When it comes to the pursuit of Americana, collecting is feverish in this normally staid city. Demonstrating the current strength of the field was the 41st annual Philadelphia Antiques Show, held in April.
At the preview party and the following day, scores of collectors were spotted closely examining furniture, sometimes even turning drawers out of chests. They were not only locals; the event has become the main venue for Americana collectors, and dealers reported that clients came from as far away as the West Coast. John Hays, Christie's deputy chairman, Americas, says he tells all his clients to come. “It is the Americana show in the country,” says Mr Hays.
Buying was almost on a level with what has recently been happening at auctions, also showing buoyancy in this market. New York dealer Leigh Keno sold a finely veneered federal sideboard from Providence, Rhode Island for $650,000, a 1760 Chippendale sideboard with a new marble top for $385,000, a Boston tiger maple pole screen and a Chippendale walnut chest of drawers. Hyland Granby quickly wrote up a whirligig, scrimshaw, primitive carvings of owls, miniature globes and a Robert Salomon marine painting, while Connecticut dealers Stephen and Carol Huber scored sales of needlepoint from $50,000 to $200,000, including a Philadelphia silk embroidery for $185,000. “It was our second best show ever here,” said Ms Huber.
Nineteenth-century furniture, once considered “common” in this town, is suddenly acceptable and new participant Creswell Rush Berlin did well. He sold two classical sofas, one a New York Sheraton for $75,000 and the other, a Salem classical example for $38,000 as well as a New York cheval for $19,500, along with Philadelphia silver and a miniature armoire. “There's a keen interest in classical pieces,” said Mr Berlin.
The show is run by a group of 200 Waspy volunteer ladies –a dying breed–who recruit high powered sponsors such as Christie's and Chubb who put down as much as $50,000 apiece and obtain hotel, airline and even railroad discounts for showgoers.
Last year the organisers handed over a stunning $759,000 to the fair’s charity, the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center and as a result has attracted delegations from institutions–from hospitals to clubs–wanting to learn how to fine-tune an antiques fair.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Americana in high favour'