Dealers love the Delaware Antiques Show. Why not? It is beautiful, boasts some of the most prominent names in the business, and sets up in a sleek new exhibition center offering easy set up, loads of parking space and convenient access from I-95. Best of all, perhaps, dealers enjoy interacting with curators, fellows and patrons of Winterthur Museum, the show’s owner and beneficiary.
The 44th Delaware Antiques Show got underway at the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington November 8‱1. Winterthur spokesman Hillary Holland put the gate at 2,600 through the weekend. More than 400 people attended the Thursday evening preview party, a bubbly affair combining a Caribbean steel drum band with Chinese appetizers. Sales were slow on opening night, which dealers say is typical here.
Tom Savage, a fixture in the decorative arts field and Winterthur’s director of museum affairs, is the museum’s new point man for the charity show. Savage wooed celebrity decorator Bunny Williams down to Wilmington to talk about her new book, Point of View: Three Decades of Decorating Elegant and Comfortable Houses . The Friday morning program was standing room only.
“Tom will have to pull another Bunny out of his hat next year,” quipped Delaware Antiques Show chairman Susie MacDonnell.
With 62 exhibitors, the show is big, too big in the opinion of some dealers, who think that 50‵5 exhibitors would be optimal. Marilyn Gould, the show’s manager since it moved to the Chase Center nearly a decade ago, disagrees. She favors a larger, more diversified fair with less repetition and more color and variety.
Gould brought about 40 percent of the current exhibitors on board. Striving to appeal to younger audiences and different tastes, she widened the fair again this year with the inclusion of Dalton’s American Decorative Arts, a noted specialist in American Arts & Crafts furniture and design; George Subkoff, whose eclectic inventory is rich in Continental furniture, otherwise scarce on the floor; folk art favorites Stephen Corrigan and Douglas Jackman from Vermont and Charles Wilson from Pennsylvania; and Leah Gordon, whose saucy selection ranged from vintage Mexican silver to Midcentury Modern designer jewelry.
The Delaware Antiques Show remains a welcome haven for classicists, a place where collectors enjoy an ample array of Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Century American furniture, silver, painting and textiles; English pottery; and Chinese porcelain. It seems appropriate that this show be keyed to Winterthur’s core collection strengths and the traditional, slightly Southern flavor of the Mid-Atlantic area’s architecture and interior design.
A 300-point drop in the stock market preceded the preview party, causing exhibitors to wonder if sales might have been better had the economic news been better. Furniture nevertheless sold well, provided that it was moderately, or at least competitively, priced.
New Hampshire dealer George Spiecker generally does well in Delaware. His sales this year included two card tables, a chest-on-chest, a pair of Chippendale chairs and a corner cupboard. Spiecker brings a professional marketer’s flair to what he does †consistent in his selection and presentation of his inventory.
Said Spiecker, “The antiques business is cyclical and its swings have a lot to do with the housing industry. The antiques market resets itself during these fluctuations. A dealer has to be light on his feet. For instance, I sold a chest for $8,500 that might have been $12,000 three years ago. That is a 30 percent swing.
“This is a very competitive market and price can make a sale,” he added. “I don’t think of my market as the very select buyers at the upper end. I am helping people make beautiful houses. I don’t look to make a killing on every piece. I instead want to have a customer for ten or 20 years.”
New Hampshire dealers Cheryl and Paul Scott are also known for good, moderately priced furniture and folk art. They, too, did well.
“We sold a little of everything except weathervanes,” said Cheryl Scott. The couple parted with a slant lid desk at 4 pm on Sunday. Late sales are part of Delaware Show lore. A Dunlap School figured maple chest-on-chest, $26,000, was one of their more extravagant offerings.
Around the corner from the Scotts, Peter Eaton offered his own Dunlap School chest-on-chest, $25,000, stylishly embellished with a large and deeply carved fan, double carved pinwheels and a shaped and pierced skirt.
“Over 20 years, this has been a very unpredictable show for me, but I did pretty well this time,” said the Newbury, Mass., dealer, who parted with a pair of Sheraton servers, an Albany mirror and a Federal card table, along with a variety of smalls.
