While considered the kickoff of the social season, the Winter Antiques Show at the Seventh Regiment Armory in New York, Jan. 19-28, 2001, may just be the best barometer of the Americana market. Last night's preview party demonstrated the feverish pitch perfectly. The aisles were packed with all the usual suspects -- takeover titan Henry Kravis, socialite Anne Bass and craft maven Martha Stewart along with collectors in droves. Buying was brisk.
In the first 20 minutes, Madison Avenue dealer Leigh Keno sold several prize pieces, including a 1710 William and Mary walnut tea table for $385,000 to a New England collector. Autograph dealer Kenneth Rendell reported his "best opening night ever" with a total of 12 sales, ranging from a signed Noel Coward letter to a document on the Japanese surrender. "They're not just air kissing and chatting," says Rendell. "This crowd is buying."
Collectors weren't only snapping up period autographs and early furniture; 20th century Arts and Crafts were coveted, too. Geoffrey Diner wrote up a rustic Stickley hexagonal table with a leather top for $85,000.
Native American items also appear to be on a roll. A well-used wooden club carved with a fantasy underwater panther at its base and a menacing face at its top went for a hefty $250,000 at the stand of Donald Ellis. With a scimitar shape, the club is a cool 350 years old and probably from either the Nutmeg or the Bay State. "There's not another club like it in the world," says Ellis.
Best of all, the weapon bears definite trauma marks. This Ontario dealer also sold a Western Apache headdress complete with a truly horrific mask that makes Basquiat's representations look positively tame. A wooden cage with miniature carved fish, used by Vancouver natives to call the fish, no less, went for considerably more than a whistle: $48,500.
Sales of English and American silver were hectic at Shrubsole. In all, 17th- and early-18th-century English pieces, like salvers and goblets, were snapped up at prices running from $30,000-$70,000, according to their representative, Tim Martin. And Massachusetts dealer William Guthman, who specializes in early American arms, sold an 1855 rifled musket outfitted with its original bayonet for $27,500 within minutes of the opening.
Another new trend spotted is an unprecedented amount of Georgian furniture on the floor. If you're looking to make a palatial statement, Devenish has the best pair of Adam mirrors, period. The price: $1.2 million. It's just another stop at the Winter Antiques shopping mall.
BROOK S. MASON writes on the fine and decorative arts.