The Waterford Antiques Roadshow – You never know what will come through the door

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part of the current pottery exhibit. Photo by Jamie McDougall

For the past two years our local Waterford museum has been lucky to have an ambitious, enthusiastic young curator named James Christison.  James has done a great job.  Currently there is an impressive show of the Pottery of Norfolk and Brant County well worth seeing.   Last year he had the idea to have an “Antiques Roadshow” type fundraiser for the museum, gathering up 12 local “experts” to appraise any item you have been wondering about, coming from the basement or your grannies attic, for a reasonable sum of $5 each.  When asked, I was happy to donate my time to look over the furniture and art.  It helps the museum and you never know what will come through the door.  The event has gone well both years, with about 200 people in attendance each time.  And of course some people bring in 5 or 6 items so it adds up.  It’s a great deal for those who participate, and is also a great way to increase interest in antiques in general.

Naturally, like on the TV show the main pitch is about money.  Everybody is hoping to find out that item that they paid nothing for is now worth (ta da) $40,000.  Take it away Don Pardo.  But of course the reality is a lot of items are simply ordinary,  and have little or no monetary value. This can be disappointing of course but still, with inquisitive people it can happen that as they learn more about an object they develop an interest, and it becomes less about the money, and more about the value of the item in aesthetic and historic terms.  That’s the fun part, really.  Helping people connect and gain enthusiasm for something.  Be it, pottery, Indian artifacts, furniture, or whatever.  Still, the potential for “making big bucks” is the pitch which gets them in there, and that’s fine too.  Witness the head-line of the (front page mind you) article from the local paper.  In bold type “Cashing in on collectibles”.  Smaller type “There could be big value in yard sale finds”.  And the well written article is pretty much about that.  Which I suppose is to be expected these days when in general so much emphasis is placed on commercial value.  But wouldn’t it be great if there was some mention of the joy many people experience knowing more about their item in spite of recognizing that it had no real monetary value.  I’m a dreamer.

paperI was busy right from the get go until about 2:30 when I told the last man in line that yes, I could go out to the parking lot to look at a chess table he had brought in, but right after that I had to go and eat a sandwich, as I was starting to fade.  A lot of what I saw was fairly common turn of the century prints in late Victorian frames which is one of those “let them down easy” moments.  Some ask, “Are you sure it’s not a painting.  I was always told it was a painting”, and so you point out the company name and date written in tiny print right down along the bottom, and that usually convinces them.  You also look at a lot of chairs, I suppose because everybody’s got some kicking around and they are easy to bring in.  Lots of looking at large furniture on cell-phones.  Some of it amazing stuff, but if they are looking to unload it, it’s hard to think of who you might suggest is dealing in massive, walnut Jacques and Hayes sideboards.  Still, you give them what’s called the fair market value, that being the highest value that would be paid between a knowledgeable buyer and seller in a fair and uncontrolled market.  This is the figure you use for insurance purposes.  You then explain that this figure is often higher than you could hope to receive selling it to a dealer.  Dealers needing to make money, and eat, etc.  It’s amazing how many people do not “get” this concept until it’s introduced to them.

But as pleasant it is to pass a day looking at random stuff, it is the occasional exceptional piece that you hope for.  And this year I was not disappointed.  The first thing that quickened my breath was an absolutely mint large 5 point oil lamp candelabra complete with springs to supply adjustable height. It was all there and with an excellent, untouched original gilded finish.  Probably about 1860.  As it happens curator James came along just after I had given it an estimated value of $1,000 and suggested he had recently considered but did not have the budget to purchases a similar but much larger example with 8 points, valued by the seller at $2,500.   The people had recently bought an old house and the lamp was original to the dining room, but they were looking to change the feel of the room so wanted to sell.  I am hopeful that something might get worked out there.   Serendipity is fun.

paperjeremy.jpgShortly after an interesting well-dressed woman showed me a few items on her phone.  When she hit the shot of the early 19th century folk painted door from Nova Scotia I just about wet myself.  Holy Mackerel, talk about hitting all the buttons.  This thing has it all.  Every one of the four panels, front and back is decorated with scenes of ships at sea, forests, and other maritime features, with every molding decorated with geometrics in lovely colours, etc.  You could see the surface was untouched and magnificent.  A stellar piece of museum quality.    I was able to recreate one of those classic “roadshow” moments.  “Well, a normal door of this period would be worth a few hundred dollars, but I would place a fair market value of $15,000 on this door.  Gasps and giggles all around.  She was of course delighted.  I asked her what she paid for it and she told me she paid a lot for it 35 years ago.  The $750 she forked out just about blew her marriage but she felt she had to have it.  She said the husband is long gone.  I told her she was better off with the door.  We laughed and had a good time for a couple of minutes and then it was time to move on.  Her parting comment was that she had not yet found a place for it in her new home but that she was going home to do so, and fetch it out of the basement.

