Published: January 29, 2002
Measuring New York’s Reigning Favorite in Days and Decades:
By Laura Beach
NEW YORK CITY – Rome may not have been built in a day, but it’s a claim that the creators of , steeped in centuries worth of antiquities itself, could almost make. Barely 84 hours elapsed between the time that union crews began erecting walls at midnight on Tuesday, January 15 to the arrival of the first bejeweled customers at 5 pm on Saturday evening, January 19. Of course, creating a splendid backdrop is only part of the story. From exhibitors, there were also tales about the years and even decades spent pursuing, courting, cajoling and finally capturing some of the exquisite rarities unveiled on opening night.
With no word on when National Guard troops would withdraw from the Seventh Regiment Armory, the Winter Show’s traditional home on Park Avenue, chairman Arie Kopelman and director Catherine Sweeney Singer reluctantly booked space at the Hilton at Sixth Avenue and 53rd Street, just ten weeks before opening. The setting was far from ideal, but it was one of the few available venues in town with the necessary space and loading facilities. “Replanning every aspect of the fair has been daunting,” Singer said at the time, and that was just the beginning.
How They Did It
“Set-up normally takes a full seven days. This year we did it in three and a half,” said the director, who personifies grace under pressure. “The builders started at midnight on Tuesday. Barbara Israel was the first exhibitor in, at 5 am on Wednesday. There are specialties within the unions, so the work is done in stages. We had to use two crews, the Hilton’s and ours. It was extremely difficult for the builders to work while dealers were moving in.
“The international dealers are brought in by the big shippers,” Singer continued. “Their material comes in huge crates, which is helpful, except for that once the crates are placed they can’t be moved. The other dealers have more flexibility but they take longer to set up. Moving 70 trucks through the loading docks was quite tricky, but we did it with military precision. The aisles are narrower than at the Armory and no one could move. It was very tense, but we all worked together. I can’t say enough in praise of John Hamilton, whose family has built the show for the past 35 years. To do our show in a new location with a tighter window was a tremendous challenge. We were still moving ladders at five minutes until five on Saturday, and we added extra lighting on Sunday after the show opened.”
The collective experience of all involved resulted in a Winter Show that was far more successful than anyone had dared to hope. No one knows more about marketing than Arie Kopelman, president of Chanel USA, and it was he who approved a 50-percent increase in advertising spending, running full-page color ads in the New York Times with the words “Hilton New York” circled and the words “PLEASE NOTE NEW LOCATION” printed in bright red.
“I think a lot of us spent more time than usual contacting our customers ahead of time to give them a head’s up,” said Old Saybrook, Conn., dealer Stephen Huber. “Quite a few dealers did mailings to thousands of people,” confirmed Singer. UK dealer Peter Finer led the pack in distributing complimentary opening-night tickets to clients.
One casualty of the rushed set-up was vetting. Asked about rumors that a few exhibitors took advantage of this year’s more lax procedures, Singer answered, “We didn’t formally vet the show but there was a review. On the whole, people paid attention to the warnings. Most exhibitors were completely honorable and all exhibitors issued guarantees.”
Collectors who’d been to the Americas exhibition Halls before and thought of it as a drab, expansive setting for middle-brow trade shows couldn’t believe how successfully the interiors were transformed and how convenient the location, just a few blocks from Christie’s Rockefeller Center salesrooms, actually was. Cabs and porters were plentiful, the exhibition hall’s carpeted lobby was commodious and comfortable for patrons waiting to enter, and there was less chaos at the coat check than in past years.
Visitors entered the show through a temporary wall of cool, fragrant boxwood accented with white lilies, tulips, freesia and narcissus. Once inside, carpeted floors and hard walls, immaculately dressed in fabric and other luxurious materials, gave the show a plush, well-groomed appearance entirely in keeping with its contents. The biggest complaint was that the show was on two floors, making it hard to find favorite dealers and contributing to escalator congestion on. Management had clearly tried to be democratic in drawing up the floor plan, scattering powerhouse dealers throughout the show and placing Winterthur Museum, with its 50th anniversary loan exhibit of spectacular casepiece furniture, on the upper floor.
