November 2, 2009 | One of the surprises of the huge Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé sale this past February was the splendid selection of objets de vertu the two men had gathered for their twentieth-century Kunstkammer.
The way in which this assemblage contravened recent trends in collecting was on my mind as I waited to see the London dealer David Lavender, whose lifework has been hunting for rare, beautiful, and precious objects. Lavender has a worldwide clientele seduced, not I suspect just by his knowledge and love of the quality and rarity of the objects in which he deals, but also because of the personal attention he offers his clients, most of whom he counts among his friends. He has been doing it a long, long time. "Sixty-three years ago I went to work in an antiques shop belonging to a friend of my father," he says. "I swept the floors. I made the tea, and I worked there for four years. That," he says proudly, "was my one and only job working for somebody else."
In 1950 he started on his own, with very little money to play with. "I wandered all over England and Scotland, making a lot of friends and buying all sorts of things: glass, Chinese and English porcelain, paintings. Things cost very little in those days," he remembers.
Eventually he decided he ought to specialize. At school his best subjects had been history and English literature so he went for portrait miniatures, fine jewels, snuffboxes, and what he describes as other "objects with a history." He has specialized in these kinds of things ever since.
Portrait miniatures? "Yes, I chose them because they encompass a tremendous amount of history, which really interests me. So many of the subjects are literary personages, politicians who made history, or royalty, and I can say without exaggeration that we have probably had more things of historical significance than anyone else in the trade."
His first great discovery of a portrait miniature came about fifty years ago when he was offered an eighteenth-century likeness of Henry Howard, the twelfth Earl of Suffolk. He paid £25 for it, put it in a sale and it brought £600. "A few years later I bought it back," he remembers. "I think I sold it three times!"
July 22, 2009 | Something weird happened to Jeff Bridgman and his business in 2008—in fact, two weird things. In the midst of a global economic collapse, he had his best year ever, and in December, he made a large sale to a Democrat. "To the best of my knowledge, it was the first time I'd ever made a major sale to a Democrat," says the genial owner of Jeff R. Bridgman Antiques, who specializes in American flags and political campaign textiles. "I never had any Democrats before, but all of a sudden, since Obama got in office, whoa."
For all the Democrats who symbolically took back the flag in the last election, at least a few are also taking it literally. Still, despite the political associations with many of the things Bridgman sells, it's not politics that drives his business. To see an exhibit of his flags and banners is to experience not patriotic fervor but something else: a quickening of the heart, a kind of giddiness over objects where history, design, imagination, and industry converge.…» More
May 13, 2009 | One morning in 1983 Sumpter Priddy III woke to Peggy Lee singing "Is That All There Is?" on the radio and knew she was singing to him. Although he had achieved his goal of becoming a curator at an important American museum, there had to be more. He resigned from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Virginia, and "took a flying leap," as he puts it, into a career as an antiques dealer.
The second of five children of a successful businessman and an English teacher, both with long Virginia pedigrees, Priddy grew up on a farm near Ashland, where, he says, "I fed a hundred head of cattle and did chores every day from the time I could walk until I left for college." But an interest in antiques and history was instilled in him from childhood. "My parents and grandparents were inveterate auction-goers, and took me to country sales and antique shops from my youth," he recalls, "and two of my older cousins and a neighbor were obsessed with Civil War battlefields and campsites, so we were always digging in refuse pits."
When he was fourteen, a teacher told Priddy about Winterthur—Henry Francis du Pont's grand house museum in Delaware—and he begged his parents to take him to see it. At that time you had to be sixteen to tour the house, so his sixteenth birthday present was the much-anticipated trip. "Even before that I knew I wanted to be a curator," he recalls, but the visit clinched it. He began to educate himself in earnest about American furniture. "The honest truth is," he says, "I learned the most from studying the pages of The Magazine Antiques—I would cover up the captions and quiz myself endlessly about what was in the pictures."
March 6, 2009 | In 1979 a Barnard College student named Grace Gold was walking down Broadway on Manhattan's Upper West Side when she was struck and killed by a falling piece of a terracotta window lintel that had broken loose from the Regnor, a sixty-seven-year-old apartment house. The next year, in reaction to Gold's death, New York City passed Local Law 10 requiring an inspection of the facades of any building six stories and taller. Building owners had been quietly removing stone carvings and other decorations for years, but many used Local Law 10 to justify the wholesale "scalping" of cornices, balconies, parapets, and other architectural details.
By 1985 an army of engineers and architects specializing in preserving and securing exterior decorations had mobilized to quell the rash of scalpings. But those five years were enough to jumpstart the peripatetic career of James Elkind.
Elkind, owner of Lost City Arts on Cooper Square in Manhattan, is widely known as an authority on mid-century…» More
February 17, 2009 | At Peter Pap's booth at the Greenwich Antiques Show in Connecticut, a woman is examining an enormous Mahal carpet with an unusual green ground that has been attracting passersby all morning. Looking down, the woman asks, "How much is it?" Pap replies, with a courtly nod, "fifty-four thousand dollars."
Peter Pap is recognizable to followers of Antiques Roadshow as the expert from San Francisco with the scholarly refinement of a private school headmaster. He has graying hair, a beard of a very short nap, and watchful eyes redoubled by owlish glasses. As the woman toes the binding of the Mahal, he leans forward, anticipating what is coming next. "And how old are you saying?" the woman asks.
"It is," he replies, "late nineteenth century." After the woman drifts away, Pap looks in exasperation at his booth's walls. "Did you hear the implication? ‘How old are you saying?' The interaction starts out with two strikes against you."
The woman's suggestion-that antique rugs are never as old or worth as much as their sellers maintain-is something that Pap has long wanted to put to rest. Every category of the antiques industry has its scandals, but what brings Pap close to despair is his sense that some parts of the rug trade have lived up to the public's perception.
[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi» View All