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The 39th Fall Fox Valley Antiques Show

Danielle Arnet | October 19th, 2013

The show entrance was, as always, welcoming. The theme for this show was “Folk Art: Simple Pleasures.”

The circa 1930 racing game banner with oilcloth coating was $1150 from Bruce and Lynda Tomlinson of Alexandria, Minnesota. The catcher’s helmets were $115 at top and $195 for the circa 1910 version underneath. The Bound Eagle Pima basket at left was $195 as was the adjacent Hopi basket. The Hopi basket below was $395.

The Pennsylvania one-door cupboard with pad feet, circa 1800, had original red wash and was tagged $4900. The primitive wooden peel with lollipop handle was $550.

Craig and Meredith Illa of Craig W. Illa Antiques, Palmyra, Missouri, brought the $2750 circa 1790 American tiger maple Hepplewhite chest topped with a $195 set of four stick-spatter 19th-century plates, a $225 pair of late 19th-century Staffordshire dogs with luster decoration, and a $245 mid-19th-century pewter coffeepot by Leonard, Reed & Barton. On the wall, a small 19th-century hollow-cut silhouette of a girl was $210, and an oil on canvas Hudson River valley genre landscape was $795. The $1975 fan-back Windsor armchair with serpentine arms and a restored base is possibly from 1770-90 Massachusetts.

Bensenville, Illinois, restorer H. Lanny Green was in the midst of a career change to dealer. This was his first show. A collector of lamps (betty, grease, and whale oil), he brought this eye-catching progression of hanging lamps. The oversize betty lamp was $225; a double “Phoebe” with drip pan, $110; an open-top wick holder, $125; and an enclosed wick holder, $150. At extreme right is a lamp signed “H & R Boker, NY,” circa 1837 and tagged $650.

This looks like a neat way to display children’s chairs. Richard W. Larson of Maple Plain, Minnesota, hung them, from left to right, a 19th-century rush seat armchair ($125), a circa 1930 Adirondack rocker ($295), a 19th-century fancy painted chair ($195), and a woven circa 1800 chair with broken seat and old green paint ($75). The 19th-century country table was tagged $295; the basket, $45.

St. Charles, Illinois

The Fall Fox Valley Antiques Show in St. Charles on October 19 and 20, 2013, was a remarkable, vibrant show. And if you think keeping a show heading into solid middle age fresh and relevant is no big deal, you’ve got another think coming.

This is a show nosing into its 40th year. A spring version will hold its 57th show March 8 and 9. That’s longevity. Also amazing is that not one seller we polled—and we asked many—complained about slow sales or tire kickers. Our notes include comments such as “very nice show,” “I’ve had a great show,” and the like. And those comments were from early Sunday, only halfway through the show.

The show’s success was not incidental. Consider the perils facing long-established shows. On the up side, they already have what newer shows work so hard to establish—presence, a brand. Their personality is known. The kinds of goods shown are understood. Many of the sellers are known to collectors, who expect to see them with the same kind of merchandise year after year. But same sellers, same setup, same location, same dates, same old can be a trap. Becoming stale and irrelevant is the devil stalking show chairpersons and associations. Considering all that, one understands why some long-running shows run out of steam.

Situated in Kane County, 35 miles west of Chicago, the Fox Valley show is in an area that, though settled in the mid-19th century, has experienced mega growth in the past few decades. Billed as an event showcasing 18th- and 19th-century furniture and accessories, the show has long been a place to find good country and country formal furniture and accessories. It still is, thanks to the show producer, the Chicago Suburban Antiques Dealers Association (CSADA), a nonprofit composed of 37 members. Almost all are dealers actively involved with the show.

There is no magic way to stay fresh and relevant, but through canny leadership and a dedicated cadre of participants, CSADA has accomplished the feat. To understand why the show has endured, one has to look at the partnership of CSADA and the show sponsors. Sponsors vary, but all are community based and tied to area pride and heritage. October’s sponsor was the DuPage County Historical Museum Foundation. The show theme was “Folk Art: Simple Pleasures.” All participants were clearly enthusiastic about and involved with history of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. A foundation display at entry, staffed with friendly greeters, drew steady attention; many were riveted by info on a coming exhibit of accessories in vogue from the late 1800’s to modern day. An existing museum exhibit featured “Early Illinois Folk Art 1825-1925.”

Show chairpersons Donna Finegan and Tim Chambers were on the floor as dealers. No dilettantes here.

Fifty-five dealers participated, but all members of CSADA were invited to participate in some manner, from booth sitting that gave sellers a break to staffing a hospitality room for dealers. One became master of the coffee urn, making sure that sellers had fresh brew on hand. Others set up seasonal decorations on tables in the eating area.

“This really is an association- run show,” said Finegan. “I saw more selling at this show,” Finegan added. “It was furniture, tables, smalls, a dresser, primitives—a mix.”

Early in the show, Scott’s Antiques, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a specialist in high-end early Christmas goods and a seller new to the show, sold a large belsnickel for $16,500. Antique needlework seller Dawn Lewis of West Branch, Iowa, who was returning to the show after an absence, sold a $2800 circa 1820 French necessaire box with mother-of-pearl tools to a local collector shortly after the show opened. An English goldstone, enamel, and gilt etui, 1780-1800, went for $1450.

Early sales for 17-year Fox Valley show veterans Don and Pat Clegg of East Berlin, Pennsylvania, included a circa 1910 Harry V. Shourds of New Jersey goldeneye drake decoy and a goldeneye drake by Gus Wilson of Maine for $3200. Both sold to a local collector “who catches up with us at shows. Within fifteen minutes of opening, we sold a three-thousand-dollar folk art watercolor and a jelly cupboard” to one collector for a total of over $5000.

By now, eagle-eyed readers have noted that major sales happened as the show opened and that the buyers were repeat customers. That’s how the Fox Valley show rolls. “You could not get through the aisles on early Saturday,” several sellers told us. There were so many sales just after the show opened at 10 a.m. on Saturday that Finegan could not get a feel for what kinds of things sold first.

When we listened in on conversations between sellers and showgoers, we heard knowledgeable buyers. Most seemed to know their stuff and were eager to engage sellers for information. We did not see much lollygagging.

Perhaps the purpose we saw in buyers had to do with the early nature of the goods and the fact that this show has become the Chicago- area place to find a good selection.

Focused because they know what’s good, ticket holders are intent on finding the best and are determined to do just that. Sellers know it, too. As Patricia Clegg told us, “We always bring fresh merchandise to this show.”

To show how avid ticketholders can be, Finegan discovered a local rushlight collecting group that met in the eating area after shopping the show for a show-and-tell to share what they found.

We’ll bet no one can top the story of an early buyer whom Finegan told us about. The buyer spotted a miniature 1880-90’s pistol about 2" long with a loop on one end for hanging on a button or ribbon. Engraved with a bunny on one side and a squirrel on the other, the $125 charm was a prostitute’s gun that shot a pin. Now, that was one canny shopper.

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“I sell a lot of very high-end Christmas,” Scott Tagliapietra of Scott’s Antiques, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, told us. By the time we arrived, a Chicago area collector had already snapped up a 42" high belsnickel for $16,500. A dealer had already claimed the working papier-mâché $5200 early German clockwork Father Christmas.

This is the first time we’d seen a pair of child’s polio braces at a show. Tagged $125, they came from Bruce Tomlinson of Alexandria, Minnesota, who specializes in the visual and unusual. Note the pristine wire hangers from an early factory. Ranging from $39 to $58, each was a wire sculpture.

Originally published in the January 2014 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest

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