Despite the new location, snow, and competition from myriad other shows and auctions, opening night was enormously successful. “We were within $6,000 of last year’s $1.2 million total,” acknowledged Singer. “It’s not apples to apples, of course, but the gate on opening day last year was 1,500. This year it was over 4,000. Monday, Martin Luther King Day, was 665 last year. This year the gate was 1,465. During the week, attendance has been even and above last year’s.”
With another weekend left to go, most exhibitors said sales had been good, if not stupendous. “On the whole, we’ve sold well across the board. Customers have found us. I would say the buying has been very similar to that at the Armory,” said Roger Keverne, a London specialist in Chinese works of art who brought an ample assortment of delicate gouaches on paper. Early on, Keverne parted with carved jades and an Eighteenth Century blanc- de- chine figure of Guanyin.
Chinese art dealers Ralph M. Chait of New York had considerable success with Famille Verte porcelains, selling, among other rdf_Descriptions, a large Seventeenth Century Kangxi bowl and two plates on opening night. Invited just weeks ago to do for the first time, New York dealers E & J Frankel exercised Zen-like restraint in their elegant, bamboo-colored stall, minimally appointed with winning examples each of the important Chinese media.
China Trade paintings dealers Martyn Gregory loaded their booth with special rdf_Descriptions, selling “An American Paddle Steamer off The Hongs of Canton” by Youqua, circa 1855. Other rdf_Descriptions of noted included a large, panoramic view of the hongs at Canton and the dreamily Shangri-La-like “Golden Island in The Yangtze River.” Boston dealer Marc Matz, who takes a somewhat broader but no less exotic position in Colonial India and China Trade material, had people cooing over his Eighteenth Century Indian child’s bed, $95,000, made of ivory and dressed with the finest silks.
Celebrity shoppers included domestic goddess Martha Stewart, who picked out frames at Julius Lowy, and Michael Bloomberg. New York City’s billionaire mayor spent a few moments with military Americana dealer William Guthman before decided on a piece that had great meaning, a New York militia flag, $45,000, of 1820, with the arms of New York on one side and an eagle, shield and the words “Liberty! Our Watchword” on the reverse. Guthman said the piece had been in a private collection for years.
“No QVC shopping for Mayor Bloomberg,” the New York Daily News soon after reported. “The Mayor likes the old stuff.” Marine arts expert dealer Alan Granby said he didn’t know that he had sold a piece to the mayor until he, too, read it in the Daily News. The rdf_Description in question, a gilded eagle with a painted American flag, 36 inches long, was purchased through an intermediary.
Hyannis, Mass., marine arts dealers Hyland Granby also placed a pair of narwhal tusks with the buyer of a yacht previously owned by retired IBM chairman Thomas Watson. Watson had mounted the tusks in his boat as handrails, donating the historic rdf_Descriptions to Mystic Seaport Museum when the boat was sold. The yacht’s new owner was delighted to find the perfect replacements. Unsold in Hyland Granby’s booth was the dealers’ favorite artifact, a Bellamy eagle with upstretched wings, $325,000. “A period photograph shows it in the center of Bellamy’s workshop. We’ve been after this piece for 15 years,” Granby acknowledged.
“I’ve done San Francisco for about seven years. Both there and here, people warned me that Americans won’t be interested in my specialty, and both places they’ve been wrong,” said Robert Young, a London dealer in British and European country furniture, folk art and treen. A first-time exhibitor at Winter Antiques Show, Young was off to a very good start on opening night. In addition to primitive, sculpture and folk artifacts, he sold one of his best pieces, a paint-decorated chest-on-stand from Jersey, England, circa 1750.
Young was one of a handful of new exhibitors. Associated Artists, Southport, Conn., specialists in proto-modern American art furniture, unveiled a Herter Brothers side chair, $1.2 million, made of gilt maple inlaid with mother of pearl for the William Vanderbilt mansion, circa 1881-2. Another piece made for Vanderbilt was a fanciful marble-topped hall stand, also gilt with mother of pearl inlays, at Hirschl & Adler Galleries.
