New Hampshire is coming, ring the bell!!! The NHADA show is a little more than two months away, and we're starting to get our ad together. Check out the first of our teaser photos below, and stay tuned for more.
Did you ever go down the research wormhole of some 18th Century figure and feel like your life was somehow intertwined with theirs? That's how I've felt about Vincent Loockerman for the last couple months while I've been working on an appraisal. Learning about his life and legacy has given me a much greater appreciation for the early history of Dover, Delaware. Loockerman made it his headquarters for trade that would enable him to acquire some of the greatest pieces of Philadelphia Rococo furniture ever made, many of which remained in his home until the 20th century.
That's all well and good but he patronized local craftsmen too, and that's what interests me most of all. You can see a lot of the extant Loockerman furniture at the Biggs Museum in Dover. The Loockerman Gallery just off the elevator and stairwell on the second floor does a great job of putting the man and his objects in context.
After that you can walk a couple blocks down State Street and visit the house it was all made for at 419 South, and finally cross Water Street to Christ Church where Vincent and many other significant Delawareans are buried. It's a pretty unique and immersive experience in the world of decorative arts. Oh, and have lunch at 33 West Ale House on Loockerman Street. Feel free to get in touch with me for further reading on the Loockerman family, I would particularly recommend Kate LaPrad's fabulous 2010 thesis on the subject.
The right trinkets can transform the sink in your powder room from a sink in your powder room to a window into the soul. Here are a half-dozen must-have trinkets for the 2017 season, all from young antiques dealers. That's right there are six of us, not counting me.
First up is a really pretty piece of ironstone from Old Beautiful, the Connecticut shop of David Perrelli, for $45!!! At about 7 1/2" wide I would use this for business cards today, and Werther's Original candies 50 years from now. It could also hold keys near the door. Once one of the seven people who read my blog buy this, check out his other ironstone. It goes with anything.
I don't have anything original to say about this. It's an 18th Century bronze mortar and pestle from Gabe Ficht. You can use it as a mortar and pestle. I don't know how that works but it extracts flavors? Or does it make meth? I don't know. I see them in people's houses now. If the recipient doesn't know what it's for either, just act appalled to put them in their place.
This one writes itself! From Margaret Whitman, something for the gardener who has everything. Seriously, that is a beautiful watering can that will last forever.
From Old as Adam, a cool little dish in the form of a spiderweb. The perfect spooky soap dish. You knew there was going to be a soap dish. You can use "it'll make an awesome soap dish" as an excuse to buy almost anything.
This is a bargain. Available at Country Cupboard Antiques (Brendan Edgerton) for $125. I love using these for remote controls or as a catchall. When this one sells you'll have to look for another. It probably won't be quite as nice for the money, but they are out there.
Finally, from Josh and Mary Steenburgh, a Victorian iron music stand that I would use for all the swanky status symbol magazines I don't subscribe to. Note: it is maryandjoshua.com, not maryandjosh.com. If you do the wrong one you'll end up down the worm hole learning all about a couple who got married in Chicago and 2010. They met at Ball State University. Cute, but also creepy that I know that now. Will I ever get them out of my head?
I'm thinking there will be ONE MORE HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE. Something along the lines of outrageously expensive objects for the person who has everything and would probably rather you donate that money to a charity.
You know what people everywhere will be saying in 2027? "Buying all your gifts on Amazon is so 2017." Get ahead of the trend. Follow my simple, non-self-promoting instructions. Don't be on the wrong side of history.
First, jewelry. Most people like jewelry. It's small and can easily be thrown in a drawer and forgotten, yet it can be expensive enough to demonstrate commitment, love, and a total lack of financial responsibility. Or if you follow my tips, just the first two. Fun fact: I don't know how to wear cufflinks but I think a single one would work great as a belly-button piercing.
Jewelry auctions can be tricky. Buy from one you trust. Jewelry dealers...ditto. But hey, that's why I'm here.
Ermahgerd. I hate snakes so much yet I still love this. You probably weren't expecting the first thing to be expensive, but how amazing is this thing. And the dealer gets the strongest recommendation I could give for anyone who does anything. Most of Jen's jewelry came from here, or on their advice.
