Surge in antique buying

The art and antiques market appears to be defying the recession, if buying trends at Maastricht and the weekend’s British Antique Dealers’ Association (BADA) fair in London are to be relied on. A downbeat exhibitor at BADA had opined ‘Maastricht’s different’, just before last week’s opening and, admittedly, the vast annual TEFAF fair at Maastricht is the pinnacle of the international art and antiques business. The British event is small and local by comparison, but both offer quality, and each has a loyal following, many of whom buy nowhere else. There were impatient crowds awaiting the opening in Chelsea just as there had been in the Dutch town two weeks earlier, and there was considerable buying from the moment the doors opened.

Again, as at Maastricht, buying spread across the board. If the market in ‘brown’ furniture really died a few years back, as was widely reported, it must now be rechristened Lazarus. As in other markets, quality sells. Wakelin & Lin-field reported a new Turkish buyer, admittedly for a French Empire item, and elsewhere, the best English and Irish pieces were stirring interest. Anthony Woodburn’s William and Mary timepiece by Daniel Quare, illustrated in last week’s COUNTRY LIFE (March 25), was among the earliest sales.

Certain areas are languishing because dealers have relied on long-established collectors, rather than encouraging new interest. According to an English-porcelain specialist, her clientele tends to be retired and dependent on pensions for investment income for activities such as collecting. This is not necessarily a good combination at present. On the other hand, it has been said that English watercolours have dropped entirely out of favour, but this was not the experience of John Spink, who not only sold a comparatively early J. M. W. Turner, but also took £30,000 for a Lake District view by the ‘other’ Turner, William of Oxford.

Maastricht was attended by representatives of museums from around the world even Havana and by all the top dealers, but much of the buying, as ever, was by private collectors. One of the most notable features of the BADA reports is the strength of new private buying. Stephen Jarrett of Witney Antiques, who had an excellent fair, said that a third of his sales, including furniture, clocks and textiles, were made to people who were new to him, and almost everything else mentioned here went to private buyers, many new to the exhibitor. As usual in recessions, there are plenty of opportunities for people who have cash to invest it very well and most enjoyably. At present, investing in art and antiques really is better than having money in the bank.