Monday, April 19, 2010

The Thrill of the Hunt

QUESTION: I’ve been buying most of my antiques at flea markets and in shops. I’d like to go to antique shows, but I’m afraid the prices will be too high. Can you give me some advice?

ANSWER: Though there are all sorts of antique shows out there, I divide them generally into three levels–the friendly firehouse or school show, the more elegant hotel show, and the high-end show.

You’ll find the first of these, the friendly firehouse or school show, held in a local fire company hall or the all-purpose room of an elementary school once or twice a year. Here, you’ll find lots of affordable antiques and collectibles. Prices range from as low as a few dollars up to perhaps three figures. Dealers, mostly from the surrounding region, tend to sell only at shows or out of their homes.

The more elegant hotel show comes around usually once a year and features finer items. Tables often display a myriad of small objects–Japanese Imari porcelains, Wedgewood, fine English majolica, and Staffordshire ware, along with small pieces of furniture, trunks, stained glass lamps, and so on. Dealers tend to come from a wider area, including surrounding states while prices range from two to four digits, with finer items selling for several thousand dollars.

High-end shows are extravagant affairs, both in goods and prices, and feature dealers from all over the country. For some patrons of these shows, nothing says they’ve made it better than bragging about how much they’ve spent on an antique, whether it be a piece of fine 18th-century furniture or a diamond necklace that once belonged to a princess. Just before the recession, patrons at these shows thought nothing of whipping out their checkbooks and writing checks for $30,000 to $40,000 for an Empire sofa or as much as a quarter million for an 18th-century Philadelphia secretary in the Chippendale style.

Many of these shows are vetted, which means the promoters guarantee everything sold there as authentic. Where’s the fun in that? Part of the thrill of the hunt is being able to tell for yourself if a piece is real or not by the knowledge you’ve amassed about it beforehand, especially when the dealer doesn’t have a clue.

And while you can attend high-end shows by paying the heft admission price–going to a good cause, of course–you’ll find the reception from other showgoers rather off-putting. Let’s face it. They have no idea from your worn jeans and casual top that you just inherited a cool million from daddy. The dealers, on the other hand, couldn’t be nicer. After all, they’ll gladly take money from anyone.

Give me the dealers at my neighborhood flea market and firehouse antique show any day. While things may not cost as much at these venues, the dealers love to bargain. And, for me, that’s part of the thrill of the hunt.

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