A couple lots of pearl jewelry at Cowan's caught my eye. This little set retailed by Black, Starr & Frost is my favorite. Simple but elegant; old and real. A bargain at the estimated price, this will probably bring quite a bit more and would still be good value if you think you can use it.
Leslie Hindman has a great two-day sale with a wonderfully diverse selection from bargains to six-figure investment grade material. Let's start with a couple bargains. Above, a Victorian ring, estimated at 300-500.
Are brooches cool again? This one is. Made by Gorham and in for 400-600. Unique pieces like this are worth buying. Deco filigree rings are fun and all, but once you've seen one you've kind of seen most.
You knew there would be cat jewelry. Frankly, you should be thanking me that it's not all cat jewelry.
Hey, remember what I said about Deco filigree rings? Okay, but this one is nice with the pink topaz, and affordable. We've switched to a new auction, at Skinner.
I'll be honest, this Tiffany retailed timepiece is not my taste. But if you need a gift for the man or woman who wants to own a pocket watch but doesn't care what time it is because the world exists to serve them, here it is.
One last piece that's available immediately. J.E. Caldwell handled some of the nicest stuff. Check back for more holiday gift guides!
One of my favorite things to buy and sell is a type of British ceramics referred to by many collectors and dealers as "mochaware". It's hard to believe I've never written a blog about it. The term itself is a real one but it is typically used to describe a large group of wares, of which mocha is a small subset.
The decoration referred to as "dendritic", "seaweed", "tree", or "tasty part of the broccoli" is what sets mochaware apart. More accurate terms for examples within the larger category but outside of mocha might include adjectives like slip-decorated, slip-banded and dipped. The bodies are creamware or pearlware. Do I include "mocha" as a search term when I'm trying to sell a slip-decorated pot online? Yes. But I usually qualify it with "so-called". That's right - I'm outing myself as the "So-called mochaware" guy.
All the photos above and below show pieces I've owned or still own. Enjoy!
Coming with us to the Delaware Antiques Show, a Massachusetts mahogany easy chair in pretty green fabric. Extremely naughty, but also extremely crafty, cat not included.
The sale of the desk and bookcase pictured above at Cowan's Auctions in Cincinnati this past weekend has caused a considerable amount of confusion for some dealers in traditional Americana. I counted myself among their ranks in the immediate aftermath of the hammer dropping, but after talking to myself for nine hours on the drive east, I think it makes sense.
"Who spends $498,750 on a $25,000 desk? We could get them a first-rate Philadelphia carved high chest for that kind of money! We don't understand these 'others'...our understanding is superior to theirs because we can recognize that that's a $25,000 desk if it was made in Pennsylvania. They are crazy."
It doesn't make sense if you think there is only one kind of collecting. So from the beginning let's acknowledge that this sale highlights the fact that regional collectors and generalist collectors of Americana are two different species. Someone collecting Kentucky decorative arts exclusively could not care less about what a first-rate Philadelphia carved high chest costs right now. Its bearing on the conversation is zilch. They may both be pieces of American furniture, but in terms of the marketplace, you may as well be comparing the desk to a Chinese Ru-ware bowl.
It stands to reason that provenance is more important to regional collectors than it is to generalists. Collectors of stuff made near them tend to come from a background of appreciating history that was made near them. Collectors who want to build a group that represents the best of American furniture - or even the best of a larger region, like the Delaware Valley - are probably coming from a background of connoisseurship, evaluating an object on the basis of its aesthetic merit. Neither of those are absolute rules, maybe they are even bad ones. But I do know that if I wanted to own one of the best Rhode Island block and shell kneehole desks, I wouldn't really care who it was made for, I would care that it's the best. If it was a second-rate desk (still a six figure piece of furniture) but it belonged to some early governor of RI, who cares. Call me when you get a nicer one.
