Published: May 4, 2004
A spectacular loan exhibition of firefighting antiques set the tone for the red-hot Philadelphia Antiques Show, which blazed away at the 33rd Street Armory April 17-20.
“I think it’s our best show in the past ten years in terms of quality and presentation,” manager Josh Wainwright said from the floor on Saturday afternoon, when mercury levels approached a wilting 80 degrees in a facility cooled only by breezes from an open loading dock.
In its 43rd year, the Philadelphia Antiques Show has become a mecca for vernacular American art and design. Many Americana dealers could hardly keep their booths stocked this time, so robust were sales. There was activity across a spectrum of other disciplines, as well, from academic painting and sculpture to Chinese works of art.
“The weather was a little hot, but we can’t help that. I think it all went beautifully. Attendance was excellent and the dealers sold well,” said Karen K. Helm, chairman of the show benefiting the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and commander-in-chief of an army of 250 volunteers. The most significant change to this year’s fair was to its length.
“The dealers had been wanting to shorten the show for a number of years, so we eliminated the final Wednesday. It was a very good decision. There were no complaints and it doesn’t seem to have affected attendance,” said Helm. “From experience, we know that the weekend is gangbusters and Monday tends to be okay, but last year we only had 200 people come through on Wednesday.”
“We thought it was appropriate to honor the firefighting tradition in this country,” said Kathy Booth, the noted Philadelphia collector who, with her husband and daughters, put together the most talked about exhibit on the floor, “Folk Art On Fire.” Underwritten by Dr Robert Booth’s practice group, Booth Bartolozzi Balderston Orthopaedics, the loan show borrowed from more than two-dozen lenders ranging from the Atwater-Kent Museum, the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., and the CIGNA Museum to Kelly Kinzle, Jim and Nancy Glazer and David Wheatcroft.
The colorful display gathered together an arresting assortment of pumper models, decorated buckets and parade hats of all sizes, remarkable portraits and commemorative views, and sculptures of firefighters and firehouse dogs.
It was not long after the first preview began at 4:30 pm on Friday that a flurry of red tags began to appear. Nathan Liverant and Son sold a Queen Anne cherry tray-top tea table from Wethersfield, Conn., circa 1750-1770, that had descended in the Ely family of Lyme, Conn. The graceful piece was priced in the six figures. In addition to bringing a set of eight Federal side chairs that descended in the Brown family of Rhode Island, the Colchester, Conn., dealer continued its annual tradition of mounting themed displays. “Thinking Outside The Box” featured a varied assortment of decorated boxes and chests.
“It’s been unbelievable,” said a weary, elated Jeffrey Tillou. “We’ve already sold a tea table, a rare sewing table, a portrait, hat boxes and a very good China Trade painting.” Still for the asking was a Lancaster County decorated dower chest dated 1795, $175,000, and a Connecticut Chippendale bonnet-top desk and bookcase, $95,000.
“I sold a good Seymour card table, a set of decorated fancy chairs, a very large dolphin mirror, a tuckaway table, four very good pieces of Connecticut redware and a Chinese export painting,” said Massachusetts dealer Sam Herrup, also off to a good start.
Across the aisle, Massachusetts dealer Peter Eaton had tagged a William and Mary tavern table, a rare Queen Anne chest in “as found” condition and numerous accessories. “It’s the best Philadelphia show I’ve done,” he said.
New York dealer Leigh Keno parted with his big rdf_Description, the Roberts-Colby family Queen Anne walnut veneered bonnet-top chest of drawers from Salem, Mass., circa 1745.
Folk art dealers nearly sold out. By Saturday, only a handful of objects remained at Allan Katz, whose many transactions included a tobacco shop Punch trade figure, a butcher shop trade sign, a rocking horse, another tobacco store trade figure, a large locomotive hat box, a New York train model, an owl architectural element, a watch trade sign, a patriotic mirror, a Shaker rug and a ventriloquist’s ensemble.
