All the fun of the fair
John Windsor previews this summer's big art and antiques fairs: Grosvenor House and Olympia
Saturday 01 June 1996
For one thing, a small fraction of "redundo" pay tends to get blued on consolation buys such as jewellery or a painting. For another, survivors of downsizing work such long hours that they have no time to swot up on Chinese porcelain or Regency ormolu-mounted furniture. Result: a new breed of youngish, rich, know-nothings eager to acquire the trappings of wealth - the antique dealer's dream.
Today's antique fairs were invented, not exactly for the rich and ignorant - though they are plentiful enough - but for busy punters happy to pay double for strictly vetted pieces that they can be confident are "right". Such is the antiques take-away culture at Olympia and Grosvenor House.
Those vetting committees are not just chums in the trade giving the nod. They are about as forgiving as Judge Jeffreys. I once watched a clock dealer at Olympia tremble with shock after the vetting committee had swept past, condemning as "un-fairworthy" his "William Scott longcase of 1790- 1810", which, they alleged, had a 1720-1740 case of the wrong colour with a movement added later.
For the past three years Olympia's 150 vetters have been briefed to keep a specially wary eye open for country and Regency furniture over-restored with added paint and given a tenfold price hoick. This year has brought a new threat: brand-new metalwork - table lamps, lanterns, wall-brackets - picked up in the Paris flea markets and passed off as 18th or 19th century period pieces.
Olympia (now thrice yearly) has traditionally been looked upon as a "trading" or "intermediate" market while glittering Grosvenor House in Park Lane is an "end-market", the ne plus ultra for rich private buyers with a million pounds or so to spend. Clever traders at Grosvenor House, whose early days coincide with Olympia, used to brag about carrying off under-priced items from Olympia to Park Lane to sell for more. They still make the occasional killing. But nowadays, Olympia is approaching end-market status, too: highly polished and highly priced - but at least you know what you're getting.
Both fairs' public relations efforts emphasise that they also offer inexpensive antiques: at Grosvenor House this year, that could mean an 1840 brass fender from a doll's house (pounds 125); at Olympia a collection of eccentric tea cosies, popular between the wars, at pounds 35-pounds 300 each.
Olympia Fine Art and Antiques Fair, Earls Court Exhibition Centre, Warwick Road, London SW5, 6-16 June, entry, including catalogue pounds 15 (0171-370 8188). Grosvenor House Art and Antiques Fair, Park Lane, London W1, 13-22 June, entry (including handbook) pounds 12 single, pounds 20 double (0171-499 6363).
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