When it comes to Americana, the 96-year-old firm of Israel Sack still reigns supreme. Their finds are studded throughout the White House, Winterthur and Williamsburg as well as countless major private collections. Recently moved, Sack now boasts 11,000 square feet of selling place on Fifth Avenue. Among the truly top line pieces is a Philadelphia Sheraton dining room table complete with demi-lune consoles, its legs carved with rosettes. This table could not have a finer pedigree; it was made for Stephen Girard in 1807. Sack's latest concession to marketing is an entire room devoted to furnishings priced under $25,000. Included is an Aaron Willard shelf clock with original eglomisé panels, ca. 1815, for $22,500, a Hepplewhite Boston console and a John Goddard Chippendale chair.
Albert Sack considers Duncan Phyfe furniture an outstanding buy today. "It cost more in the 1920s," he notes. Sack has enough Phyfe pieces on hand to stock a country house. Israel Sack is at 730 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10029, (212) 399-6562.
For those who missed the early December flurry of Tiffany sales at Christie's, Sotheby's and Phillips, yes, the prices of his leaded glass lamps are soaring. Christie's scored four world records for his lamps, while Phillips racked up a record $1.7 million for a centerpiece model. So, this may just be the time to snare one.
A key dealer to see is Minna Rosenblatt, who has been stocking Tiffany rarities for 45 years, no less. On view, she has a rare dragonfly floor lamp, its shade ablaze with swirling dragonflies and Tiffany's characteristic jewels -- polished stones and glass -- as well as a Wisteria lamp dripping with glass petals in periwinkle, indigo and lavender. There's also a 12-light Lily table lamp with a gilt bronze base of lily pads.
Rosenblatt sees a number of shifts in her market. For one thing, the clients for Tiffany lamps have doubled in number. Plus, a considerable number of young collectors are entering the market. What's fueling this craze for the often heavy-handed lamps and chandeliers? "Why, it's the exhibitions," replies Rosenblatt, referring to the Metropolitan Museum's show of its extensive Tiffany collection (to Jan. 31). During this holiday season, she reports brisk sales of Tiffany desk sets, and they are the ultimate in comprehensive desk sets. Postal scales, magnifying glasses, pen trays, blotter tips and even desk lamps abound. Prices range from $300 to $1,500 per unit.
In addition to Tiffany wares, Rosenblatt stocks Daum, Galle, Pate de Verre, early Steuben and Quezal glass. Made by Martin Bach, Tiffany's former designer, the pieces are similar in both shape and palette, yet conservatively priced from $3,500-$8,500. Quezal is bound to in increase in value. Minna Rosenblatt is at 961 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y., 10021, (212) 288-0257.
Antique Row goes North
But specialist dealers like Rosenblatt aside, can a generalist dealer of English antiques with a scant two years under his belt flourish? Well the answer is a resounding "yes" from Gerard Bland, who formerly headed up Sotheby's English furniture department and also ran the venerable Stair & Co. He opened up a shop on upper Madison Avenue just months ago. With his extensive experience serving English furniture collectors, Bland has witnessed the development of New York taste. "It's gotten better, and more and more decorators are academically informed about the fine points of Georgian and Regency decorative arts," he says. Right now, he's got a diminutive breakfront library cabinet with broken pediment and its bottom portion rusticated. At $87,000, this unusual piece garnered a triple hold in its first week on the floor. Why? Its smaller scale is perfect for Manhattan apartments.
Another outstanding piece is a satin wood and tulip wood cabinet in the French taste with an exaggerated serpentine front. Made by Christopher Haupt and Charles Furlough in 1780, this graceful cabinet is priced at $48,000. Bland also stocks Grand Tour pictures, the natural complement historically and stylistically to Georgian furniture. There's a stunning view of Vesuvius, its sky ablaze. This gouache is only $4,000 at Gerard Bland, 1262 Madison Avenue between 91st and 92nd Streets in New York, (212) 987-8505.
