- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2001

Worries of an impending recession were much on the minds of the prominent dealers setting up shop at the Washington Antiques Show Patrons' Preview Party Wednesday night. Happy to report, however, business was good at the 46th annual event to benefit Thrift Shop Charities.

"A lot of dealers were nervous in December until the election got settled, but then business was good just before Christmas," reported Gary E. Young, a Centreville, Md., antiquary who didn't mind reporting that first-night sales were "very good" at the show. Of course, his booth, front and center near the entrance of the Omni Shoreham's ballroom exhibition site, was a primo spot for displaying his mostly high-end objets to maximum advantage, especially eight Regency dining room chairs, circa 1820, that he had just sold to a local buyer for "something in the $15,000-20,000 range." Red dots on empty spaces in a nearby vitrine indicated that three 18th-century portrait miniatures in ivory had found new homes as well (at $1,500 to $5,000 apiece).

If Mr. Young had had some long tables to go with the chairs, he would have had plenty of offers because so many clients have very big houses with large dining rooms. "There is a big demand for tables seating 10 or more persons," he said, "but they're hard to find and very expensive."

Unlike other items tall case clocks, for example, which have definitely hit a plateau in customer demand.

It costs dealer Richard M. Worth $200,000 to keep four or five of them on the floor of his Chadds Ford, Pa., shop representing tied-up capital that could be better allocated toward other inventory, especially classical American furniture, which he says he "can't keep enough of."

Mr. Worth tallied a few sales as well, including some fine Queen Anne silver pieces, although he was hardly sanguine about the prospects for a continuing boom market in his trade. He said he expects a slowdown in the antiques market and is keeping cash on hand to make bargain purchases when people have to sell.

"That's what Henry du Pont did during the Depression," Mr. Worth noted, recalling how the chemicals heir amassed the country's most extensive collection of American furniture at Winterthur, his Wilmington, Del., estate.

"The antiques trade is a revolving Ferris wheel. Things are always sold and bought," pronounced interior designer John Peters Irelan, a regular preview-night attendee who said he is always on the lookout for items desired by his top clients. Like many of the designers, collectors and other guests who paid $200 for an advance peek at the various dealers' offerings, he was impressed by the quality of the objects on display.

"It's come a long way from the era of pressed glass, dolls' clothes and button collections of previous years," Mr. Irelan said, while also making it plain that he was less than enthralled with the downgrading of the event's dress code to "black-tie optional."

"They should make it black-tie or not black-tie," he grumped after opting, as did more than half of the male guests, for a business suit instead of a tuxedo for the formerly formal fete.

While some of the well-heeled guests were buying, others clearly were not.

"Everything is so expensive," said Deecy Gray who admitted she didn't have space for too many antiques in her modern McLean home. Like many of the guests, Mrs. Gray was deriving a certain satisfaction from discovering how much her pieces, whether purchased or inherited, seemed to have appreciated.

"I'm just feeling grateful for everything I already have," she said as she examined a few 19th-century porcelain and shell-work "sailors' valentines" on display in Berwick, Maine, dealer Patricia Fulton's eclectic booth.

Then there were those seeking only specific items. Jack and Jane Sloat, for example, were spotted shopping for a library table and perhaps a few classic English or American dog paintings for their new weekend retreat on the Eastern Shore. Sydney "Nini" Ferguson, a consultant here for Sotheby's, was on the prowl for a painting, perhaps of a clipper ship, by the renowned 19th-century American marine artist James E. Butterworth.

After an hour or more of shopping or maybe just window-shopping guests were more than ready to repair to an adjacent dining area where an extensive buffet dinner was served. Once they were seated, talk tended to turn from the antiques show to the next big event in Washington, the Inauguration, which many of the Old Guard, cave-dwelling and Republican-leaning benefactors didn't mind at all.

Discussion among the dealer and decorating types took a similar turn, although with a somewhat predictable twist.

"There's a new GOP crowd coming to town, and all the smart dealers are buying up what we feel they'll want," said Deborah Gore-Dean, proprietor of Gore-Dean Antiques in Georgetown. "That means quality-conscious buyers looking for historic furniture, especially classic pieces with a provenance."

As far as contemporary furniture and modern sculpture are concerned, sales are apt to soften, she predicted. "That's what the Democrats bought," she said.

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