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Merchandise Mart International Antiques Fair

Danielle Arnet | April 26th, 2013

American Garage, Los Angeles, California, asked $2500 for the 1920’s double-sided sign in original condition from Illinois; $6800 for the circa 1850 Pennsylvania dry sink with a high-cut splashboard; and $5500 for the circa 1900 crowing weathervane rooster with a marble eye and original paint. On the wall, the circa 1900 butcher shop bull’s head with old paint and gilt (upper left) was $3600, and the pair of circa 1850 French cast-iron window grates (right) was $2600.

This 33" high bronze by Benson Landes (born 1927), Pirouette, 2009, #10 from an edition of 15, was $21,000 from Ross Callaghan of Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England.

Gary Sergeant of Woodbury, Connecticut, shows serious customers a George III mahogany breakfront, circa 1800. Sergeant told us that the 6' long breakfront ($28,000) is considered compact for the type.

Made as a custom order in Murano, Italy in the 1930’s, this 64" high working glass fountain by Archimede Seguso (1909-1999) was $80,000 from Isabella M., Venice, Italy and Dallas, Texas. It came from the original owner in Beverly Hills, California.


Jonathan Daniels of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, is best known for fine historic and military binoculars and telescopes. Obviously, he’s branched out. We spotted him checking messages while standing beside an impressive stack of Louis Vuitton trunks. Top to bottom: the circa 1920 steamer trunk was $15,000; the mid-1930’s leather-bound steamer trunk with iron handles, $19,000; and the circa 1910 Malle Courrier trunk with brass handles, the largest trunk Vuitton made, $32,000.

Here’s the proverbial something else. Pat O’Brien of Flapper Alley, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, calls this winsome group “The Family.” The hand-painted 1960’s window display heads of cast metal on cast metal stands, priced at $3500, sold before we arrived. I love the freckles on the kids.

Oversize freestanding floral arrangements are a Merchandise Mart International Antiques Fair trademark, and they did not disappoint this spring. This beauty is in an atrium seating area.

Buyers select vintage whistles from a greengrocer’s bin at Tutto dal Mondo. English police and Girl Guides whistles, priced at $75 to $110 each, filled a bin.

Chicago, Illinois

In its 16th annual event, held April 26-29, the International Antiques Fair at the massive Merchandise Mart in Chicago again showed what makes it unique.

Consider this. For a $15 ticket, viewers were welcomed into an institution once so intimidating that many of today’s buyers grew up hearing wild stories about its exclusivity. The idea of being allowed—nay, welcomed—into the once forbidding halls is a fairly recent concept.

More to the point, I can’t think of another Chicago area show where one could see and touch an array of fabulous gems priced at five figures or more, or a custom fountain over 5' tall designed by Archimede Seguso and fashioned entirely of hand-blown Murano glass, or a wall of glass cases filled with only the best Victorian silver biscuit boxes. Add to that hundreds of five-figure designer handbags and rare Oriental antiques, plus fine art of all kinds, including an original Norman Rockwell painting for a Saturday Evening Post cover, and you get the idea.

Since the beginning, the Mart’s antiques fair has been a place to see and buy the best and to meet sellers of the same. Discerning collectors and decorators count on returning dealers as a source for fabulous finds.

We’ve covered the show since its beginning. Subtle refinements have been made over time, but this year we saw tweaks indicating a definite awareness that the torch has passed, and management has acknowledged that buyers have changed. It seemed that the mood of the event was less decorator-oriented than in the past, and emphasis on the decorator as an authority figure was out. The customary precious room vignettes inserted into the show had disappeared and were replaced by a lounge furnished with items from the Mart’s design center and peppered with for-sale goods from the show exhibitors; a bar made the site all the more attractive.

Advance publicity, handled out of house, emphasized interesting items from show dealers. There was less stress on Mart merchants and services.

Show partners included, for the first time, Modern Luxury Interiors Chicago, one of a family of digital/glossy regional magazines produced in varied metropolitan centers, including Chicago. Geared to followers of trendy galleries and interior scenes, it drew a younger crowd, particularly to the preview party.