“It’s been wonderful,” Olde Hope’s Pat Bell said with a sigh, ticking off sales that included a large theorem on velvet, two tole-painted coffeepots from a collection of six, a Baltimore album quilt, a Pennsylvania settee in red paint with stenciled flowers and fruit, and a decorated single-drawer stand.
Chinese art specialists Ralph M. Chait Galleries, Inc, of New York wrote up a three-piece famille rose garniture decorated in a pale raspberry-pink ground. Displayed on stands supplied by Lord Duveen, the Eighteenth Century ceramics came from the Garland collection and were exhibited at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in the late Nineteenth Century before J.P. Morgan acquired them.
“They represent the history of collecting this material in the early years in this country,” observed Allan Chait. His colleagues, Edie and Joel Frankel of New York, sold a carved, white marble head of a Buddha dating to the Seventh Century.
Many exhibitors – including the Philadelphia Print Shop, Jim and Nancy Glazer, and Leigh Keno – dug into their inventories to produce firefighting art and memorabilia. The most touching display belonged to the Schwarz Gallery, where a silver fire horn that had belonged to gallery founder Frank Schwarz and a parade hat once owned by his son Robert were showcased but not for sale. Beloved by all, longtime Philadelphia dealer Robert Schwarz died after a brave battle with cancer on March 18.
Many of the firefighting antiques on the floor sold, including, at Courcier & Wilkins, a pair of decorated leather buckets belonging to John B. Dearborn of Charlestown, Mass., dated 1830. The Cape Cod dealers also retailed a friendship album quilt made by the citizens of Nantucket, Dartmouth and New Bedford, $9,500; and a Hancock Shaker harvest table formerly in the collection of Amy Bess Miller, $45,000.
“I love this figure. She’s so celebratory and of her time. She’s really stepping out,” Tim Hill said of a flapperesque bathing beauty of 1920, 44 inches tall, $135,000. The Michigan dealer sold a carnival ring toss, a wooden Angel Gabriel weathervane, canes, game boards and pottery.
Boston dealer Stephen Score sold his prize sculpture, a starkly primitive limestone carving of a woman dating to about 1910.
The Philadelphia Antiques Show is a cornucopia of Pennsylvania decorative arts, from formal furniture to Pennsylvania German crafts. Taking precedence in Greg Kramer’s vivid stand was a cast iron and zinc firehouse eagle, $135,000, and a pair of large salt-glazed eagle flasks, $22,500. Decorated with American shields, the flasks are attributed to Merkelbach & Wick, Rhineland, for the American market.
M. Finkel & Daughter’s many sales included a Philadelphia sampler by Hannah Sophia Pidgeon. Another highlight was an embroidered “View of Warton’s Inn,” capturing the former hostelry that once stood ten blocks from the dealers’ Pine Street gallery.
A curvaceous Philadelphia Queen Anne open armchair, $125,000, of about 1720 stopped shoppers in their tracks at James and Nancy Glazer, exhibitors from Villanova, Penn., and Bailey’s Island, Maine. The Glazers got off to a vigorous start, selling a Berks County decorated blanket chest and a Pennsylvania marquetry frame with beveled mirror.
Downingtown, Penn., dealer Philip Bradley produced a bonnet-top Philadelphia mahogany tall-case clock with phoenix finial and eight-day works by Edward Duffield, $240,000, and a Philadelphia mahogany high chest of drawers from the Claypoole workshop, circa 1750, once owned by a descendant of James Logan.
James Kilvington, of Dover, Del., sold a Queen Anne side chair from the set belonging to Captain Samuel Morris. The chair is pictured in Horner’s Blue Book. Kilvington offered it with a circa 1750-70 carved armchair from the circle of Solomon Fussell or William Savery.
J. Michael Flanigan of Baltimore featured a labeled Phil-adelphia sofa by David Fleetwood of 95 Walnut Street, $32,000; a Philadelphia chest of drawers with mummy’s head corners, $147,500; and a set of six early Nineteenth Century Philadelphia side chairs, $22,500.