A six-figure desk not good enough? If that isn't crazy - and it's not - why are the factors that motivate regional collectors? My dad collects Delaware stuff. He has thousands of pieces of paper that he bought just because of who wrote on them and what they wrote. Pieces of paper! Is that crazy, or the basis of the whole historical manuscripts industry?
When superior form and provenance intersect in a regional marketplace, look out. Regional collectors have already set themselves up for not finding as much to buy, accepting that the law of supply and demand will not be in their favor as they build their collection. It will be hard to find, and cost a lot. If they liked poker, they'd likely adopt a TAG style of play. They're interested in a Tight range of objects but when they look down at one in that range they pursue it AGgressively.
Would the Cowan desk be worth a lot less if it was made in Philadelphia, sure, so what. As Kentucky furniture goes, it is a masterpiece. As Kentucky history goes, it's about as early and important as it gets. And the documentation is meticulous. To use an overused phrase, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity. It's Caesar Rodney's carved up Rococo desk and bookcase in great condition, signed by the Delaware cabinetmaker. That doesn't exist that I know of, but if you find it, you know...call me and stuff.
The price of the Cowan desk doesn't change anything but that doesn't mean it's a fluke either; it highlights the passion of a community of collectors who were there all along. It demonstrates that when an opportunity like this comes along, they are willing to pony up the cash. Come to think of it, those collectors aren't "other" at all, they're just like us.
The 2017 Delaware Antiques Show is four weeks away. We're busy making our list and checking it twice...things to do, things to take, labels to print, babysitting arrangements. Is it better to ask someone to watch the kids a month in advance or to beg them to when you need to leave in an hour?
Check back over the next month and we'll let you know! We'll even throw in some previews of items we're bringing to the show as part of the deal.
It's over, so there's that. And this great picture of me and the fam. A dealer friend of mine once said the most remarkable thing about an antiques show is how it happens, and then it's over. All that stuff assembled under one roof, the collective effort of so many people, and POOF - history. That's what New Hampshire Antiques Week 2017 is now, history. Catch me next at York at the end of September or if you're extra ambitious at Brimfield at the beginning of the month.
It's a TRAP! This blog isn't about antiques it all, it's about FOOD! Some of our favorite food in Manchester, NH, home of the week-long antiques extravaganza taking place about this time next month. If you're not familiar, check out the handy dandy map and schedule by clicking here. It's great and all that, lots and lots of antiques. Anyways, it's almost dinner time and I'm hungry and I want to talk about food. Here's our short-list. You'll notice it's long on family friendly and a little short on fine dining. That's life with toddlers, folks.
Jen found this place. Tucked on a side street around the corner from the Radisson, home of the NHADA Show, this is one of our favorites. Small, family run, friendly and familiar faces every year. Charlie has toured the kitchen and says it is top notch. The food is cheap, fresh, and fast. Jen's recommendation: tostadas. John's recommendation: carne asada tacos. Bonus joint recommendation: the guacamole is seriously the best we've ever had.
This is a classic. On the "how comfortable will you be when your kid dumps a plate of spaghetti on the floor" scale this place rates "ish", so we try to make it once during the week and call it at that. Great for a more dingbat free kind of night out. John's recommendation: Shrimp fra diavolo. I believe that's a special and not on the menu. Jen's recommendation: stop making me go here with the kids or I will hurt you.
Question: Are there hipsters in Manchester? Answer: Republic. It's very European-y, duh. I believe I recall drinking out of a Mason jar. John and Jen's recommendation: go there and like it or you won't be cool. Good for date night.
Go early, go often. Definitely go early because they sell out every day. Cupcakes taken to a whole new level. Make sure you take some home for your friends. John and Jen's recommendation: every cupcake we've ever had from here has been amazing.
It's a diner. If you like diner food, you'll love it. On the "how comfortable will you be when your kid starts putting french fries in his hair" scale, this is a "LOL, that looks fun let Daddy try it". Open 24 hours, breakfast all day and lots of other good stuff too. John's recommendation: Steak Bomb Hash Brown Special. Jen's recommendation: Chili Hash Brown Special.
See you in Manchester!
