PHILADELPHIA, PENN. — It is extraordinary to think that in an industry as affluent and powerful as the art and antiques business, where billionaires and bold-face names populate the highest ranks, shows are only as good, or as durable, as their venues allow.
So it is with the 52-year-old Philadelphia Antiques Show, which returned to the Pennsylvania Convention Center April 12–15. In prerecession days, the fair seemed invincible in its longtime home, the 33rd Street Armory, where it last set up in 2007. After four years at the Navy Yard, it moved to the Pennsylvania Convention Center on Arch Street in downtown Philadelphia. It is a beautiful show with outstanding exhibitors and exceptional merchandise. The venue has been challenging.
First there was the hullabaloo over taxes. Philadelphia in its wisdom decided to retroactively enforce, going back six years, the collection of a business income and receipt tax, a net profits tax and a business privilege tax or license from exhibitors. This is above and beyond the city and state sales tax that dealers collect from their customers. For most participants, the additional taxes have turned out to be more of a nuisance than a hardship. Two prominent out-of-state exhibitors told us that while their additional tax bill was only about $500 their accountant’s fee came to roughly $2,000.
Working with union labor has been difficult. Some exhibitors shrug it off as the cost of doing business in a big city. Others came close to walking out of this year’s show before it opened. Some exhibitors complained of waiting up to two days for the builders, who they described as amiable but not particularly experienced in constructing high-end art and antiques fairs. Exhibitors said they were contractually forbidden from doing the simplest things for themselves.
The show committee is addressing dealers’ concerns as best it can. Chairman Katharine Eyre told Antiques and The Arts Weekly, “The unions have a contract with the convention center. An event organizer such as the Philadelphia Antiques Show gets a contract from the convention center that outlines very clearly the expectations of using labor. It’s a done deal. It’s my understanding that the carpenters’ union is renegotiating its contract with the Pennsylvania Convention Center and, perhaps for that reason, was not willing to make concessions.”
Many associated with the show would like to see valet parking, at least on opening night and after other evening events. Again, convention center rules prohibit it, at least in the show’s current space, says Eyre. “If we were in the new part of the convention center, with entrances on Broad Street across from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, we could do it.” One year remains on the show’s three-year contract with the convention center, said Eyre, who does not anticipate another move for the Philadelphia Antiques Show.
Technical difficulties aside, show organizers have reason to be pleased. The Friday, April 12, preview party was well attended and the floor was crowded through opening day on Saturday. Encouraged by exhibitors, management wisely moved the preview dinner onto the show floor. The Saturday morning Collectors’ Panel and Young Collectors Night proved popular, as did Museum Members Monday, which drew a group of 135 from the Philadelphia Museum of Art for an illustrated talk by PMA curator Alexandra Kirtley and a walk-through with guides.
“We had great turnout from museum directors and curators and had groups from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Historic New England and Historic Deerfield. We are reaching out and bringing back the national audience that we had before the last recession,” said Eyre.
The show, a stalwart for traditional American fine and decorative arts, did not disappoint. Back for its second year, New York’s Levy Galleries wrote up a circa 1745 Philadelphia Queen Anne dressing table with trifid feet, plus redware that once belonged to Saturday Evening Post editor George Horace Lorimer, a portion of whose extensive collections went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Other sales included a New York table and candlesticks.
“A tremendous crowd gets through here. We see people from all over the country,” said Frank Levy.
Downingtown, Penn., dealer Philip H. Bradley parted with a blanket chest inscribed with the name of its owner, Johannes Reichert, 1775. From New Hanover Township, Montgomery County, Penn., the piece is painted with village scenes. The dealer also sold a circa 1840 astronomical regulator by Brown & Sharpe of Providence, R.I., one of four examples known.
New Oxford, Penn., dealer Kelly Kinzle covered the bases, arraying a Philadelphia bonnet-top highboy, a paint decorated dower chest, a pair of Ammi Phillips portraits and a carousel horse in old paint.
Showstoppers at C.L. Prickett Antiques included a walnut tall case clock by William Hudson of Mount Holly, N.J., circa 1785; a cherry bonnet-top chest on chest from Deerfield, Mass., and a circa 1760 Philadelphia carved mahogany lowboy that Israel Sack sold to New London, Conn., collector George S. Palmer.
Mechanicsville, Penn., dealer Christopher Rebollo led with a rare circa 1830–35 Pennsylvania dwarf clock, $85,000, by Henry Oberholtzer Bower. The eight-day timepiece in a cherry, walnut and ivory case is from Faulkner Swamp, Penn., and measures 49½ inches tall.
Gems among Elle Shushan’s gallery of notables included a miniature portrait of a gentleman by F.A. Holtzwart, signed and dated 1835. Holtzwart is known for his lithograph “A View of Reading taken from the West Side of the Schuylkill,” 1837, with a dedication to the citizens of Berks County.
“This may be his only extant miniature painting,” said the Philadelphia dealer.
Southern specialist Sumpter Priddy III presented a circa 1825 cylinder desk, $110,000, with term-figure supports. It is attributed to Baltimore cabinetmaker Edward Priestly, who Alexandra Kirtley wrote about in a cover essay for American Furniture 2000.