In another savvy move, the Mart partnered with the Majolica International Society, which held its 24th annual convention at the Mart during the fair. One scheduled event featured majolica dealers showing some of the pieces that they brought to the fair.

Designer and tastemaker Charlotte Moss drew a sellout crowd for her talk, “Age Defying Decorating,” in which she suggested using the past to create a look for today. Carey Maloney’s talk on “Stuff: Collecting, Decorating with and Learning about Wonderful and Unusual Things” was another sellout. Note the dynamism of those themes.

Another carrot for newer collectors was a Young Collectors’ Event—a ­presentation by auctioneer Leslie Hindman followed by a reception. In a smart move, Hindman enlisted four fair sellers to share the spotlight as they covered the whys and hows of getting started in collecting.

Dealers raved about sales at the Thursday night preview party. “We were twice as busy as our preview night last year,” said Chris Mulloy and Dennis Sabro of Rancho Santa Fe, California, sellers of high-end jewelry and smalls. “People were four deep in the aisles; every sale was over ten thousand dollars.” First to go was a Victorian spider brooch with 19 carats of large diamonds, some set en tremblant, plus emeralds and ruby eyes. Tagged $12,000, it sold to a local buyer.

Mulloy’s sales on Friday were “nice and steady,” and by the time we arrived around noon on Sunday, he had already completed three big sales.

Pat O’Brien of Flapper Alley, Ltd., Milwaukee, Wisconsin, said she’d had “the largest preview we had in thirty years. A lot of young people were buying.”

“If it’s the top of the line, I guarantee it will be gone,” O’Brien continued. “They cream the best off the top, but they’re always careful with price. If you want to sell, you have to be flexible.”

A more cynical seller commented, “If you give lots of free tickets, serve good whiskey, and upgrade the hors d’oeuvres, people will come to the preview or show.”

The preview party benefited the Women’s Board of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, and supporters included Harry Winston, a name guaranteed to get attention. Tickets started at $150.

Lisa Simonian, the Mart’s vice president of marketing for consumer shows, admitted that, yes, there were a lot of complimentary tickets. “People on dealer client lists, interior designers who do business with the Mart, anyone who attended Art Chicago [a former Mart show], and VIP buyers/sellers” are tracked on Mart lists. It seemed that the freebies worked.

Increased promotion also worked. Simonian credits targeted e-blasts to the abovementioned groups and a wider scope of partnerships, such as Peroni liquor, Tito’s vodka, Nespresso coffee and coffee machines, and Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, as well as extensive ads in newspapers, including the New York Times.

In four days of the show, an estimated 10,000 entered. There were 107 sellers, with about 90 returning dealers.

We asked Simonian about the nontraditional booths. One featured a commercially geared Chicago art dealer, and another promoted the New York Times. “The New York Times has always been part of Art Chicago,” she replied. As for the art dealer, “He is popular in Chicago.”

“A lot of shows are expanding their gate lines,” she continued. “It’s time for us to do so as well.”

Don’t expect the Mart to start hawking saltwater taffy, but there will be tweaks. Remember that lounge with dealer goods? “I think it worked better,” Simonian said. “People could interact and sit in an area that showed you can live with antiques.”

Speaking of the evolution of the antiques fair, she added “Some of our clients demand it. Dealers and galleries don’t always have what buyers want. This is what’s happening with shows.”

We asked if there had been a lot of dealer push-back. On the contrary, according to Simonian. “Some longstanding dealers asked us to relax our date line.”

On April 19, exactly one week before the International Antiques Fair opened, the Palm Beach Show Group announced plans for a competing show in 2014 that will run concurrently with the Mart’s 17th antiques fair, April 24-27. With over 100 international sellers offering estate jewelry to 20th-century design, the planned event does seem derivative. That bombshell was, said Simonian, a “big surprise and a major topic among dealers who felt put in a position where they will have to choose.”

Will it be Armageddon or free enterprise? For sure, it will be a time of busy collectors and conflicted dealers. For more information, contact Lisa Simonian at (312) 527-7838; Web site (


Originally published in the August 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest

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