What I saw this afternoon, strolling down the aisles of the Winter Antiques Show in New York, kind of sums up what is endemic with the antiques trade, and by its virtue, so contrasting to the auction environment.
I am dealer, a third generation dealer. I’ve also never participated in an antiques show but have attended many since I first started working at Newel in the summer of 1969. The antiques trade was a totally different world back then. I don’t want to get too sentimental or wish for the good old days (they weren’t too bad as a matter of fact), but if today’s world measures the prestige and cache of the trade with a show like this, I can’t image where we will be in the next 35 years. What will my children think of the trade’s opportunities if they’re going to contemplate coming into the family business?
For one thing, how boring must this show be when I see a prominent dealer doing a New York Times crossword puzzle on an aisle bench and not even noticing me or anyone else walking around his (small) booth. Compare that scene with the action at an auction of this dealer caliber of merchandise. The quality of the merchandise is certainly comparable to a good auction, but it’s the social swirl of the opening that gets the entire buzz. The most exciting event at the show on Tuesday afternoon was a group of Junior League women trying to urge dealers to explain their goods. Now that sounds so cutting edge, and to think you all missed it. Oh well, I’ll take the scene at the exhibition and auction of Johnny Cash’s estate, or the Safra auction, or even a Sotheby’s arcade sale.
Actually, I haven’t been to an auction in a while, but do occasionally go to the exhibitions. But the “high-status show” concept just can’t keep up with the successive Sotheby’s/Christie’s staging of sales. My criticisms of the auctions will be covered later, as that topic has as much if not more issues than the dealer’s troubles. But I think you get my point that the industry is truly divided into two camps; the dealer and auctioneer both operate in totally different manners and approaches, for different reasons.
As this is my 1st posting to Newel’s Blog concerning my industry, I hope to elaborate and comment on these and other issues of the trade in more detail.