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July 2010

In June, the world and his wife come to London for its fashion, exhibitions, Wimbledon - and its antiques fairs.  Among the various and usual eye-watering attractions expected in the London Season, this year there was something new and utterly spectacular to think and talk about, nor was it the expertise of Serena Williams and Rafa Nadal...

We kicked off the antiques season with Olympia, which was under new (American) organisation.  It was glitzy, the aisles were wider than before, and it looked good, but there was some major discontent among those showing their wares, not least of which was the hiked cost.  In the world of wine-related antiques, there was little of interest other than a few decanters and the occasional wine cooler.  You may blame me for not having a stand/booth (this has US as well as UK readers), but with the greatly increased costs, I opted to be a visitor; it was a good move.

A week later, “Art Antiques London” opened in a pavilion in Kensington Gardens.  It was a new fair brought about by the demise of the Grosvenor House Fair.  With its pedigree in ceramics (the organiser is a ceramics dealer), it was not surprising that porcelain and pottery dealers were thick on the ground.  However, there was a sufficient number of furniture, silver, and other dealers to lend balance.  It looked good and business was done to keep most participants happy - if not deliriously so.

The big question everyone was talking about, was what was going to replace Grosvenor House?  Several ex-Grosvenor House dealers had made early decisions to exhibit at Olympia or Art Antiques London.  However, ‘Masterpiece’ was what the world was waiting for, despite its public announcement only a few months before.  Was it going to be ‘Grosvenor House in a tent’?  Could it be more elegant than the improved-looking Olympia?  Where was it going to be in the national and international pecking order?  The stakes were sky high.

The first impression (how important is that?) was one of exceptional style on a vast scale. Masterpiece was organised by four top-end London dealers and Dutch stand-fitters. They had one thing in common - they were all relatively young - I’d guess in their 40s, and they brought a wonderfully refreshing brand of novel modern thinking with them.  It was definitely not ‘just’ an antiques fair, although antiques marginally predominated; it was a celebration of the best, some would say the best of the best. The organisers took a massive leap of faith - and anyone who appreciates the best should support them when Masterpiece returns next year.

The edifice - it was hardly a marquee, a pavilion, nor was it a building, but a massive temporary structure the front of which was a colossal trompe l’oeuil of a terrace of Georgian houses - full size!  The inside was, in the words of someone from the other side of the Atlantic, “awesome” with broad spaces, impressive lighting displays, and tall ceilings.  There were avant garde and proportionate arrangements of flowers at strategic positions around the show, and several fine restaurants from which to satisfy the inner self; they included Scotts, Le Caprice, Harry’s Bar, and The Ivy, among others.  This was no ordinary antiques fair.  It was - well - what it said it was - a masterpiece!

What a joy to see furniture laid out with space to appreciate just how fine so many pieces were, rather than acres of brown mahogany stacked together as happens at almost every other antiques fair.  Silver, jewellery, pictures, and objets d’art were juxtaposed with fine wines, watches, and classic motor cars.  The age of exhibits was less of a consideration than their quality, although many of the antiques were sensationally fine.  Where else might one see a rug made of 26,649 rubies, diamonds, sapphires and emeralds all stitched into place with 18-carat gold thread, or a Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport in close proximity to a Canaletto or a £1,000,000 billiard table ?  It was almost as if the Financial Times Saturday supplement “How to Spend It” had been shifted up two gears and  translated into reality in a single ultra-smart location.  Beau monde certainly endorsed it with their presence in droves.  It was an event to ‘dress for’ - and almost everyone did.  It was an outstanding triumph at a global level. 

What will become of Olympia and the Art and Antiques Fair?  Three top quality antiques fairs in one month, and in one city, even if it is London, is at least one too many.  And there were lesser fairs, too.  In future newsletters I will keep you abreast of current thinking and picking the best of what others have said about the most important month to dealers in antiques and art.  For sure there will be some interesting developments.

Although I did not take a stand at any of the fairs, I was invited to show some of my stock on the stands of others, who were happy to have my decanters, coasters and corkscrews amongst their offerings.  We sold a good percentage, and I am delighted at the outcome. This type of co-operation is beneficial to everyone as it enables me to offer my stock to an enlarged clientele, and those who have stands to be offer a wider variety of merchandise.

Finally, Many readers many not have heard about my most recent book - “Great British Wine Accessories 1550 - 1900\" which was published last September.  If you would like to know more about it, please go to www.gbwa.co.uk. where you can see several sample pages and read the reviews.  I have to say I am delighted with what my publisher was able to achieve - and with the reviews.

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