Then a bit later after seeing a lot more nice, but ordinary things a gentleman took out two rather large (16’x24”ish) pastel portraits of two plains Indians.  I called over Jamie McDougall, he Indian artifacts expert, and he too was knocked out by them.  They are signed by the artist A.E. Robillard, and dated 1909.  They are in beautiful, seemingly original dark oak frames. The men are dressed in “white man” cloths but you can see from the fineness of the lines and strong expressions that they were captured beautifully from life.  The elderly gentleman was excited to find out that they were of value and was interested to know more.  He was not on the internet so Jamie got his phone number and offered to get in touch with the OxBow Museum in Saskatchewan for him.  It felt good to know that these amazing and haunting portraits were now being recognized for the treasures that they truly are.

All in all, a very worthwhile day.  I am already looking forward to next year.paperme

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My thoughts after attending the fall 2018 Christie Antique and Vintage Show

 

field1“Canada’s favourite antique & vintage show with hundreds of dealers and almost 10 acres of treasures to be discovered. You’ll find china, jewellery, signs, tins, scientific instruments, folk art, postcards, native artifacts, Canadiana, fine art, nostalgia items, furniture and much, MUCH more! Food vendors onsite. Rain or shine. – you’re sure to find something to love!”

This is the way the Ontario Summer Fun Guide describes the Christie show and I think it’s accurate up to a point. You will find all the things listed above on the field.  What they don’t include in the list and I feel should be, is reproductions: and it should be way up the list.  Perhaps number one. The field is rife with them. And as you stand there and watch the crowd you realize how few people notice, or perhaps care for that matter, if they are buying a reproduction or not.

I saw a man ask the vendor as he lifted one of ten identical cast iron string holders, “so this is old, right.  It looks old.” There’s ten of them sir. He bought it. I rest my case.  I’m afraid that sounds elitist but I think it is a fair observation.

field4This is sort of tragic in the way that a lot of what is happening to our society over the last while is tragic.   Fake is as good as real, as long as it makes you feel good about yourself. If it’s cheap and it looks like an expensive thing, who cares?  Well I care, and I think a lot of people care.

In the interest of education, and fairness for goodness sake, I think that show management should insist that every reproduction is a clearly indicated on the tag as “Reproduction”. That’s all. In fact a separate, uniform tag with “Reproduction” in big red letters would be best.  I think it would make a world of difference, and there’s no down side.  Those who don’t care will not begin to do so, those who know it is a repro will no longer be offended, and most importantly those who are in doubt will no longer feel as vulnerable, and will trust the system well enough to go ahead and purchase that item he or she “thinks” is an antique. If we have to accept that reproductions are a big part of our antique and vintage markets today, and I guess we do, then at the very least, label them as such.  I would think that it is easy to make a strong case to the dealers that this is in their interest, and I doubt that it would even result in less sales. There’s still always going to be lots of people happy to buy a reproduction if it does the job for them.

The problem with continuing on the current course is that it eventually cheapens everything, and dumbs us all down to the point that it all becomes meaningless.  On the field you can already feel that for many it is more of a shopping “experience” than it is an actual attempt to acquire an antique or vintage item. I didn’t see that many people actually carrying anything.

field3Still, several dealers did tell me that they did o.k.  I guess they’ve still got their regulars, and if you sell one or two strong items that can make your day. Also, I have to add that overall, people seemed to be having a good time, and there’s nothing wrong with that is there.  It’s a lovely way to spend the day looking at things, eating some junk food (or better. They offer that now), chatting with friends, etc.  But to get back to business, bottom line, if not enough enterprise is exchanged, the vendors will give up on it. As will the people.

If you go back ten years the Christie show was run by Jeff and Wendy Gadsden and there was no reproduction allowed.  They policed it and would ask you to take down any reproduction they found.  In those days the audience demanded this and would complain to the management if they found out they had bought a re-pop. Jeff would go with the offended purchaser and the dealer was confronted.  It could get ugly.  That seems a life- time ago and a world apart. Where has everyone gone who cared about quality and integrity? Wow, now I’m really sounding like a grumpy old man.  But really. What happened?  Did the I-phones and I-pads and the whole inter-whoop business melt all of our brains so quickly and completely. I can see I’m on a roll, so I will stop.

I notice that of my principal interests, folk art is number six on the list, and Canadiana comes in at number nine.  That feels about right in terms of crowd interest.  But it’s hard for those of us who know that for about twenty of the shows thirty years life span, Canadiana was definitely number one. They wouldn’t even let in folk art for the longest time.

Ah well.  Not to despair.  Change comes, and we never know what form it will take, or when.  In the meantime, let’s do our best to keep our interests alive, and support the like-minded people involved as best we can.  And let’s agree to label reproductions as reproductions.  Some dealers would do it voluntarily if they weren’t afraid of losing their shirts.  It’s really up to the show promoters to come up to the plate. I think it would really help this show, and furthermore labeling reproductions as such should be encouraged right across the industry.  field2