Besides looking at interesting and good merchandise as presented in a “fancy” antiques show, like the Haughton International Fine Art and Antiques Show in New York last week, it’s really fun to find the fakes or disastrously put together items. Vetting? Excuse me!
One of my favorite all time “finds” in one of those upscale shows was a magnificent Japanese round bronze jardinière with various animals like a lion, elephant, and monkey in relief. Great patina too, and I had 3 more. The (French) dealer who displayed the piece is unfortunately no longer in business, but the vetting process is still promoted by the Show organizers as some sort of guarantee.
As I reminisce about what I’ve seen in this past show that qualify as “finds”, I thought I might comment on 2 stellar examples. In the booth of a British dealer, who brought his best English furniture and decorations, there stood out to me a pair of magnificent red tole wall sconces. What large size, shape, color, and decoration. But hold on. The two arms were 2 small gilt bronze dolphins holding a fount with the same red tole. However, upon looking more carefully, it was a different red and differently decorated. And what did the dolphins have to do with this piece anyway too? I think if anyone saw what I saw, you’d have to question the originality of the sconces.
The second was a bit trickier, but none the less, more intriguing. Finding a set 8 of Art Deco wall sconces can seem almost too good to be true. When they have style and are unique in form and material, they can be exceptional. This set had a large back plate of decorated mirror with 2 centered vertical bronze arms in a Gilbert Poillerat design. What designer could have made them? Upon closer examination, it seemed a little funny that the bronze arms were extending from the mirror backing in an area of the decoration. Why would you put the hole for the bronze arms over the edge of the decoration? Could the mirrors and the arms be “married”?
Vetting is strictly an opinion by people who claim to be transparent. I’ve heard of some interesting stories where a dealer will protest about these arbiters of what is and isn’t right. Is the dealer store or the venerable Sotheby’s or Christie’s auction houses more accurate? This is what’s fascinating about our business. Sometimes the best connoisseurs get it wrong. It is in the eye of the buyer who must understand what they are buying. A stock broker might have tooted Enron stock; look at those earning! Cooking the books can be like selling fakes.
Fortunately, most items that do pass through the market are pretty original and every good antique is meant to be displayed in its best condition. Museums don’t display their items in “as found” condition and dealers certainly want to put the best possible sparkle on their merchandise. At any show, vetting is really buyers beware; when an exhibiting dealer doesn’t display a price and or description of the items in their booth, that dealer really is telling buyers beware of asking a question, any question.