Published: February 1, 2011
Showgoers were glad to enter the lobby at the Passenger Ship Terminal’s Pier 92 for the 9 am opening of Stella Show Mgmt Co.’s Americana & Antiques @ The Pier on January 22. Not only did it offer a refuge from the bone-chilling cold gripping the city that weekend, but it also led to the myriad treasures waiting inside to warm the heart of any collector or dealer in town for Americana Week.
This two-day event, one of two shows the Stella organization runs during this important week in Manhattan (see review of the Antiques at the Armory Show elsewhere in this issue), fittingly has an Americana focus, but it is also rife with dealers specializing in silver, fine art, textiles, lighting, jewelry and Modern design. “Gates at both shows were slightly down, about 5 percent, which we attribute to the extreme weather,” said Irene Stella, contacted after Americana Week closed. “Both had happy dealers.”
New for this show was a twist on a proven Stella formula †a concentration of dealers offering antiquarian books and ephemera †dubbed “Book Alley.”
Getting to this paper-chaser’s paradise entailed walking the length of the pier, as the nearly two dozen exhibitors displaying this kind of merchandise were gathered together at the café end of the floor plan. Not to worry, observed Bruce Gventer, an antiquarian book and ephemera dealer from South Egremont, Mass. He pointed out that there were more people at this show than at most book fairs. “The cross-section of customers was impressive,” he said. “I met some great new contacts from libraries and museums. I know that others, too, made many new contacts in their fields.”
Gventer said there was a lot of interest in his selection of illustrated manuscripts about Buddha. He sold both Renaissance manuscript pages and pages with exotic scripts in Hebrew, Coptic, African, Sanskrit and Tibetan. “As in the past three years, the most active section of my booth was erotic photos and books,” he added.
On the way to Book Alley, Stella show organizers presented 200 dealers with a dizzying variety of wares. One of the most warm and visually compelling booths at the front of the show was the one decorated by Mark Foster & Nattley Veenstra of Yardley, Penn. Filled with decorations, lighting, paintings, export porcelain and accessories, the setting worked its magic and the couple sold about a third of what they had brought to the show. “The show for us was good, not extraordinary, but good nonetheless, and Nattley and I are quite thankful,” said Foster.
Going out the door were a silk upholstered screen from Newport, R.I, circa 1885‱900, to a couple from upstate New York, a green mercury kugel and Chinese cloisonné duck-form candelabra, circa 1880, and a late Federal mirror, among other items. “Furniture was a bit soft, as expected, although we did sell a pair of chairs and a few small tables to two separate design coordinators from Polo/Ralph Lauren,” added Foster. “We do have interest in other pieces, so we’ll see what happens.”
Founded in London in 1875, the name of Liberty is synonymous with Art Nouveau ornaments and Arts and Crafts furniture. Employing high-caliber designers of the day like William Morris, Archibald Knox and Leonard Wyburd, Arthur Lasenby Liberty created iconic originals that drew their inspiration from all four corners of the globe. Such were the qualities of a Liberty of London hanging wall cabinet displayed in the booth of Flora Haller, owner of Antique Trails, Chappaqua, N.Y. It sold early on the first day of the show. “Two dealers asked me, ‘Where did you get it?'” said Haller, who noted that the piece †exhibiting both Arts and Crafts design sensibilities as well as Art Nouveau-style colored tile inserts †had been featured in Liberty’s 1903‱905 catalog.
Another rarity in the booth was a set of nesting spice canisters, circa 1868, from Newark, N.J. Missing one of the smaller canisters, the surviving set retained six of the smaller sizes and one large one and exhibited crisp detail in the painted floral design. Already pleased with her outing at that point in the show, Haller said she had also sold planters and frames.
Americana is abundant at this show. South Road Antiques of New York City brought a game table out of a Maine camp from the 1940s with great original painted surface and legs. Mounted museum-style was a Nineteenth Century brass horse harness with bells, which rested on a Nineteenth Century 15-drawer apothecary chest, and above these loomed the spooky visage of a lion in the form of a Nineteenth Century painting in a wonderfully carved and gilt frame.
Firehouse Antiques Center, Galena, Md., offered a Nineteenth Century sternboard folk art carved pine eagle that had been made for the ship Little Eagle from Ossabaw Island, Ga. Adding further whimsical splash to the dealer’s space was a pair of female swimsuit mannequins from the early Twentieth Century, their fiberglass, chrome and paint figures in middive, possibly advertising the Jantzen brand.
