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This Month: The US and Euro columns from the Autumn 2017 issue of Antiques and Collectables for Pleasure & Profit.

Australia's Most Informative & Entertaining Antiques Magazine
Ivor Hughes

The UK Column
Ivor Hughes reports significant news in the UK trade

Northern Antiques Fair restored

Harrogate, a prosperous spa town 350 kilometres from London, has long been regarded as the antiques capital of the north. It has also been a good example of how the British terrestrial antiques trade has polarised and migrated online over the past fifteen years. Bonhams, Christie's and Sotheby's have all vacated their Harrogate offices. Antiques and collectables fairs in the area, slowly but surely, became fewer, smaller and less frequent.

The town's flagship event, the twice-yearly four-day Harrogate Antique and Fine Art Fair, wasn't immune. Depleting exhibitor numbers contributed to the cancellation of the 2017 spring (April) event. Would the recent change in ownership, management and rebranding as the Northern Antiques Fair give the autumn (October) event the necessary injection of interest?

Yes it did. Key player in the fair's regeneration was rival organiser Ingrid Nilson, owner of Antiques Dealers Fair Limited. As an experienced exhibitor and fourteen years an organiser, Nilson had been brought in by the new owner to give the fair a fresh injection of expertise. And it worked. Nilson's first publicised objective was to restore exhibitor numbers to thirty, which she did. Past exhibitors returned, fresh exhibitors arrived. Ditto visitors - a remarkable 44% were fresh to the BADA supported event.

The post-event press release was encouraging, although events as prestigious as this, the finest outside London, can't be judged solely on what happened during the fair itself (19-22 October). More important are the contacts made and sales generated afterwards. There being no current plans to restore the spring event, at least not in 2018, the Northern Antiques Fair has ten months in which to reaffirm itself as the top must-visit event outside London.

Collaboration the key

The cost of exhibiting at events other than one-dayers in sports or village halls is a constant source of complaints from the UK trade - whether at cheap and cheerful indoor/outdoor weekenders or in prestigious venues such as stately homes. The costs of the venue, fitted stands, marquees, security, stewards, insurance, media representation, planning fees and advertising all mount up. And, of course, the organiser adds their margin on top.

Past attempts at dealer co-operatives have worked, though only up to a point. For example, Cotwolds Antiques Dealers' Association's four-day annual fair is in April at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire (100km west of London). Free public entry must still leave the thirty member-exhibitors with a lot of money to find from their own pockets.

A lower-key initiative was recently taken by Molly and Maud's Place in Kirk Hammerton, a little east of Harrogate. Specialising in decorative antiques for the home and garden, and located adjacent to farmland, they invited several similar dealerships to a collaborative weekend in September. Sharing the effort and cost (marquees, advertising, security) and with no additional overheads, the ten exhibitors were able to work in a spirit of cooperation rather than competition. There were no designated pitches - display areas in rooms, marquees and open spaces were shared among them all. So, no squabbles about power points or which square metre of grass belonged to whom. And free admission.

Chloë Holt, lead coordinator, told ACPP: "We are very pleased with the way things turned out, although we are entirely new to this kind of operation and there are a few things we'll be doing differently next year. For example, the event needs to be earlier, with better light and weather and when people are thinking more about their gardens. And we'll be publicising it earlier and more widely."

Ingrid Nilson (Northern Antiques Fair, above) was a dealer-turned-organiser when she founded ADFL in 2003 and created an enduring series of smaller and more intimate upmarket events. Chloë Holt's lower-level approach could become a template for small clusters of like-minded dealers throughout the country.

eBay UK takes the lead in globalisation

It's six or so months since eBay extended their European Sales Booster initiative, a pilot scheme they are running in partnership with Webinterpret. Under that scheme, selected eBay UK sellers may have up to 500 of their existing listings translated free of charge into French, German, Italian and Spanish and entered as additional listings on those countries' own eBay sites.

The sample pool is small and the translations entirely mechanical, so you can get the occasional glitch where the machine mistakes inches for feet and increases the metric conversions by a factor of twelve in the process. Still, nobody in Rome is going to rely word for word on a clumsy description they are given on ebay.it for a Wedgwood plate - not one three metres in diameter.

Nonetheless, it seems to be working well enough right now. So well that savvy Europeans or South Americans wanting some of the same could use Google online translation and post items in English or whatever on their own websites, on portals or on eBay. It really is just a matter of time.

