Americans are a people in search of a past -- theirs and everybody else's. This is the message, once again, of the 27th Annual Winter Antiques Show, which runs from Jan. 24 through Feb. 1 at the Seventh Regiment Armory here at Park Avenue and 67th Street.
The message carries a heavy price tag. Because of inflation and the fact that demand far exceeds the world's unreplenishable supply of antiques, values have climbed by 20 percent or more during the past year.
It is no longer unusual to hear some dealers quoting figures from $50,000 to
These advanced prices will discourage many potential buyers. They will not deter others who have the means and the know-how and who confidently expect values to continue to escalate in the future. "Where else could they go but up?" they speculate.
"Investment" has therefore become a key word in the field of antique collecting, says Mario Buatta, a leading New York interior designer who has been chairman of the show for the past five years. True connoisseurs, who buy for esthetic pleasure, may deplore that emphasis, says Mr. Buatta, but young people, particularly, like the idea that they can buy and enjoy good antiques for years and then make a substantial profit when they are ready to sell them.
Mr. Buatta has been striving to make this show more appealing to young people , and he thinks he has accomplished that goal. "Thousands of our customers are under 40," he says, "and they are highly knowledgeable in their collecting areas , well educated, and astute. Those who can only afford to buy relatively inexpensive things use the show as a learning laboratory. In a few hours they can observe and study the finest pieces of 75 dealers from all over the country and ask questions galore, an exercise that would take weeks if they visited the separate shops."
The designer-chairman cites himself as a good example of a collector who began modestly at a young age and has slowly acquired several collections that he enjoys enormously. When he was 15 he purchased three blue and white Delft pieces for $45, and neither he nor the country dealer in Vermont knew their value. But the purchase led him to learn and explore more, and today his extensive collection of all varieties of blue and white porcelain (Chinese, Japanese, English, and European) hangs against the pale coral walls of the entrance hall of his Manhattan apartment.
"If you want a collection to really make a statement," he explains, "you cluster the objects effectively together. You do not spread them out, one at a time, around the house. For that reason, I have also placed all my small Battersea boxes on one draped table in my living room.And my dog collection of King Charles spaniels, in every material from porcelain to needlepoint pillows to carved wood furniture, is grouped to make the most dramatic impact."
The designer, who terms himself a frustrated gardener, also collects vegetable forms in porcelain and botanic prints. He says the most successful collecting starts with one object that you truly love and then grows as you inform yourself and cultivate the interest.
Russell Carrell, who manages the show, predicts a strong trend toward a "high- styled Americana country look," which includes authentic country furniture, baskets, quilts, pottery, and folk art. He cites such exponents of this look as exhibitor Ed Clerk, the specialist in Shaker furniture, James and Nancy Glazer, David Pottinger, Guthman Americana, Marguerite Riordan, Audrey R. Conniff, and Gerald Kornblau.
Peter Tillou of Litchfield, Conn., says the collection of New England country furniture he is bringing to the show will include a bonnet-top cherry-chestnut chest at $50,000, and a group of American folk paintings and sculpture that he hopes will please the Americana collectors, who he says have increased enormously in numbers during the past ten years.
Bernard Plomb, who runs Village Green Antiques in Richland, Mich., says American portraiture has come into its own in the past decade, and is now recognized as one of the most important forms of earlier American art. He will feature two portraits of "Eunice Day and husband," painted in 1820 by the deaf-mute artist John Brewster Jr., for $95,000. Ten years ago, he says, such portraits were fetching only about 10 percent of current prices.
Quilt dealer Thomas K. Woodard says one of his most unusual and rare offerings will be a quilt made by the Sioux Indians and presented to a homesteader in the West. His prices range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, and he says they will continue to advance for the rare, one-of- a-kind quilts that are true expressions of American folk art. He says more and more customers from Europe and Japan are finding their way to his Manhattan shop and that American quilts are now in demand internationally.
This show will also feature fine French, English, and Oriental antiques, and Allan Chait of Ralph M. Chait Galleries says he will be exhibiting an exceptional collection of fine Chinese porcelains, pottery, stone, and wood sculptures. Although his "little gem" this year is a small gilt bronze Tang Dynasty figure of a standing Kokapala -- dated between AD 618 and AD 907 and now selling for $45,000 -- he says he is also showing some Chinese export silver at prices from $100 to $3,000 to please beginning collectors.Fascination with Chinese antiques has never run higher, says Mr. Chait, although his finest pieces still come mainly through European sources, he says, and not directly from China.
Fashion designer Mary McFadden will be hostess and decorator of the preview party on Jan. 23, adn the focal point of this year's show is "A Salute to Newport." Daily general admission tickets are $5 and all proceeds, except from the sale of antiques, go to the East Side House Settlement of the South Bronx where the funds help provide vital community services.