David Schorsch, also doing the show for the first time, sold up a storm, even finding a home for one of his most expensive rdf_Descriptions, a large and charmingly detailed watercolor portrait of a gentleman by Jacob Maentel, $465,000. The signed Bergen County, N.J. piece, against Schorsch’s back wall, was a treasure that the Woodbury, Conn., dealer had been following since he first saw it in a private collection in 1981.
Santa Fe Contingent
“Ah, the Santa Fe contingent is here,” Don Ellis was overheard saying as he greeted opening-night customers. The Ontario dealer in Native American art was well on his way to another outing, having sold everything from an Ottawa twine bag to a Hupa miniature mask. On Ellis’s back wall was the First Phase Navajo chief’s blanket that he discovered in Tucson and appraised for $500,000 while doing the Antiques Roadshow last June. The only Santa Fe dealer in the show, Morning Star Gallery, crowned its collection of Pueblo Indian pottery with the largest Cochiti pot, $250,000, most of us have ever seen.
Olde Hope Antiques dazzled with a two-part Soap Hollow Dutch cupboard, a rare form, $235,000, and an outstanding pair of primitive portraits of the McConnell children with their pets, $1,250,000, which the dealers tracked after seeing the pair at the Monmouth County Historical Society in the 1970s. “We’ve sold almost all of our hooked rugs and most of our decorated stands,” Ed Hild said later in the week.
The New Hope, Penn., dealers also took part in what appears to be a renewed craze for weathervanes. Their leaping deer, $32,000, sold, as did a running horse at Courcier & Wilkins, back in the show after a year’s absence. “Furniture has been a little sluggish but we’ve sold expensive framed rdf_Descriptions, droves of accessories, four Shaker carriers, and Nantucket baskets,” said Suzanne Courcier.
“We sold like gangbusters through the first weekend. The show has been just as dynamic as last year’s, and last year was our best,” said Stephen Huber. The specialists in American needlework had an unprecedented 120 running feet of wall space, which they obviously put to very good use. Fred Giampietro sold a quirky Norwich, Conn., fiddleback armchair from a stand that included a cigar store maiden attributed to Samuel Robb, $80,000, among other powerfully sculptural folk art.
A trio of aristocratic portraits formed a compelling triangle at Schwarz Gallery of Philadelphia. Two of the three were matching highstyle, Eighteenth Century portraits of Susannah Schwartz Schroeder and Herman Henry Schroeder of by Charles Peale Polk. They centered a picture of about a century later, Alexander White’s “Miss Dorothy Roosevelt.”
New Haven, Conn., dealer Thomas Colville emphasized proto-modern American painting in a display that included George Inness’s “Pond at Milton on The Hudson,” 1881; Emil Carlsen’s “The Market, Venice,” and Willard Metcalf’s, “Winter’s Mantle,” 1924. Elle Shushan’s pumpkin colored jewelbox of a booth was a perfect foil for English and American miniature portrait, including a newly discovered miniature by patriot-artist Jonathan Trumbull.
Works on paper included the “Constitution-Union Eagle,” a patriotic rendition after John James Audubon, priced $75,000 at the Old Print Shop. The New York dealers sold a map of Boston, circa 1776, by Henry Pelham, half-brother of John Singleton Copley. The show’s other print dealer, W. Graham Arader, parted with a collection of six early Nineteenth Century engravings of parrots originally created for the French royal court. Hill-Stone sold its centerpiece, a Claude Lorraine drawing entitled “Landscape with The Temptation of Christ,” $110,000.
The most expensive object in the show was a Third Century bronze freestanding, three-quarter-size figure of Poseidon. From the British Rail Pension Fund, it was marked $4 million by Rupert Wace. Perhaps exhibiting a bit of beginner’s luck, the first-time dealer from London sold an Etruscan terra-cotta bust of a dog on opening night.
