MOVERS & SHAKERS
If you want to know what's happening where, this is the place to look.
This Month: The Europe and UK columns from the Autumn 2015 issue of Antiques and Collectables for Pleasure & Profit.
The Euro Column
An update of European news from Judith Dunn
As we go to press, France is still reeling from the terrorist attacks in early January. The scale of the killings was nothing like that in other countries, where journalists are regularly targeted just for doing their job, but that they should happen in the country most associated with freedom of expression caused worldwide revulsion and provoked unprecedented expressions of solidarity. The irony is that Charlie Hebdo, recently on the verge of bankruptcy, is now so financially secure that it can go on satirising all and sundry for a very long time to come. It remains to be seen what will happen in the already buoyant comic strip market in the months ahead.
Solidarity and consensus were the watchwords at the election in October for President of France's prestigious Syndicat National des Antiquaires. The charismatic but confrontational Christian Deydier was finally ousted in June, precisely because of his management style, and an interim committee under Jean-Gabriel Peyre took over. Most of this committee (plus a few others) were ratified in the election, which saw a record 230 of the 352 SNA members voting. They then elected as President, by 11 votes to 5, Dominique Chevalier, a fourth generation dealer in carpets and tapestries. Chevalier welcomed this support and is making it his mission to rethink the Biennale, which is over-designed and complicated, has lost some big international names and - as we reported in Issue 53 - has far too many jewellers. More immediately, SNA proposes to fill a gap in the quality market by staging an annual spring fair, Paris Beaux-Arts. This will include all the disciplines, as do London's Masterpiece and Frieze Masters and the Brussels Antiques and Fine Art Fair. It will run from 1-5 April, in the Carrousel du Louvre (rather than the unpredictable fridge/glasshouse of the Grand Palais), near the eponymous museum. Eighty exhibitors look like including 40 SNA members and some 10% foreign dealers. Lots will be drawn for stands, which will be democratic singles or doubles of 20 square metres - with triples allowed for collaborating exhibitors.
Paris Beaux-Arts has a hard act to follow in this year's BRAFA, which closed its 60th edition on 1 February with over 55,000 visitors enjoying the treasures. Originally a fair for Belgian dealers, it opened to an international market in 1995. In 2004 it moved from the Palais des Beaux-Arts to the sumptuous Tour & Taxis venue. This former mail station building was beautifully renovated and its space allowed the fair to explode from 40 or 50 exhibitors to the current 130. Highlights this year included a Tintin cover for the 'Etoile Mystérieuse', bought by an anonymous collector for an eye-watering €2.5 million. The beauty of the internet is that you can see many of the artworks on the website or the Facebook page, with links to explanatory videos in a Babel of languages. The same will no doubt be true next year, when the show will run 23-31 January.
Sotheby's came out top in the French auction league tables in 2014, with €213 million worth of sales, premium included. Christie's were knocked into third place (€180.7 million) by Artcurial, who took €192 million. Their Paris rooms are at the Rond-Point des Champs-Elysées and they also have premises in Deauville, Lyon and Toulouse. Way behind, but in front of any selling out of the Drouot umbrella rooms, were Tajan - independent for some time - and two newly autonomous houses, Piasa and Cornette de Saint Cyr. The go-it-alone option is clearly paying off.
Artcurial this year had the auction slot at Retromobile, the annual vintage car extravaganza show at the Grand Palais in Paris. They scooped a major barn find of 60 classic cars recently discovered shrouded in piles of old newspapers in outbuildings in western France and known as the Baillon collection, after entrepreneur Roger Baillon, who collected them in the 1950s to 1970s and dreamed of creating a motoring museum. Sadly, business problems forced the sale of 50 vehicles and the rest were simply mothballed. One cabriolet once belonged to King Farouk, but the excitement in France centred on a 1961 Ferrari 250GT SWB California Spider, owned by actor Alain Delon. He was photographed in it with Jane Fonda and Shirley MacLaine (not at the same time), but it has only now come to light. On 6 February it made €16.3 million including premium, well above the €9.5-12 million estimate. The whole collection sold, with ten world records, for €25 million, against a guide of €12-15 million. That should help Artcurial's total for this year and once again confirms the high prices commanded by sales with a story.