The entire family made the trek to Hartford for the 2017 Connecticut Spring Antiques Show and a great time was had by all, mostly more or less. It was great to see an old friend in the form ofa wonderful Connecticut Impressionist landscape, properly framed and looking fresh to death. Our "best" sale was the pilothouse eagle, but our favorite sale was the Scandinavian paint decorated blanket chest. It sold to a couple around our age who will use it as a coffee table. They loved the unusually fine quality of the decoration and were shocked at the price (less than $500). It's a great feeling to sell somebody something they can use at a bargain price. Our next show is Philadelphia, at the Navy Yard, April 21-23.
People who knew Pam better will write more insightful things, but these are a couple of my memories of her.
When I did the NHADA show for the first time on two weeks notice, I was walking the floor and came to Pam's booth on the downstairs level. I extended the same nod and reserved "Hi" that Chance the rapper probably gives Jay-Z when they run into each other at the Grammy's afterparty. Pam replied spryly "Hi John! How are you? Excited to be doing the show?" I said I was, but that I was nervous. Two weeks wasn't a lot of time, but I was happy just to be doing it and didn't have great expectations for selling under the circumstances. "You'll do fine." She was right.
I had met Pam maybe twice before this. After she said "Hi John!", a thought ran through my brain. I try to avoid coarse language in my blog, but in this instance I can't. I remember exactly what I thought, and historical accuracy outranks sugar-coating. "Holy shit, Pam Boynton knows who I am."
The following spring at Hartford, I had a nice theorem in my booth. Not a mind-blowing theorem, but a nice one. On Saturday afternoon Martha Boynton came over to the booth with Bill Samaha. "At least ask him for the dealer price!" Bill did. He hesitated. "What are you doing! Just buy the thing!" Bill did. He didn't need it. I'm sure he made money on it, but he didn't need it. He must have mentioned it to Martha and Pam as one of the things he liked on the floor, and I imagine them simultaneously blurting out "Buy it from the kid!" Pam's connection to that generation of the antiques business had made a sale for me. Not for someone else, for me.
I'm sure there were other things Bill liked on the floor. But Pam cared about the future of the business she excelled at and loved. It's the only excuse I can think of for why she cared who I was, knew that it was my first year at NHADA, and helped talk someone into buying something from me that he didn't need. It's easy to wish someone success, a lot harder to help make it happen. Some would call it Yankee ingenuity. Pam might not have known that I recognized how kind she had been to me, that I knew she had gone out of her way for me, and I regret that. I will miss her.
"American Impressionists" and "Bargain Basement" may not be two things you see together in one sentence often, but I speak from experience. Our bedroom is done in American Impressionists that may not have been really dirty cheap, but we love them.
This little landscape was bought in Hagerstown, MD out of a group shop for $575. The frame is original and the painting is in beautiful condition. Farrell trained in Philadelphia, which is somewhat local so that's cool. More importantly, it's a beautiful painting of high quality and it makes us happy.
This next one can cover a lot of holes in the plaster if you need it to. 36" square without the frame! $510 from Pook & Pook in 2014. I've always loved this type of still life painting.
We had this great little pastel in our house for a long time before Kate Avery of Heir & Space bought it from us. I'm not going to blow her cover but let's just say it cost less than a moderately fancy dinner for two. But enough about me, how about some paintings you can buy right now?
We all missed the boat on that last one at $72. Oh well, just look at it as an example of the bargains that are possible. Get out there and buy something you love!
"30 Years of Stories, Sales, Personalities, and Scandals". Since you can buy it on Amazon for like $8, I'm not going to make an extensive case for the book or spoil any of it.
That being said, I highly recommend it. Like as highly as I would recommend any book that's not Harry Potter or Peppa Pig. I've owned it for a very long time and still pull it down off the shelf on a regular basis. It was edited by Lita Solis-Cohen. She deserves a Nobel prize for putting up with as many antiques dealers as she has. That should be a new one, really. The Nobel Prize for putting up with a bunch of antiques dealers all the time.
