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Winter Antiques Show


by Brook S. Mason
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More than any other fair, the 58th annual Winter Antiques Show, Jan. 20-29, 2012, is a barometer of taste. With 73 dealers elegantly installed at the Park Avenue Armory, the show covers all periods, with an especially strong selection of Americana. What’s especially notable this year is the early colonial art and artifacts, with a lock of President George Washington’s hair, collected shortly after his inauguration on view at the Alexander Gallery, priced at $40,000. Also available is a pair of his dress-coat buttons for $60,000, along with a copy of the 1797 federal budget, which was, at that time, pegged at just a fraction over $10 million.

On offer with Kenneth W. Rendell Inc. is a letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1809, which extols the “rights of conscience” and the virtues of religious freedom. The price is $850,000. “People are buying more eclectic items,” said Rendell, who sold material by George Washington, Audrey Hepburn, Ernest Hemingway and Colette, as well as colonial currency. “So far, this is our best Winter Show in four years,” he went on.

Early weather vanes in profusion marked the fair floor. New Haven dealer Fred Giampietro boasts a steeplechase vane in copper, attributed to the A.L. Jewell firm from Waltham, Mass., which was priced at $250,000. “This vane has got the horse jumping over the original fence, which makes it a rarity,” Giampietro beamed. He also had an 1890 Gustavo Denzel carousel horse, on offer for $50,000.

But it's not all folk art by a long stretch.  Take Jonathan Boos, the Upper East Side private dealer. He's got a series of three tabletop stabiles by Alexander Calder, all Untitled and dated to 1950, 1954 and 1960, for $2 million.  They all went to a single client.

Prices are steep in some quarters, with D.C. dealer Geoffrey Diner featuring a Louis Comfort Tiffany Wisteria table lamp, with opalescent stained glass, for $1.5 million.

Front and center at the stand of London rug specialist Eddy Keshishian is an Ivan da Silva Bruhn Art Deco carpet designed for the Maharaja of Indore, dating from ca. 1930. Made in France, with amber and orange tones in a black geometric design, the carpet is priced at $1.6 million.

High-priced ethnography can be found with the Canadian dealer Donald Ellis, who scored sales of a West Coast of Vancouver 18th-century ceremonial club, collected by Captain James Cook, for $1 million, and an Alaskan mask of wood and feathers, dating from 1900, also for $1 million. “I’m having my best year ever, with six- and seven-figure works selling,” said Ellis.

Also selling briskly were miniatures, with the Philadelphia specialist Elle Shushan clinching a deal for a Jean Baptiste Jacques Augustin miniature of Ferdinand of Orleans, the Duke of Chartres, painted when the aristocrat was five years old. Set in its original ormolu frame and painted on ivory, the miniature went for $60,000. Even in the first days of the show, Shushan was able to finalize 30 sales. Architect Ralph Harvard designed her stand, which was a replica of a parlor painted by Brit artist Johann Zoffany.

Humorous items were moving, too. The New York garden antiques dealer Barbara Israel sold a pair of 1935 composite stone rabbits for $15,000. ”Clients are focusing on whimsy,” she said.

Other sales of 20th-century fare included two Harry Bertoia sculptures at the booth of Lost City Arts, the New York dealer. “We sold two Bertoia sculptures at Basel for over $1 million, so the market for his material is more than hopeful,” said Jim Elkind of Lost City. Also for sale with Elkind is an Axel Johann Salto stoneware vase, dated 1965, for $95,000.

Among the more quixotic finds is an 1890 winged wheel trade sign in zinc, originally made for a brewery in Rochester, N.Y. , priced at $110,000, and an antler-festooned hat stand could be found with James and Nancy Glazer of Bailey Island, Me. “Collectors are gravitating towards less conventional examples,” said James Glazer.

Speaking of marine antiques, Massachusetts dealer Hyland Granby is offering a massive brass telescope, highly sculptural in feel, made in 1899 for J. P. Morgan’s yacht, Corsair II.

Lesser-priced antiques were red-dotted at the stand of London folk art dealer Robert Young, who sold 19th-century game boards at $9,500, and five subtly articulated artist's mannequins in pine, ca. 1850, priced from $1,800-$10,000. “There’s greater interest in antiques from simpler times,” Young observed.

“Winter Antiques Show,” Jan. 20-29, 2012, Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Avenue, New York, N.Y 10065.

BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times and other publications.