“We’re pleased,” said Arthur Liverant, who featured a handsome set of cherry Federal side chairs with Prince of Wales splats, $85,000, probably given by Lieutenant governor George Brown (1745/6–1836) of Rhode Island to his daughter Elizabeth Brown on the occasion of her marriage in 1791. The Colchester, Conn., dealer also offered a rare 1817 Asa Mungers musical tall clock, $225,000, from Herkimer, N.Y., that plays seven tunes.
Textiles were a bright spot. Stephen and Carol Huber racked up sales ranging from an 1808 Charlestown Academy silk embroidery worked by Abigail Cunningham under the instruction of Hannah Spofford to a circa 1790 Marblehead, Mass., sampler by Rebecca Dixey from a group that includes the famous Ruthy Rogers sampler. Small but spectacular was a 1762 Dresden work sampler by Sarah Marriott of Philadelphia, $220,000.
“Most of my best pieces this time are from Philadelphia,” said Amy Finkel, who parted with two Folwell school silk embroideries by the Ralston sisters and was waiting for the right person to claim a 1792 Ann Marsh school needlework by Ann Simmons. Closely related to an example in the Betty Ring collection, the embroidery’s central medallion encloses a shepherd and shepherdess.
“This is a real collectors’ show,” said Oriental rugs dealer Peter Pap. Among his best pieces were an Eighteenth Century Karabagh awash with aubergine, green and gold, $85,000; an arrestingly abstract Konya Yatak Turkish village rug of circa 1800, $55,000; and a Moghan Kazak dating to the first quarter of the Nineteenth Century, $42,000.
“I had a good show,” said Joan Brownstein, a Newbury, Mass., specialist in American folk painting who parted with her catalog piece, a vibrant riding scene by Henry Herman Cross, and a pair of exquisitely sensitive early Nineteenth Century miniature graphite on paper portraits of a African American couple.
Jeff and Holly Noordsy went for a trifecta, hanging a previously unrecorded New England overmantel painting, $21,000, over a mantel, which itself hung over a Nineteenth Century fireboard painted with a lively architectural view, $28,500.
Steven F. Still offered a tape loom, ex Pastor Weiser, ornamented with birds and heart cutouts, $17,500, while Greg Kramer featured the sandstone sculpture of Ernest “Popeye” Reed.
Elliott and Grace Snyder showcased a painted hanging cupboard with vivid red, teal and gold decoration, $75,000, and a lyrical cherry and mahogany sideboard, $35,000, from Vermont.
At Olde Hope Antiques, a winsome cupid weathervane, only 23 inches tall, floated above a large, crisply carved and painted John Scholl snowflake, $27,500, of circa 1910.
Gemini Antiques’ nod to Pennsylvania Dutch tradition was a huge, molded chalkware figure, circa 1880, of Father Christmas. Priced $110,000, it was found in Doylestown, Penn., about 25 years ago.
This year’s loan show, “Pewter: The Philadelphia Story,” produced a surfeit of fine metalware.
“This is fun,” said silver specialist James McConnaughy of S.J. Shrubsole, reaching for a Philadelphia Federal teapot of 1795 that, intriguingly, is engraved with arms of the London pewterers’ guild. “We think it may have been made for a Philadelphia pewterer, but we are still doing the research.”
Donald and Patricia Herr brought out two Pennsylvania treasures, a heavily engraved pewter teapot by Johann Philip Alberti (worked 1754–1780), $50,000, ex collection of Donald Shelley, and a folky wrought iron fork, $14,000.
To a young couple, New Hampshire dealer Michael Hingston sold a Jensen-inspired footed silver bowl by William DeMateo, a New York craftsman who became Colonial Williamsburg’s first silversmith.
Ralph M. Chait Galleries, dealer in classical Chinese art, was off to an exceptional start on Saturday, having reserved a large scholar’s rock, a pair of famille verte porcelain chargers and a pair of powder-blue Roulleau vases.
Organizers expanded the fine arts component of this year’s show, offering agreeable depth in pre-1940 American painting. Of note was Thomas Wilmer Dewing’s oil on panel “Lydia in Green” at Avery Galleries; a painting and related oil sketch of Lulworth Cove, Dorset, England, by William Trost Richards at William Vareika Fine Arts; and, at Bernard Goldberg, Thomas Hart Benton’s “Colonial Post,” a gutsy maritime-themed pencil drawing for a mural commission that was never completed.
Local favorite Schwarz Gallery sold the sparkling 1894 watercolor “The Wissahickon Creek, Philadelphia” by Peter Caledon Cameron. The Cooley Gallery of Old Lyme, Conn., placed holds on two canvases, both Barnegat, N.J., subjects, by Pennsylvania Academy-trained painter Granville Perkins.
The 2014 Philadelphia Antiques Show is scheduled for Friday through Tuesday, April 25–29.
“We may drop the final day, pending analysis of this year’s receipts and consultation with the dealers’ advisory committee,” said Katharine Eyre, who, per custom, is handing the reins to a new chairman. Nancy Kneeland will preside next year.
For additional information, www.thephiladelphiaantiquesshow.com or 610-902-2109.