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Americana Week in New York City is both serious business and immense entertainment. This year was no exception with show debuts, gallery openings, a gallery farewell, record auction results (with some surprisingly high prices), and steady sales bolstered by unprecedented gates at the six antiques shows. It was an energized, educational several days—not to mention profitable. The amount of business done—including just the antiques shows and auctions from January 16 to 27—is conservatively estimated to exceed $75 million. The high note set by Americana Week can be seen as the season’s market indicator, proving that collectors are as eager as ever to buy top-quality antiques.

Liberty Giving Sustenance to the Eagle, ca. 1810. Attributed to Margaretta Ray Smith Locke (1800–1884). School of Samuel Folwell (ca. 1765/68–1813), Philadelphia, PA. After an engraving by Edward Savage (1761–1817). Silk, chenille, metallic thread, and oil on silk, 25 x 16 inches. On view in the reinstalled American Art Galleries. Courtesy of Birmingham Museum of Art.

For the week’s flagship show, the 48th Annual Winter Antiques Show, the venue changed because of military use of the traditional Park Avenue Armory location, but collectors still found their way to the Hilton on Sixth Avenue. Celebrities attended, too—including NY mayor Michael Bloomberg, lifestyle maven Martha Stewart, and the younger set such as TV’s Law & Order star Marisa Hartigay. The different location gave the long-standing show “a new and exciting feeling this year—an element of surprise was there,” noted one visitor.

“We had a record-breaking opening weekend,” said show manager Catherine Sweeney Singer, who once again pulled the whole thing together with grace and style. Opening night’s strong turnout was followed by a record first day attendance of 3,000. Hundreds arrived early on January 20 for the Collectors’ Breakfast sponsored by The Catalogue of Antiques & Fine Art, featuring guest speakers Wendy A. Cooper, furniture curator at Winterthur Museum, and Allan Breed, who spoke on making an eighteenth-century Newport tea table. When attendees pressed Breed to give a price for his Newport-style tea tables, his answer—between $7,000 and $10,000—elicited a collective “oooh.” (Original pieces bring from double digits into the millions.)

An impressive display at the Winter Show was Winterthur’s loan exhibition Shells, Scrolls & Cabrioles. “We joked about putting red ‘sold’ dots on the wall labels,” quipped Cooper about the spectacular lineup of American high chests. “It took my breath away to see these fine examples side by side,” remarked a Philadelphia collector. “It was a great way to compare forms and styles from different regions—like a high chest ‘hall of fame.’”

Exhibitors’ booths were split on two levels in the airy Hilton exhibition halls, but the buzz traveled quickly floor to floor as attendees discovered and talked about “finds” throughout the show. Of interest was a stunning gilt maple and mother-of-pearl Herter Brothers chair, 1881–1882, originally made for the Vanderbilt’s Fifth Avenue mansion and offered by Associated Artists for $1.2 million. The chair, an important precursor to the art nouveau style, was commissioned by William H. Vanderbilt for his drawing room. Hirschl & Adler Galleries offered a Herter Brothers console table from the same room (the piece descended through the Vanderbilts, then sold to celebrity pianist Liberace, whose collection went to auction). Both pieces show that the Vanderbilt drawing room was a gorgeous setting with an influential design “in the air of a Venetian palazzo.”

Stephen and Carol Huber had to repeatedly rehang their walls to keep up with the demand for girlhood needlework pictures. And within 15 minutes of the opening, Wayne Pratt sold a Chippendale block-front chest in the $125,000 price range. Similarly, arms and armor dealer Peter Finer reported very strong sales with many of his “star” pieces finding specialized collectors such as a New York woman who buys only daggers. His noteworthy sales included a colorful Bohemian pavise (shield) with lion decoration, circa 1400. Indeed, Finer sold so much that a few weeks later his booth at the Palm Beach International Art & Antiques Fair had to be restocked.

