, stating, “I am delighted with the changes; the response to the new layout has met with unanimous approval from public and dealers alike. I consider it a good omen for 2004.”
Fair chairman Leslie Weller concludes, “Many important private and trade clients were seen for the first time in two years. This increase in overseas buyers is extremely encouraging for Olympia and the antiques trade overall.”
In addition to a business forecast of sunny days ahead, Summer Olympia saw little rain, exceptionally dry warm weather and some of the hottest June days on record in London. There is, indeed, something new under the sun.
The next Summer Olympia Fair takes place in London on June 3 to 13, 2004. For information, 207-370-8211 or www.olympia-antiques.co.uk.
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