Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Rosseau Antiques Fair

Summer. Rosseau Antiques Fair. On weekends local dealers set up their tables around the big antiques barn on the main drag, the 141. It could have more pizazz. It looks more like a flea market, but you won't find DVDs or T shirts. The antiques are the rummage sale variety, in a case you're looking for a Van Gogh cheap. More the nick-nacks you might find in your garage, but among the stencilled dinner plates from the 1950s, the carpenters' tools, the folding rules, the glass and pots, the box of paperbacks, the rusty egg beaters, the old luggage, the wagon wheels, the bits and pieces from an old house, you'll find something you could use at the cottage, or if you get lucky there might be a valuable broach in a glass case of costume jewellery. With me it's been a habit to wander through the tables of bric-a-brac from garage sales to church bazaars or these outdoor fairs, though I'd say a real find over the years is more and more a rare thing. The good stuff winds up in the pricey antiques shops, because the dealers skim through their stock more carefully. Seems too, there's less available even in country antique galleries, with their best pieces going up for auction in the big city. Probably it's the Antiques Roadshow effect. There's also more of a mania for anything old, because it's collectible and a better deal or
investment than something new everybody has. The mania for anything new that started in the 1950s, only survives in electronics. People tend to hang on to what they've got. So the best places for an exciting bargain are the estate sales where most of the dealers go to find their odds and ends, while looking for the best pieces they can turnover fast. So prices are up, way way up. The glut in antiques that also started in the 1950s dried up by the early 70s. The best deals and in enormous variety came from Cuba, with Cubans and foreigners fleeing the Revolution.
A heady time for anybody in the antiques business. The quality of real European antiques was exceptional and the prices were ridiculous, an enormous amount of furniture you think no one would have the time to pack, showing up in gigantic dealer warehouses in New York, and from there everywhere else. You could get a Steinway Grand for a grand, a Majolica pot too rare for an orange tree for $30, an inlaid Boulle desk, maybe by Boulle himself, for $500. For 3 or 4 years it was buyer pandemonium. Dealers buying all this stuff by the truckload, mortgaging themselves to the hilt, couldn't imagine it would end. But to fuel the buying, one thing was missing: Prices didn't go up. Many dealers found themselves stuck with huge inventories, their buyers saturated. With no profits,
buyers lost interest and the bubble burst. Banks foreclosed on cash-starved dealers. The sad thing was that these were mostly the old school connoisseurs, who really loved what was fine and beautiful, and were in the antique business, not really for profit, but to preserve and pass on this legacy to their clients. Their precious finds in the hands of the banks, were knocked down at bankruptcy auctions for next to nothing, a desperate slash and grab by their own business partners, these once friendly bankers. It was a betrayal that's now familiar in these tough times of foreclosures. By the mid 80's there was a recovery of sorts in the antique market, new people in the business and a new breed of collectors and speculators willing to buy paintings by the yard for their bank vaults.