To set a fine Sheraton table or two, head to James II Galleries, where Barbara Munves gathers the most stylish 19th-century decorative arts and jewelry in town. A longtime trend-setter, Munves was among the first to feature antique sterling frames and top Victorian flatware. Particularly appealing is a dinner set of English ironstone. In soft pinks and celadon, the pattern is the 1830 take on the Chinese Export famille rose. With more than 300 pieces, including 11 platters, tureens and multiple serving dishes, this set is priced at $45,000. Less expensive sets or dinner and dessert plate services are available. The gallery also has an enormous selection of 19th-century bubble mirrors and mirrored sconces on hand. The sconces are scalloped and beveled to the nth degree. A pair of vase sconces from 1860 costs $4,350. Visit James II Galleries at 11 East 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10022, (212) 355-7040.
A Course in a Book
Decorative arts buffs and dealers alike should pick up Stafford Cliff's latest book, The English Archive of Design and Decoration (Abrams, $65). It's a surprising and delightful view of the quintessential English style as revealed in original sketches, pattern books, swatch books and manufacturers' catalogues. So here are choice patterns of furniture, textiles, wall paper, porcelain and glass right down to the mundane -- doorknobs and table knives. Cliff cut his teeth on the successful style-book series, and brings a distinctive presentation to this subject. Quite frankly, under his direction, the printed page has never looked so good.
For a dramatic switch from Americana, consider Evergreen, where Paul Sigenlouve has been plying 19th-century Scandinavian decorative arts for the past 18 years. He's got a set of six Swedish late Empire (Carl Johan) chairs with ormolu rosettes for a reasonable $14,500. A Swedish four drawer chest in birch with a trim bow front is a only $7,500. Along with such gleaming furniture, Sigenlouve stocks a number of Gustavian mirrors in gilt with a rare restraint. One index to the pervasive popularity of his wares is the quick turnover. Sigenlouve travels monthly to Sweden and Eastern Europe for furniture foraging. "Today taste is more formal and refined," he says. The biggest change he has witnessed in the past two decades is the demise of Scandinavian country painted furniture as well as the once requisite alabaster shell chandelier. Evergreen Antiques is at 1249 Third Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10021, (212) 744-5664.
The latest trend is in French furnishings from the 1940s, with such tony decorators as Michael Smith and Bunny Williams seeking the sleek pieces. Even the Metropolitan Museum showcased Jean Dunand this fall. To glimpse some of the better examples, head over to L'Art de Vivre on Lexington Avenue. On view is an Andre Sornay fruitwood secretary flanked by two cabinets. Not only is the form a rarity, so too is the detailing. Its characteristic blond surface bears just a touch of embellishment -- fine brass nailheads are inlaid in a brief design. It's priced at $45,000.
Rarely found in the U.S., parchment has been particularly coveted lately, and collectors will be happy to find a parchment and lined oak early 1940s French table porte-feuille -- a coffee table that opens up into a game table -- by J.C. Moreaux. It's parchment top is in excellent condition -- a rarity considering the fragile nature of leathery luxury. Also on hand are rare lights from the 1920s to the 1940s by such master designers as Rene Prou, Christian Krass and Jules Leleu. Particularly stylish are a pair gilt bronze scones backed by circular mirrors from the 1920s. L'Art de Vivre, Inc. is at 978 Lexington Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10021, (212) 734-3510.
The Chinese furniture dealer William Lipton ended 1998 by going high-tech with "Oriented Textiles: Contemporary Materials from Japan, Korea and The Philippines," an exhibition assembled with an eye on the Museum of Modern Art exhibition on the same topic, "Surface and Structure: Contemporary Japanese Textiles" (to Jan. 26).Textile artist Sheila Hicks, a Nebraska native who has done several commissions in Japan and is represented in the MoMA show, acted as a consultant to Lipton. Both the artistry and the space-age materials are dazzling. The show featured paper sculptural creations, abstract baskets of walnut bark and wild vine as well as spun stainless steel works. A woven hanging in Rothkoesque blues and charcoal by Jun Tomita is $32,000.
For the holidays, Lipton had a number of small 19th-century Chinese footed bowls, carved ivory pieces and a graceful bronze Buddha from the Yuan Dynasty. His Christmas wrapping might have been the most stylish in town -- handmade papers trimmed with silk butterflies and ribbons. Though the show has closed, interested parties can still inquire at William Lipton Ltd., 27 East 61st Street, New York, NY 10021. 212-751-8131.