Sad to say, the Louvre des Antiquaires - that most upmarket of antiques centres just across the road from the museum in Paris - is finally closing. It has been in long-drawn-out death throes for a couple of years, falling victim to market forces, notably the huge designer shopping culture.
The UK Column
Ivor Hughes finds encouraging signs at the UK trade's pivotal events in February
Both in the English Midlands, the UK trade's pivotal events are the six-times-a-year 2000+ exhibitor two-day events at Lincoln and Newark. This February the forecast of heavy snow and ice deterred hundreds of exhibitors, but buyers able to make last-minute decisions, like me, weren't put off. Exhibitor numbers were predictably down, but there were still hectares of pitches to have a go at.
Those least able to change plans at short notice are, of course, buyers travelling from overseas. Avoiding the February weather, April and October are the events when most make the trip from Australasia, Europe and North America. But although numbers will be higher in those months, this February was busier than any other I remember. More importantly, I've never heard as many different accents and languages - suggesting that the upturn in business is also worldwide. That observation was shared by Jane Richards, owner of Heanor Antiques Centre in nearby Derbyshire. Heanor is one of the centres that benefits from a surge in overseas trade on the days adjacent to and in between Lincoln and Newark. Jane was exhibiting at Newark on the Thursday: "We've never had as many different nationalities visiting us in one day as we had yesterday."
Domestic trade is bread and butter at Lincoln and Newark and overseas trade is the jam on top. February's broader base, combined with April's even higher numbers, will encourage more exhibitors to gain international exposure. And so on.
Both organisers have other venues where they can spread the word - the week including 6 to 10 April promises to be very busy for shippers.
UK consumer law still playing catch-up
Three years ago in these pages I reported how it had taken a small part of a BBC TV series to expose widespread irregularities by Cameo Auctions, a provincial auction house seventy kilometres west of London. Despite the fact that there had been hundreds of complaints to the local press and UK Consumer Affairs, and that there were eighteen debt-related lawsuits against them, the auction house was permitted to carry on. They suspended trading voluntarily a month later.
By that time - April 2012 - allegations and suspicions had been running for four years. The authorities therefore had to disentangle thousands of consignments and purchases to establish which ones might have been irregularly handled. It was only on 18 December 2014, after a six-week trial, that the jury returned guilty verdicts against the three defendants.
Sentencing was scheduled for 3 March 2015, giving Consumer Affairs, Thames Valley Police, Crown Prosecution Service, the judge and clerks to the court three months to reflect not only on the extent of the fraud, but also the fact that irregularities had been going unchecked from as early as January 2008. And that the case was reaching its conclusion three years after the BBC exposé.
Help on the horizon
In response to a European initiative, the UK is currently in the process of consolidating eight sets of consumer legislation into one. The Consumer Rights Bill, aimed at streamlining the complaints and remedies process, is due to become law on 1 October 2015. Next year I hope to be able to report that it has been proved effective against rogue dealers and auctioneers such as Cameo.
Big fairs remain beautiful
Although Lincoln and Newark are by far our largest antiques fairs, there are other biggies. Dualco Promotions runs scores of indoor events in northern England, each with exhibitor numbers in the hundreds. Jaguar Fairs runs large indoor and outdoor events in the Midlands and the North. There are of course other organisers, but those two have just announced significant expansion.
Dualco has filled a gap on the map by adding a 200 exhibitor fair in Sheffield to their already large portfolio (first 15 March then 19 April). Ditto Jaguar, with, potentially, a 1000 exhibitor outdoor/under canvas event at Shugborough Hall near Stafford (Midlands) (25/26 April).
The reason Dualco and Jaguar succeed is that experienced organisers are always there throughout, on-site to meet and greet, attend personally to any problems and listen carefully to what exhibitors and visitors have to say. And although not all their ventures have remained successful, they also know when to pull the plug.
Do these expansions suggest economic recovery, recognition of continuing customer service from major organisers or a reduction in migration to the internet? Preferably all three ...