Elinor Gordon, a leading dealer in Chinese export porcelain, knows what the first Winter Antiques Show was like; she was there. Gordon has exhibited at every edition of the annual New York event since its 1955 debut. “When it started, it was a very unsophisticated market,” says Gordon, who is based in Villanova, Pa. “Now, it’s a very sophisticated market. It’s like taking the visitor into another world.”
Indeed, it has evolved into one of the most prestigious antiques shows in the country. The 2004 Winter Antiques Show, which will take place from January 16 through 25 at the Seventh Regiment Armory in Manhattan, will be the 50th anniversary edition, and it promises to be grander than ever. A total of 74 dealers will exhibit a dazzling array of furniture, artwork, and decorative objects from Europe, America, and Asia. “All the dealers we choose have to be the best in their fields,” says the show’s executive director, Catherine Sweeney Singer, “and they have to have something that we do not have in the show.” Once invited, dealers cling to their places on the floor. “They tend to leave only if they change the nature of their business or if they die,” she says half-jokingly.
As eclectic as the mix is, Americana remains the backbone of the show. Approximately one-third of the dealers concentrate on American antiques. New York–based Americana dealer Leigh Keno, longtime Antiques Roadshow expert and cohost of PBS’s new program Find!, has been a Winter Antiques Show exhibitor since 1990. It is one of only two antiques shows at which he appears. “Dealers often save their best merchandise for the show, which makes it exciting,” he says. “The public gets to look at things that have not been offered for 60 or 70 years, and perhaps never.” Keno plans to bring a mahogany tall clock (also known as a grandfather clock) with a silvered bronze dial, a timepiece that was made in Norwich, Conn., in the late 18th century. “I’m excited about it,” he says. “These clocks almost never survive with their original silvering intact.”
Winter Antiques Show Chairman Arie Kopelman, who is also the president of Chanel USA, is thrilled that the show will be hosting a special loan exhibition from the American wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It will include Favrile glass vases by Louis Comfort Tiffany and paintings by John Singer Sargent and John Singleton Copley. “The curators have chosen the most wonderful things the Met has,” Kopelman says. “It’s cherry-picking at its best.”
He anticipates that the exhibition as well as the roster of exhibitors will help raise a record amount of money for the East Side House Settlement, which has produced the Winter Antiques Show and has been its sole beneficiary since its inception. Founded in 1891, the community outreach center moved from Manhattan to the South Bronx in 1962 to assist that area’s needy. “Every nickel of profit goes to charity,” Kopelman says, explaining that booth fees, advertising income, and ticket sales contribute to the total. “We expect to net more than one million this year, more than ever in the history of the show.”
Kopelman understands that if the show is to retain its esteem among collectors, it must continue to evolve. “There’s far more competition than ever,” he says. “We can’t rest on our laurels. We have to keep the energy of the show going.”
Winter Antiques Show, 718.292.7392, www.winterantiquesshow.com