An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 275

Clinton Howell Antiques - February 26, 2024 - Issue 275

An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture

A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts

The second part of the Winter Show worth talking about are the people that attend the show. Well heeled New Yorkers are not in short supply, but getting them to overcome their own inertia to go look at "stuff" at the Armory can be difficult. I should know, I have sent tickets to people who have said they will come for the last three years and they have never made it. I don't blame them although I do like showing off the stuff that I have put together to friends, but again, that disappointment is my problem, not theirs, as I have no idea what might have kept them from coming. In any case, it is people who are going to buy that really matters and none of the people I invited (this year at least) needed anything.

Who visits the show? That is a good question. Early on, there are usually a number of decorators checking out stands--they are extraordinarily important to those of us selling furniture. I have mentioned this before, but decorators know what will fit a space fairly well and all they really need is the client's say-so on a piece to make a sale. And fortunately, there are enough people out there who really like antiques, perhaps not enough to come to the show but they are paying decorators to do that for them. What this tells me is that there is a level of demand for antique furniture, but the problem is that it is among the few, not the many. In the long term, that may be a very good thing.

It might be good, because the few dealers that are left are doing their damnedest to buy the best, research it, restore it to the highest standard and present a piece of furniture that is recognizably worth the money. When antiques were hot in the 1980's and 90's., the demand was so great that there were numerous charlatans selling average goods for big prices. (I can't tell you how many people I discourage by telling them that I am not interested in the items they want to sell me that they purchased in the 1980's and 90's.) In other words, the quality among the top dealers today, and that means six or so in New York City with more in London (there are many good local shops around Britain) is high. Shows like the Winter Show and what was formerly Masterpiece and is now Treasure Houses, are where you will find a cluster of good dealers although not all good dealers do shows.

In the end, a dealer's decision to do a show is based on the crowd they expect to see at that show. The Winter Show is supported by decorators, as I've said, and they are the primary reason that I participate. However, when you meet a private client, a buyer that enjoys learning and has questions and makes observations, it is like meeting a fellow traveler simply because of their desire to learn even when they don't make a purchase--in the long run, they very likely will. Dealers are selling their knowledge and information as much as the physical product they have to offer and I love participating in that aspect of dealing. I had several of those this year although none of them purchased anything, I live in hope.