Console table from the drawing room of the William H. Vanderbilt house. Herter Brothers (active 1864–1907), New York, 1881–1882. H: 36”. Offered at the Winter Antiques Show. Courtesy of Hirschl & Adler Galleries.

The New York Ceramics Fair, held at the National Academy of Design, also enjoyed record attendance—reaching 6,000 by the closing day of January 20. “Not only do you have museum curators and connoisseurs coming here,” explained one exhibitor, “buyers also include new collectors and people just interested in a decorative look.” There is definitely something for everyone at this fair, evident in the diversity of offerings in all price ranges, both purely decorative as well as beautiful, utilitarian pieces—from English ironstone to French art glass. For example, Cohen & Cohen displayed a pair of circa 1790 export porcelain plaques, painted with scenes of schoolchildren, offered in the six figures. And old Paris porcelain at Fenichell-Basmajian’s booth was priced between $750–$12,500.

Also uptown that week, Winter Show exhibitor Leigh Keno opened his new gallery at 127 East 69th Street. In the spirit of a rocking college party, the elegantly restored space was filled to capacity for the gallery’s opening on January 17. His booth at the Winter Show also attracted crowds—his total show sales reached around $2 million including a $550,000 Newport Chippendale high chest of the Goddard-Townsend school.

The next night, legendary dealers Albert and Robert Sack gave a poignant farewell as they closed their near century-old family business, Israel Sack, Inc. Some of their inventory brought about $2.2 million at auction that weekend, including an Aaron Willard mantel clock that sold to Leigh Keno for just over $170,000. The brothers aren’t actually retiring: Albert has moved to Portsmouth, NH, to advise Northeast Auctions, and Robert is focusing on the Sack Heritage Web site.

Anthony S. Werneke hosted his first-ever gallery exhibition in Adam Williams’s space on 78th Street. It began with a festive open house on January 16 that collectors hope will become a tradition for the Americana dealer—his finds were fine and his Madeira-tasting superb. Sales included a slate-top mixing table, CT, ca. 1755–1760.

Also debuting in the week’s lineup of happenings was a fabulous new show, The American Antiques Show (TAAS), which benefits the American Folk Art Museum. The Metropolitan Pavilion on 18th Street provided a spacious, well-lit space for the show, which was managed with finesse by Josh Wainwright of Wainwright, Keeling Associates.

Sales of American folk art were red hot at TAAS—everything from a wooden whale weathervane to whirligigs whirled out the door. Exhibitor Jeffrey Tillou sold an important carved angel figure that was reportedly once used to promote the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. M. Finkel and Daughter sold eighteen samplers before the show ended. Russ Goldberger of RJG Antiques proclaimed the show “the best we’ve ever done.”

Early-nineteenth-century carving of a French soldier. Found in NH. White pine. Sold at The American Antiques Show. Courtesy of David Wheatcroft.

According to some exhibitors, “brown” formal furniture fared less well than its painted country counterparts. However, Heller Washam sold a Chippendale figured mahogany chest on opening night as well as a Chippendale mirror and a set of sconces. And by the end of the show, Thomas Schwenke reported selling a lovely pair of classical rectangular stools and a North Shore bow-front chest.

Overall, exhibitors and attendees gave the management, attendance, and atmosphere of TAAS high marks. “Dealers gave a lot of thought to their booths,” noted one attendee, “the venue as a whole was comfortable.” Another collector agreed, “This show presented all the dealers I usually buy from. I look for interesting surfaces and original paint—I was excited to find a red-painted tea table at Jackie Radwin, game boards at Odd Fellows and Harvey Antiques, and a Windsor chair at Lincoln and Jean Sander.”

“It’s good that this show is connected to the American Folk Art Museum—maybe it will create a larger collecting base,” said exhibitor Allan Katz. He added, “We had a wonderful preview night and sold major items. There was a lot of energy.” By the end of the show, Katz had sold out much of his booth, including a wonderful carved granite seated dog, circa 1920. When asked how he would recuperate his inventory in time for the Philadelphia Antiques Show, he replied, “I’ve saved some surprises.”

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