James Price, a new exhibitor from Carlisle, Penn., showed a classical mahogany sofa with four carved eagle terminals, $47,500; and a Delaware Valley Queen Anne walnut clothes press, $45,000.
Philadelphia views were another favorite. Bryn Mawr, Penn., dealer Diana Bittel sold an oil on canvas painting of Fairmount, along with a Connecticut cherry four-drawer chest with a gadrooned skirt.
“Everyone has been fascinated by these views of the Fairmount waterworks,” Liz Feld of Hirschl & Adler Galleries said of two oil paintings by Thomas Doughty, dated 1826. The pictures sold quickly, along with an Augustus St Gaudens bronze bas-relief portrait of Mildred and William Dean Howells and a portrait by Charles Willson Peale of man of the Goldsborough family.
Smaller but also delightful was Elle Shushan’s oil on panel portrait of an unidentified girl in pink by Jacob Eicholtz, one of two Eicholtzes retailed by the Philadelphia specialist in portrait miniatures. Eicholtz was born in Lancaster, Penn., and is best known for his likenesses of prominent Baltimore and Philadelphia citizens. Shushan’s sales included an early Peale portrait of Dr William Smith.
Grumblethorpe, a stone house in Germantown, was commemorated in the early Colonial Revival painting “Mischianza,” 1881, by Frederick James (1845-1907). The painting, offered by the Schwarz Gallery, depicts a celebration in Walnut Grove in Philadelphia on May 18, 1778, to honor the departure of General William Howe, commander-in- chief of the British army in Philadelphia, for his native England.
American furniture ranged from country to formal, Seventeenth Century to Twentieth. Yardley, Penn., dealers C.L. Prickett unveiled a serpentine front sideboard by William Whitehead of New York, circa 1790-1810. “Its refinement and the quality of its inlays are characteristic of his work,” said Craig Prickett, who priced the sideboard at $160,000.
Philadelphia may be the best Southern antiques show north of the Mason-Dixon line, thanks to the contributions of dealers such as Sumpter Priddy, Michael Flanigan, Harriet and Jim Pratt, and George Williams.
“This is among the finest of its type,” Priddy said of a joyously painted red, white, blue and yellow corner cupboard. Possibly by a member of the Ralph family of Sussex County, Del., the 1800-20 case piece was $82,000.
Estate Antiques offered carved walking sticks from an early Southern collection. The Charleston, S.C., dealership, which is being transferred by Jim and Harriet Pratt to their partner George C. Williams, featured a Petersburg, Va., chest of drawers, $24,500, and a desk and bookcase, $35,000, probably from Richmond, Va.
John Levities of John Alexander, Ltd, continues to blaze a trail as the show’s only dealer in proto-modern English design. The expert balanced his booth with two fine cabinets: a circa 1865 sideboard designed by Charles Bevan for Lamb of Manchester, $45,000; and a paint decorated court cupboard of circa 1900, $14,000.
Betty Ring stopped to admire a beautiful silk embroidered coat-of-arms, $30,000, made at Misses Pattens’ School in Hartford, Conn., by a member of the Deming family.
“The quality of the work is quite professional,” said the noted needlework authority of the piece offered by Stephen and Carol Huber of Old Saybrook, Conn.
The many ceramics on the floor included Elinor Gordon’s pride and joy, a large armorial charger, $15,000, made for the English market and decorated with a bianco sopa bianco border.
Rumors that the Philadelphia Antiques Show may be evicted from the 33rd Street Armory when Drexel University takes the building over were quelled by Karen Helm.
“We know that we have the armory for next year and we anticipate having it for several more years,” said the outgoing chairman. “Drexel is planning to modernize the facility and may adapt it for sporting events. But they have been very nice to us. My feeling is that they may allow us to stay after the facility is renovated.”
Dates for the 2005 Philadelphia Antiques Show, which will be chaired by Anne Rubin, are April 8-12.
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