It was suggested to me this week that the history of antique shows extended back to 1934. “That’s nonsense,” my friend Jay Melrose, an antique dealer and show promoter, said when I mentioned this “history” on the phone. It turns out he had in his front hall a few issues of Antiquarian magazines from 1929. The February, 1929 issue contains an article on page 59 about a show that will be held at the Hotel Commodore Ballroom in March of that year.
The ad reads: First International Antiques Exposition will be held in the ballroom of the Hotel Commodore, New York City, March 25-29, inclusive. Admission $1.00. Collectors and dealers plan to visit the first great antiques show.
The April, 1929 issue contains an ad with a list of dealers. In May an spread with photos reports that with 37,000 attending, the show surpassed all hopes and was packed to point of suffocation and would be relocated to the Grand Central Palace, an exhibition hall. The show would be repeated in Boston in December of that year and then back in New York the following March. The show was run by an outfit called the Antiques Exposition Company and sponsored by Antiquarian magazine, which doesn’t seem to have survived the depression.
More shows were added in the 1930s. An April 29, 1979 New York Times article The Eastern States Antiques Fair Assumes a More Casual Air, says that Clifford Nuttall, a collector, established the Eastern States Antiques Fair in 1935, and it “quickly gained acceptance as an important cultural event that attracted the country’s wealthiest families—the duPonts, the Chryslers and the Rockefellers, among others—who sought to purchase the finest examples of American furnishings for their homes, museums and private collections.” This show, co-managed by Diane Wendy and her husband Cal in 1979, was eventually turned over to management by Wendy and more recently to the producers of Avenue magazine and exists today.
Even the 1929 show of course may not have even been the first show, perhaps only the first “great” one.