“There’s a lot of energy on the floor,” said Ed Miller, who with wife Lillian was taking the pulse of the show around midday on Saturday. The Millers, owners of Pioneer Folk Antiques, Ellsworth, Maine, had by that time already sold a museum-style mounted vintage woman’s bathing suit, doll torso molds from a Brooklyn, N.Y., factory, circa 1930s, and a piano bench. Like South Road, they had a folky lion †two actually †in a 1920s painting that had just been cleaned and professionally mounted.
Crisp Black Forest carvings were showcased by Bill and Trish Huestis, along with barometers, canes and decorative accessories. Doing business as Mountain Thistle Antiques, the Waynesboro, Va., couple displayed a hand carved Black Forest humidor comprising a whimsical mama and baby bear next to a hand carved Black Forest mirror they had bought in England. Both pieces dated from about 1880‱890. An inkwell and desk set in the form of two wonderfully carved dogs was inside a showcase, and also on view was a schnapps decanter with six glasses. Contacted after the show, the Huestises reported an excellent result.
“The crowd was very different from the normal Pier crowd, probably due to the influx of out-of-towners in New York City for Americana Week,” said Bill. “They were serious buyers and showed interest in a variety of items. We sold across the board, with an exceptional Black Forest item sale and a very good corkscrew sale.” The corkscrew was a rare French single-lever example dating to the mid-Eighteenth Century. “It’s the only one I’ve ever seen,” noted the dealer. The Black Forest item was a wonderfully carved rabbit crop hook with chamois legs.
The gleam emanating from the mid-400 aisle came from the down-lighting reflected off the curvaceous surfaces of French copper on display by Jerry and Janice Bonk. The Hellertown, Penn., couple, known by their trade name Bonkey’s Treasures and Wonderful Finds, had a pleasing lineup of the all vintage wares dating from the mid- to late 1800s. Forms included a cassoulet pan fitted with a special welled top, a deep whipping bowl and a milk carrier designed to be carried “sur-la-tete” by a milkmaid. European deer skulls, some bleached and others painted, were displayed on mounts above the copperware, and nearby a wheel pattern mold made for an arresting display.
Invariably, some dealers find that slow action during the show itself does not preclude postshow interest and sales. Case in point is Elinor Penna, an Old Westbury, N.Y., dealer specializing in Staffordshire. “A very pretty young woman came into my booth, saw my pair of rare Staffordshire camels; took a photo with her phone and sent it to her mother in California,” related Penna after the show. “When I got home, there was a phone message from the mother, who bought the camels.”
A highlight in Penna’s booth was an assembled set of 12 numbered Staffordshire dogs, circa 1885 †the rare ones with eyebrows †ranging from “1,” the largest, to “6,” the smallest. And although she did not sell them during the show, when she returned home, there was another message †”A lady who has three pairs of dogs from my set of 12, and wants to buy the other three pairs as she can afford them.”
Vintage jewelry is always a staple category at Stella’s shows and this was no exception. Among the dealers offering timeless as well as stylish baubles was What Was Is Vintage, operated by Judy and Neal Bergman of Merrick, N.Y. “As first-timers at this January show, it went very well for us,” said Judy Bergman. “Crowds were steady and buying on Saturday. All of our shows these last six months have been up about 20 percent. I think people are a little more willing to spend and not as frightened as they have been in the last two years, at least in terms of buying something for themselves, such as jewelry or small collectibles. Dealers were buying as well, which is always a good sign. If they’re not selling, they don’t buy.”
The Bergmans, who also deal in vintage clothing and small collectibles, had eight cases of jewelry, two cases of smalls and a smattering of Deco and Victorian collectibles. “I sold from each case, as well as other collectibles,” said Judy Bergman. “I had multiple sales in designer, Modernist and Bakelite jewelry, with much interest in everything else. All in all, we were pleasantly surprised and hope to do the January show again.”
Back in Book Alley, Kuenzig Books & Antiques, Topsfield, Mass., sprinkled some interesting early scientific gear among its books. Said owner John Kuenzig, “We had a very good show, with strong sales both in books and scientific instruments. The show was professionally managed and well attended. We had individual sales in the $8-to-$1,000 range, with sales of microscopes, medical devices and an Eighteenth Century microscopy treatise among others. Book Alley by most accounts was well received, and we plan to exhibit next year.”
That sentiment was echoed by Gventer, who said, “I like the Book Alley concept at the January Pier show.”
“Book Alley was a big success,” said Irene Stella. “We had people stopping into the show office all day saying how much they liked it and emails from customers after the show. We cannot repeat it in March because of a competing book show for which many dealers are signed up. But the book dealers loved it and are all planning to do it again next January.”
Stella’s next Pier event will be The Pier Antiques Show March 12‱3 at Pier 94. For information, 973-808-5015 or www.stellashows.com .
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