The scandals and sales are great, but the personalities are the best. Chris Huntington, Roger Bacon, some psychopath who made fake Mormon documents, Eddy Nicholson. If you're weird like me you'll laugh, maybe cry, and read it all in one sitting. Just buy the book already!
Back to the serious stuff, the most important antiques-related thing a 30 year old dealer can think about, the future of the marketplace. For a variety of reasons, I think shows have a vital role to play. Maybe that will be another post. Humor me for the purposes of this lecture.
Diversity is a good thing. Some of the shows that might once have been considered the most traditional and stodgy are now allowing contemporary material in small doses, opening up date lines, hosting special events for young collectors, etc. That's all great, seriously, but it ignores a vital point of concern for a lot of young collectors - price. It's important to retain new collectors but equally or, perhaps at this moment in time, more important to recruit new ones. To invite potential new collectors to a cocktail party where the price points say "luxury" and "exclusive" rather than "useful" and "inexpensive" may not be constructive if those same people can't see spending $10,000 on an old walking stick.
I do shows, so I understand the excuses and I've had just enough to drink to write a one paragraph tirade about each one. We all have egos and are more important than that $195 blanket chest or $35 silhouette. There are different shows where people can buy that stuff. A $250 sampler doesn't pay its own rent even if it sells.
"I am too important to have a $195 blanket chest or $35 silhouette in my booth." You probably are. You know what I am? Too young to be doing a couple of the shows I do. The ones where many of the more experienced dealers thrive because they've had the opportunity to build relationships with existing collectors. Existing collectors. In other words, people who decided which dealers they would trust to build their collections through before I did my first show. Most of those collectors scurry by my booth as if I'm wearing one of those bird flu masks. But if you're too important to sell those things, odds are you actually kind of need at least some people my age to do that show, to fill it and sustain it. There are easier ways for me, but I enjoy the challenge and I'm a team player. You can be a team player too, by helping me out. Bring some interesting, inexpensive things. Doing so will help foster a new generation of collectors who I can sell to when I'm 96 and have bionic joints.
"If they want something for $50 why don't they go to that other show or a co-op." Great idea, that will help the show you're doing right now survive. Next.
"This show costs me $25 per square foot all-in, how can I bring a blanket chest for $195?" I don't know, I manage to do it and I mostly make money. You can't apply that math to your whole booth and hope to make it out alive, but that's not what I'm asking. Here's a little example:
Here's a lousy photo of three-quarters of one of the most profitable booths I ever set up. I sold a pair of Micah Williams portraits, a family of Da Lee miniatures, a bunch of gameboards, a slew of pots, and almost all those silhouettes on the right. A few of those silhouettes were one fifty, two fifty, but a bunch of them were thirty bucks, fifty bucks. I bet I sold silhouettes to ten different people. That's ten new customers for the mailing list. Ten people leaving that madhouse of a show thinking "even with a crowd that big there are bargains to be had here", "I can afford to buy at this show", "I can't believe you can buy a real antique with some substance to it for less than the filet at the hotel restaurant."
Those are happy thoughts, the ones we as collectors like to think and the ones we as dealers want collectors to have. Let's all be happy, let's all be activists for a healthier little antiques world. Bring something affordable and nice, a real bargain, to your next show.
So that Edward Hicks Penn's Treaty, the cover lot, did not sell. I've never been a fan of when a sale is considered to be a great success when actually the sale is a disaster but one thing breaks out. On the flipside, I don't think the cover lot passing makes a sale much less successful when the rest of the story is as positive as this one was.
Here are the numbers: 9% unsold; 6% sold below estimate; 21% sold within estimate; 64% sold above estimate. SIXTY-FOUR PERCENT! And this was not the most untouched stuff in the world. I'm not saying it was rough by any stretch, but it was not collected for condition. There were still bargains.
After the Schorsch sale last January, I think this was a great step forward for the Pennsylvania hardwood market. At that sale a lot of things that had been bought recently sold for nickels and dimes on the dollar. Sometimes provenance is great to have and makes a sale easier, but in the case of this sale I think it was helpful that the things had been off the market long enough that they weren't fresh in everyone's mind. I'll leave you with one of the stars from this year's Americana Week, and the top lot from the Peggy du Pont Smith sale.