Australia's Most Informative & Entertaining Antiques Magazine
Judith Dunn

The Euro Column
Judith Dunn looks at events in Europe

The controversy over Germany's cultural heritage bill, demanding a 20-year documented provenance for items worth more than €2500, moved up a step recently. The Aktionsbündnis Kulturgutschutz (okay, let's just say AK), an alliance of dealers, auctioneers and other interested parties, has complained to the European Commission about the unwieldy law and its deleterious effect on the market. Some auction houses have already relocated to Belgium and Austria. One staying put so far is Van Hamm in Cologne, which recorded a spectacular result in November for Zero Group member Günther Uecker. The group was active for a decade from the mid-1950s, before members went their separate ways. Uecker's 2011 nail painting, a double-spiral work entitled Both, made €2.2 million, easily doubling top estimate. Other good results indicate that the spare, impersonal nature of this work may be challenging the long-term popularity of Expressionism in Germany. Provenance no doubt played a part here, however. The painting had belonged to dealer Helge Achenbach, imprisoned for fraud in 2015, and whose collection is being sold in order to repay substantial debts.

Another fraud case, the Aristophil scandal, whereby investors in France placed large sums in manuscripts and lost all to the company's bankruptcy, is at the heart of a series of sales being held at Drouot in Paris. Auction house Aguttes is conducting some 300 sales over the next six years in an effort to reimburse investors; the pace is designed to avoid flooding the market and to allow the 135,000 documents to be properly catalogued. Two items scheduled for sale in December were withdrawn after the State declared them national treasures and imposed an export ban. They are the Marquis de Sade's 120 Days of Sodom, and André Breton's Surrealist Manifesto. The government has 30 months to offer a price close to the market value. That value may well be considerable: a letter written by Napoleon to Joséphine made €320,320 and Balzac's manuscript of his novel Ursule Mirouët made €1.17 million in December.

Another literary giant featured in a December sale by Artcurial in Paris, several of whose lots were pre-empted by various institutions. Emile Zola was not only a celebrated writer and activist, he was also a photographer. Just as his novels chronicled the life of a family in 2nd Empire Paris, so did his photos of his own second family, with his mistress Jeanne Rozerot. Their children, Denise and Jacques, were the subjects of numerous prints. Eight of Denise, estimated at a mere €600-800, made an eye-watering €27,000.

Paris is traditionally central to the tribal art market and some spectacular sales confirmed that in November. Provenance no doubt played a part in the €21 million (including premium) netted by Christie's. €16.7 million was paid in total for the Pierre and Claude Vérité collection, the father and son duo recognised as experts in the field. A suitably terrifying Hawaiian God of War figure set an Oceanic art record at €5.5 million. Firmly of the 20th century was the design featured in headline sales at Sotheby's and Artcurial in Paris in late October. Names to conjure with were Lalanne, Giacommetti and Perriand. Sotheby's sold every lot by the first two designers, often well over estimate, as did Artcurial for Charlotte Perriand. A record for Perriand was her 'en forme' desk, in curved and pleasingly plain chunky pine with aluminium drawers. It made €560,000.

Recent Old Masters market results in London suggest that the sector might well benefit from the fall-out from the Salvator Mundi sale. Time will tell. What is certain is that Leonardo's painting is to be loaned to the Louvre Abu Dhabi by its purchaser, a member of the Saudi royal family. This has to be excellent news, given the amount of art in private hands hidden from public view. It also vindicates the decision by the Louvre to cooperate with the United Arab Emirates in this venture. Far from selling off France's heritage, it is simply hiring it out - with two distinct advantages. One, more of the stuff in its vaults will see the light of day. Two, much needed revenue will help to fund new acquisitions - like the two MSS embargoed from Aristophil for example...

TEFAF New York in autumn 2017 featured 100 museum-quality exhibitors at the Armory, consolidating its position in the winter calendar. In Europe, in spite of rumblings about relocation to Berlin, Brussels or Amsterdam, the fair has signed an agreement to stay in Maastricht until 2028. Refurbishment of the Conference Centre, improvements to Aachen airport and more and better hotel accommodation are part of the deal with the province of Limburg and the city of Maastricht. In Belgium, BRAFA in late January and early February was wrapped up by Christo, whose 1960s Three Store Fronts installation was on show. This trend of art as an adjunct to a major show is catching on everywhere, along with talks and guided tours, so that a fair offers far more to the visitor than just a series of stands and becomes an educational and immersive experience.

Much cheaper, of course, are flea markets. An enterprising Paris-born antiques aficionado, Nicolas Martin, now based in Vienna, translated his enthusiasm for flea markets into a blog. The site www.fleamarketinsiders.com tells you all you need to know about a whole range of brocantes and markets throughout Europe. Check it out.

You may wonder why ACPP is bringing you so much top-end stuff this time. Well, there is not much European moving and shaking going on elsewhere, just a lot of fairly happily trundling on. No bad thing, but 'ce qui fait rêver' - what makes you dream, as the French say - is in the top end. However, a recent trip to Amsterdam seemed to indicate a bucking of the trend and a more buoyant middle-of-the-road antiques scene in Holland. Watch this space...

Australia's Most Informative & Entertaining Antiques Magazine