On the way back from Rehoboth Beach, DE, Geo and I stopped at the Heritage Antiques Mall near Lewes, Delaware. After I told the woman at the front desk that I just came from an antiques show, they first mistakenly took for granted that I went to the historical society show in Lewes. After I said “no, the show was in Rehoboth Beach,” they almost commented in unison: “Oh, you went to the HIGH END one!“
“Was it really ‘high-end’?” Geo asked me? I might disagree. We actually bought a few items that could at least justify the cost of the hotel and car rental; nevertheless we didn’t feel we were squandering away our next month’s rent. On the other hand, I would agree that the quality at the antiques show was very good. With two hours on the train/subway and four hours driving each way, we felt our time spent in travelling was well rewarded, not only with a variety of items, but also the knowledge and friendship offered from the dealers.
At Janet Fanto’s booth, I was attracted by a beach scene painting from Hayley Lever. I have seen some of his paintings through different galleries and shows, yet his works cannot be categorized into one style or school. Some are gritty urbane scenes with raw brutality and muscular brushstrokes like those of George Bellows; some are more impressionistic like this one: a bright serene beach, yet somehow chilling and lonesome and devoid of human beings. The arts and crafts gilded frame really made the painting stand out.
At the booth of Antiques Prints Inc., local dealer Brandon Case gave me my first class in print collecting. I have learned not only how to tell wood engraving prints from those of steel engravings, but also how they differed in art-making techniques.
A special pile in display contains the collection series of “Picturesque America”, dated from 1871 to 1874. (Brandon added that the majority were issued in 1872.) “This subscription series was very popular at the time when the nation was recently reunited after the civil war and people showed their patriotism in buying scenery prints across the country.” Because of the replacement of copper by steel, which makes harder plates, steel engraving prints were more affordable to the middle classes. However, Brandon said each print was the collective effort of artists, engravers and colorists, who all worked together and may actually have spent couple hundred hours.
I was attracted by a specific print in this series: Brooklyn Heights, one of my favorite neighborhoods in Brooklyn. In this print, the Brooklyn Bridge is rendered more or less as a backdrop while the view of Manhattan from the bluff at nowadays Columbia Heights is breathtaking, and quintessential New York. At the Brooklyn Heights side, curiously only one building stands out of massive greens, although I still cannot figure out which building it is. After I got home, an online research reveals that although the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge began as early as 1870, it was not completed until 13 years later and opened for use in 1883. The Brooklyn tower was completed in 1875 while the New York tower was done one year after. Then in 1876, the cables made of strands of wires, connected the two towers and on August 25, Mr. Farrington spent 23 minutes in crossing the East River on a piece of board seat. But back in 1872, nothing was there– yet although artistic rendering was widely popular to feature the bridge and the Fulton Ferry. The artist of this print, aware of the construction, yet possibly afraid of any flaw due a lack of actual architecture as reference, must have scaled down the bridge of the future (and to the future) intentionally.
The most amazing find in the show is a complete collection of wax seals from Mia Hudson Antiques, a dealer from Franklin, Tennessee. She told me that an enthusiastic collector acquired these seals between 1820’s and 1840’s with a notebook of identification of sources of the seals. Today even the the collection is still kept in a box owned by the collector. It may not only appeal to people who collect seals, but also to those who appreciate systematic research and preservation done more than 150 years ago. Yet Mia told me there were a few interior designers who showed great interest in the collection. It will for sure make a splendid wall with not only a sense of historical significance but also visual pleasure of dazzling red.
Although the show featured less than 40 dealers, I quite enjoyed the experience of inquiry, consulting, buying with a small group of dealers. The intimate atmosphere made me feel I was visiting some new, and old friends. As a collector, I quite understand some collectors’ preconception of antiques shows, especially of those “high end” ones. Yet I have found antiques shows are a great place to learn, to see and to build up friendships. I have attended lectures by scholars and curators and numerous tours in different museums, but I learn to “see” from dealers who not only instill knowledge and passion into beginners but also allow one to handle the real objects to gain experience. As art historian William Gerdts says: “when you think about it, naturally enough, since they, not the scholars, the academics, or even the museum folk, are the one who put their money where their mouths are. “
Thanks to All Saints’ Antiques Show and I am looking forward to the next year.
Here is the bonus part: Print dealer Brandon Case talked about the steel engraving prints.