Think the East Hampton Historical Society’s annual antiques show at Mulford Farm is a stodgy affair? Think again. Held in one of the most expensive regions in the world, the show attracts dealers from all over who bring their wares in the hope of leaving with a much lighter load. They do what they can to make it attractive to anyone serious about their decorating.
Tom D’Arruda of Ferguson and D’Arruda, a Providence, R.I., dealer that produces the show, said he and his colleagues have spent all year searching for “friendly and very intelligent dealers.” The key to organizing a show like this, with 56 booths and a waiting list for more, is “to find the people who have objects with the wow factor and recruit them,” he said last week. The wow factor can be applied to anything, but whatever it is, it should be “unusual, one of a kind, in great condition, and out of sight, something that hasn’t been on the market a lot.”
Asked for an example, Mr. D’Arruda recalled his most memorable encounter with an object of wow: a giant papier-maché horse on a wooden armature that was a base for a saddle maker. At 9 feet by 8 feet tall, he said he hoped that it would be expensive so he would not have to worry about having it shipped back to his shop.
“It was not a lot of money and it took me over a week to figure out a way to get it home,” he said. “The day I got it into the shop, two women from Long Island asked me how much it was, I told them it was not for sale. They would not take no for an answer. So I gave them a very high price and they didn’t care. They took it home. That’s the wow factor.”
Mr. D’Arruda said there is a lot less wow in the market than there used to be. “I used to see it three to four times a week, now it’s two times a year.” The explanation as far as he can tell is that people are holding back as they wait for the economy to improve so they can receive top dollar for their precious items.
In the East Hampton Historical Society show, there are plenty of items for sale in the $500 to $1,000 range. For people looking for something special and willing to pay for it, however, the zshow Zoffers that, too. Last year an exceptional set of wicker furniture went for $85,000, and other significant pieces of furniture brought between $10,000 and $15,000.
This is not your grandmother’s furniture either. “Brown furniture” of the Dominy family or other early American furniture has not been the mainstay of South Fork fairs for some time. As tastes have changed, “the fervor over midcentury modern furniture” continues unabated here and elsewhere, he said.
Greg Nanamura, an important dealer of what his Web site describes as “avant-garde” objects from Art Deco to midcentury will appear at the fair for the first time this year. Mr. D’Arruda said dealers of midcentury furniture and objects make up about a third of the show. Still, all sorts of significant pieces of Americana will be available and will probably sell if they fit someone’s idea of wow.
This year, the fair will also welcome Mantiques Modern, a Chelsea dealer that specializes in “gutsy and eclectic” rare collectibles for the “Man Cave.” Damien Hirst enthusiasts who visit the booth may find bronze skull bookends. Others may groove to a 20th-century aircraft-riveting gun repurposed as a coffee table, part of an array of weapons, tools, and gadgets appealing to the Y-chromosome. Mr. D’Arruda said that Cory Margolis, the proprietor of Mantiques, “is out there buying all the time, very interesting, masculine things. There are precious few things for men out there.”
About two-thirds of the dealers whom Mr. D’Arruda has brought to the show return year after year. The rest are recruited or ask to be included after hearing about the show. “It’s a two-way street. People call and send references. We’re also out at shows looking at booths and how the dealers interact with people.”
In this market, interaction is far more important than it used to be, he said. “There are always those dealers who sit there and stare into space. I have to talk to these people and tell them they have to go back to being salespeople. It doesn’t sell itself anymore.”
As for recruiting, “I’ve been in business since 1974. Most of the dealers out there are our friends and tell us who’s good and who isn’t. There are very, very few instances where there are problems at the show,” such as fakes and forgeries. “It was a concern at the very beginning. Now, in our fifth year, there are no such concerns.”
As slow as it has been recently, he said there has been some increase in interest among new buyers who like the “green” aspect of buying something used. “I even have a sign at my store that says ‘Go Green, Buy Antiques.’ ” It’s still slow to catch on, but arguments for value and the environment could fuel a new surge in interest, he said.
The show’s honorary chairman this year is Newell Turner, the editor in chief of House Beautiful. The show will open tomorrow with a preview cocktail party from 6 to 8 p.m. Early buying begins on Saturday at 9 a.m., and the show opens to the public at 10 a.m. and closes at 6. Show hours on Sunday are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tickets for the preview cost $150. Admission to the show is $10, $20 for early buying. Tickets can be purchased at easthamptonhistory.org.