“The show was very well attended and there was a lot of interest,” said Arthur Liverant, who caters to the higher end of the market for New England furniture. Along with Diana Bittel and Skip Chalfant, the Connecticut dealer is one of three dealer representatives to the fair.
“I had a very good show,” said Jesse Goldberg of Artemis Gallery, a formal American Federal and classical furniture specialist whose sales included three pieces of furniture, two mirrors, a silver tea set and a porcelain service.
“The Delaware Antiques Show is one of the top three shows in the country for American furniture, said Goldberg, adding, “Because of its association with Winterthur, it should remain that way.”
More unusual furniture offerings included a Baltimore accordion-action dining table, $75,000 at Thomas Schwenke; a miniature Queen Anne flat-top Delaware or Pennsylvania highboy, $49,500 at Greg K. Kramer & Co.; a Federal bed with fluted posts, $48,000, possibly from Philadelphia, at H.L. Chalfant Antiques; and a huge Queen Anne mahogany oval drop leaf table, $165,000, at G.K.S. Bush.
Gemini Antiques of New York made an early sale of a circa 1870 “Yankee Notions” tin toy made by George W. Brown & Company and Merriam Manufacturing Company. Do not be surprised if the wagon turns up at the Wilton Historical Society, which has been building a collection of Connecticut toys.
Mark and Marjorie Allen accounted for another early sale, a Pennsylvania dough box in old red paint. “I’ve never seen one with cabriole legs, ball and claw feet, and a scalloped skirt,” said Mark Allen. The New Hampshire dealers sold two other pieces of furniture and did brisk business in delft pottery, their core specialty.
Known for paint, Michael Newsom and Betty Berdan got off to a good start with the sale of a turned, carved and painted Windsor stool that was ex-collection of Maine dealer Doris Stauble.
“Over the years, Delaware has turned into my best show,” said Victor Weinblatt. “I sold a number of games boards and really good trade signs. The most interesting was a circa 1870 monetary and picket draft sign from Holyoke, Mass.” Two substantial pieces from Weinblatt’s booth are on their way to Americana Week in New York, the Massachusetts dealer said.
Leatherwood Antiques of Cape Cod, Mass., enjoys a lively following for Black Forest carvings, Vienna bronzes and children’s pottery. Said Mo Wasjelfish, who does only a handful of shows a year, “We carried on selling throughout the weekend. We are a magnet. People are fascinated by what we do.”
The show included a bumper crop of tall clocks. Downingtown, Penn., dealer Philip Bradley offered a walnut eight-day tall clock, $110,000, by Hugh Bigham of March Creek, Penn., now Gettysburg. Centreville, Del., dealer James M. Kilvington unveiled an example by George Crow, $55,000, Wilmington’s best known early maker. There were Pennsylvania tall clocks by Jacob Godschalk and Martin Shreiner at James L. Price. Christopher Rebollo presented a tall clock, $26,000, in a rare Manhattan case.
Of regional interest, “Tom’s Shed,” a watercolor on paper of 1960 by Brandywine artist Andrew Wyeth, was $480,000 at Schillay Fine Art. Dixon-Hall Fine Art showcased original illustration art by Frank Schoonover, who studied with Brandywine artist Howard Pyle, and a delicate oil on canvas by Jeannette Slocum Edwards (1950‱953), a Wilmington painter.
Of note at Elle Shushan was a portrait miniature on ivory of Colonel Robert Lloyd Nichols (1750‱836) of Talbot County, Md., by Robert Field. It was signed and dated 1800.
“We sold two very good pieces from our catalog and made six or eight sales through the weekend,” said antique needlework specialist Amy Finkel. Highlights of the Philadelphia dealer’s display included a 1795 Philadelphia sampler from Mary Zeller’s School and two Baltimore house samplers.
“To me, this show is the best,” said Mo Wasjelfish. “It’s not heavy on anything. It is balanced.”
“We get a lot of good feedback from our dealers. That’s rewarding,” replied Susie MacDonnell.
The 2008 Delaware Antiques Show is set for November 7‹. For information, 302-888-386 or www.winterthur.org .