These sheep were having a rough day when Susan Waters painted them. Especially the one on the left. "Dude, I've seen some things that are tough for a sheep to process today...some things it's hard for a sheep to forget" that sheep is saying. That's sort of how I feel when I reflect on Sotheby's sale of Folk Art from the Katz Collection, which I attended last Saturday.
29% unsold; 30% sold below estimate; 15% sold within estimate; 26% sold above estimate. It could be worse, right? If you want to separate the folk portraiture out then yes, it could be worse. Folk portraits (full size oil paintings): 48% unsold; 18% below; 24% within; 9% above.
The Rasmussen Almshouse took off. That saved the sale, with its own single-owner catalog, from falling short of the million dollar mark. What's the lesson? I'm not sure there's much of one. Collectors of folk art are very much adverse to lined paintings. In my opinion that is irrational, but it's life. That blurry realm in between folk and academic portraiture is not a real happy one as of late. Buy paintings by somebody who embraced the limitations of their naivety. Buy them in good condition when you can, and think hard when they are in good condition but lined (yes, that is a thing).
That's enough sad stuff for one night. Next blog will be about a much happier subject, formal Pennsylvania furniture. I. am. not. even. joking.
Happy New Year! Or as antiques dealers say, are you going to New York? If you're not, I am. I work cheap, too. How cheap? It depends on the level of service you require, but I'm pretty sure you'll be asking yourself "how can he work that cheap?" Meticulously thorough vetting, saleroom representation, getting the stuff out of the city. Peace of mind.
Where will I be? Everywhere, and all at once. Like a Tibetan monk achieving the rainbow body. I will be attending a session whenever there is one. When there are two, I'll attend one and phone-bid the other.
I'll leave the complete listing of events to others, but here's what I'm excited about:
Wednesday night I'll attend the Ceramics fair opening. On Thursday 1/19 I'll attend both sessions of the Parker sale at Sotheby's. I love the selection of Philadelphia carving; you could really do up a few rooms just out of this one sale. Then the Winter Antiques Show opens, the main event. And do you know what's cool about the Outsider show, also opening on Thursday? It does its own thing. Like the Ceramics fair does...I like that. On Friday the action shifts to Christie's for me. A wide variety. Plus it's nice to walk the diamond district during the break and visit the Thai food truck for lunch. Saturday it's back to Sotheby's for what will probably be a very long day. Some really nice things in all three sessions.
If there's something that excites you and you'd like for me to be in charge, let me know!
December is a time of year for a lot of things. Among my personal favorites are Festivus and asking yourself big scary questions. Like why is someone else raking in the internet bucks being generated by these Antiques Roadshow memes? How did they come up with it before me?
Pretty funny, right? But about as funny as if an antiques dealer downloaded a meme app and took out their angst on the thing antiques dealers hate the most...IKEA. The internet can definitely do better.
Well that one made two things obvious:
a) These are not being made by antiques people and
b) These are being made by people who are making the internet great again.
This one's a little bit redundant. There's one about white privilege I'm not even going to touch. Okay, I can smell the fragrance of rubber hitting road as my readership of eleven abandons this blog in droves. Time to right the ship.
This is offensive to no one and this is hilarious. Don't even.
This is one of the best. It is funny in a self-evident way, but it is also funny because if the internet had any idea what that "coat" actually was, they'd be losing it.
Is what I'm doing a thing people do? A bunch of memes with the author's commentary on each one? This has to be a thing.
This is another favorite. Grandiose claims of importance are a weird thing in the antiques business. When spoken among confederates of course it's a different story. But when the internet and society at large overhears us, it can be embarrassing. You called the chair what? Important? Is that even an adjective for chairs?
We, as an industry, lose credibility with humanity when we present this as anything other than the worst owl. Thank you, internet.
Welcome to our new website. Thanks to all who visited us at the Delaware Antiques Show this past weekend. With our last show of the year behind us we will focus on uploading current inventory, so please check back soon!