“Wait,” Barbara Israel exclaimed, rushing to turn the fountains on in the burbling sculpture garden she created in the center of the show. The New York dealer was quick to sell her emblem of peace, a composition stone figural group of a reclining lion and lamb, made in England, circa 1880. She also sold a Frederick MacMonnies bronze.
Salute to Firefighters and American Furniture
Hirschl & Adler Galleries saluted New York City’s firefighters, mounting appropriately somber charcoal drawings by Edward Punnett Chrystie (1887-1960). Both opulent and intimate, the New York dealers’ display featured a pair of Duncan Phyfe console tables garnished with a pair of Old Paris vases and surmounted by a pair of American made, eagle-ornamented girandole mirrors.
The show’s other American Neo-classical furniture specialist, Carswell Rush Berlin, built his cool, glimmering showcase around a stenciled Deming & Buckley pier table, $85,000, surmounted by a cornucopia-topped giltwood mirror, possibly from New York, $22,500, and a pair of Empire gilt-bronze campagna urns, $17,500. On an interior wall, Berlin featured a Federal New York mahogany bookcase with brass paw feet, $135,000.
There was very little left to buy in Leigh Keno’s customer-packed display. The New York dealer sold most of his major pieces, including a Classical mahogany card table attributed to Duncan Phyfe and a circa 1775 Newport high chest, nearly identical one Winterthur included in its loan show.
Sumpter Priddy outdid himself with rare and wonderful examples of Southern furniture. His show-stopper was a marble-topped serving table, $495,000. Small and sweet, it dated to circa 1746-60 and was from Cupola House in Edenton, N.C. “It is an early form of a baroque Southern table,” said the Alexandria dealer, who has been following the piece since he was a sophomore at the University of Virginia.
Wayne Pratt sold a Boston inlaid serpentine-front chest. For those who missed out on the Copeland desk-and-bookcase that Sotheby’s auctioned for $1.1 million, the Woodbury, Conn., dealer’s Newburyport bonnet-top desk-and-bookcase was a handsome alternative at an undisclosed price.
New York dealer Guy Bush played to strength with a Boston bombe chest of drawers, a Connecticut River Valley reverse serpentine chest, a Massachusetts Queen Anne tea table, and a Connecticut Chippendale tiger-maple desk-and-bookcase. He priced his triple-serpentine back sofa – exhibited, unconventionally, without upholstery – at $650,000.
Spectacular is only word for a three-part Chinese lacquered gold and black bureau bookcase that Hyde Park Antiques sold a few minutes after the show opened. “I’m ecstatic, to put it mildly,” said New York dealer Bernard Karr. “We’ve sold 11 pieces of furniture, to customers from all over the United States.
“We’ve done surprisingly well,” agreed another English furniture dealer, Gary Young of Centreville, Md. “We sold a lot the first weekend, to people from We sold people from Houston, Atlanta, California, Florida, Chicago, and Ohio. I think business is definitely picking up again, that plus its patriotic to come to New York.”
“We’ve sold the mechanical desk in the center of our stand and a William de Morgan charger,” said Max Donnelly of London’s Fine Arts Society, which featured several pieces from a suite of Lamb of Manchester furniture and a large drawing, $30,000, by Sir John Lock Eastlake, the father of reform design. Clock dealer Jonathan Snellenburg sold a George II Scottish inlaid mantel regulator of circa 1805 by Thomas Reid of Edinburgh.
The spectacular ranged from the big to small at Jonathan Trace’s. The New York dealer sold the rare, period Eighteenth Century English silver 12-arm chandelier suspended above his booth. Tucked way in a case was an English pencase, dated 1653 and inscribed with a riddle whose meaning only Paige Trace had been able to decipher.
In an extraordinary display of loyalty and professionalism, exhibitors, management, unions, charity and collectors pulled together to make the 2002 Winter Antiques Show one of the most memorable, if not the best, in history. Fortunately, such heroics will not be necessary next year: just before showtime, the state announced that, starting in February, the Seventh Regiment Armory will be back in business for antiques shows.
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