Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Show is Selling Out

The show is selling out. I’m sitting here looking at my list of 70 spaces filled with antiques dealers from California to North Carolina. Five spaces are left, with 14 dealers who want them. On top of that, there is a waiting list forming for cancellations. And, on top of that, an additional 33 antiques dealers across the US have asked to be considered for the 2011 show in mild-mannered Fort Worth. What’s the excitement all about?

It’s exciting when an established antique show, which could rest on well-earned laurels, changes directions instead and invests in the future of the antiques world.

This is how I am spending the recession: helping the 47 year old Dolly Johnson Antique & Art Show evolve into a small blockbuster, with all types of antiques, with quality at more than one price level and sized-right for the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

Will it happen? Who knows? The dealers are certainly doing their part.

As I write, three Dolly Johnson Show exhibitors are in England shopping two weeks of antiques fairs there in one of the coldest winters in memory. Another, Karen Buckingham, is driving a truck back east to shop in Pennsylvania and New England. Then she will rush home so that she will have time to unpack and prepare everything for the show. “I do all my own dry-scraping,” says Karen. “That way I know that the surface is the real thing.” Dry-scraping? Not for the faint of heart.

About Antiques Dealers: Welcome to our World
 After 21 years of selling at antiques shows from New York to Santa Fe, I know a lot of dealers. And I know a few things about dealers.

The first thing you have to know about antiques dealers is that we are all a little nuts. It’s not just a question of who gets up at 5 am and drives in the dark to an estate sale to wait at the head of the line. Lots of people can do that. It’s who does it week after week, year after year, decade after decade. Some dealers work through estate sales. Some buy privately out of homes or through pickers and other dealers who scout out antiques for them to buy. Many hit multiple auctions every weekend, hoping that they buy the best thing there and not a truckload of bargains again.

Others travel across America and around the globe, developing relationships with local residents who help them lug home the best of the best. And others of us buy anywhere and everywhere that we can. Chuck Auerbach, a dealer friend from Ohio, once told me that searching for antiques to re-sell was simply the discipline of getting out there and “hoping to get lucky.” Hope and the work of searching, day after day, decade after decade.

Some dealers have a specific type of antique that they focus on. At the 47th Annual Dolly Johnson Antique and Art Show, look for Gayle Green, described by one antiques collector as “the best majolica dealer in America.” Show after show, Gayle is glad to explain the history and process of making majolica to new shoppers. She knows her stuff. And she loves it.

Other dealers evolve in what they try to buy and sell. Jo Rader of Black Swan Antiques has exhibited American primitives for many years at the show. This March 12-13, things in her booth will be a little different.

“I’m going in a 300 mile radius, north, south, east and west,” says Jo. “And this year I’m looking for industrial antiques, which I have never done before, and also for the extremely good primitives.” What has she found so far? A clean-lined step back cupboard, metal school lockers, theater seats, wire gym baskets and game boards.”

Dealers who do shows are especially considered a little nuts. When people say to me, “Oh, it must be so much fun to do antique shows.” I tend to respond, “Well….. it’s more like being in the circus.”

What keeps us at it? Some are making living… or paying a mortgage...or putting a child through college… or all of the above. There are easier ways to do these things, so why antique shows?

Some antiques dealers were born into the business or have never done anything else but deal in antiques. Others came from related fields such as design, art, architecture. Many antiques dealers are refugees from some other line of work---lots of teachers, home-makers, middle-aged hippies, retail and wholesale sales workers, fashion refugees, even a few insurance folks, nurses, office workers, therapists, ……Some of us are well-educated. Some of us have learned everything we know the hard way. (Is there an easy way?) And some of us do antique shows just because our spouse needs a break from us every once in a while.

But most of us do it because we love the version of the world that is created within the days and hours and space of a truly great antique show. We love the antiques and we love creating an environment of beauty and diversity and delight that shoppers can take home to the bigger world, one piece at a time.

What Makes a Great Antiques Dealer? 

A creative approach to life makes for a great antiques dealer. Add to that the willingness to get down on their knees in the dark and dig into piles of who knows what. As the hero in Larry McMurtry’s antiques saga, Cadillac Jack, puts it: great antiques dealers live in the faith that the first rule of the antiques business is “Anything can be anywhere.”

Of course, the second rule is that it usually isn’t. But we keep at it.

Come to the 47th Annual Dolly Johnson Antique & Art Show in Fort Worth and see for yourself what the excitement is all about. What makes a great antiques shopper? Stay tuned.



  1. Oh you are good, really good, you tell those that have never experienced a show what it's like, then you explain the life of a dealer. It's in the blood and other than old age (and sometimes that doesn't stop them) or death, you are in it for life! Love it, T

  2. This sounds like such an exciting show! ~Mindy

  3. Cool! Can not wait!
    smiles, alice

  4. I love the book Cadillac Jack, and as always I love every word you wrote... perfectly said. xo,fancy

  5. That so interesting I too have the bug.
    Antique Chicago Fire Pitcher Colombian Exposition 1893 World Fair http://www.ecrater.com/product.php?pid=4237670&keywords=chicago

    Copeland Spode Chicago Pitcher http://www.replacements.com/thismonth/archive/v101f.htm

  6. As a dealer of less than a decade, I hung on every word to learn more about this strange addiction that my husband and I seem to have. I've enjoyed reading this so much -- thank you!


It's east to leave a comment. What do you love about antiques? Hope to see you at the show!