Never was an event more aptly named than Brian and Anna Haughton’s International Ceramics Fair and Seminar, the veteran ceramics fest which celebrated its 24th staging from June 16-19.
After all what do people associate with the word seminar? Is
it not small numbers of participants exchanging ideas in a
knowledgeable, academic and sometimes rarefied way? This definition
fits both the fair and the lecture programme elements of the ICFS
and, indeed, with 11 lectures and 15 exhibitors, there is an almost
equal weighting to the two.
This year's event, now back at the Park Lane Hotel, Piccadilly
after two years in the relative outpost of Kensington's
Commonwealth Institute, featured four specialists in Continental
ceramics, two each in English porcelain and pottery, one book
dealer, one glass specialist and five exhibitors with a mix of
English and Continental ceramics.
Although you can find Contemporary ceramics mixed in with the
Sèvres and Vincennes, most notably at Adrian Sassoon, the emphasis
here is very much on 18th century rarities. In short, exactly the
kind of piece that might be the subject of one of the lectures
which have always been deemed of equal importance to the collectors
and museum curators who make this event a special call for their
Not that I wish to imply academe triumphs over commercial
interest. The exhibitors are there to sell and the hard core who
show here manage to do that in sufficient quantity to return year
Most reported the customary busy first day. For clients of English
porcelain specialist Robyn Robb, who stands here and at the BADA
fair, this is a rare opportunity to buy the carefully selected
treasures that she has squirreled away, provoking the inevitable
queue and opening rush. By the time I visited on the second day her
stand sported its trademark rash of red sold stickers and empty
shelves, and by fair's end 90 per cent of her exhibits had gone.
Others reporting busy first days included Errol Manners who had
sold across the board, including the Meissen white candlesticks
from the Swan service, one of which is pictured here.
English porcelain specialist Billy Buck of Steppes Hill Farm
Antiques sold a total of 20 items, including his second most
expensive, a rare Worcester teabowl priced at £17,000.
English pottery specialist Jonathan Horne was one of London's
busiest dealers over the summer season with stands at Olympia,
Grosvenor House and the Ceramics Fair. Grosvenor proved
exceptionally busy for him, but he reported strong and steady sales
across the board at this event, too. Indeed, even in the relatively
slack periods, like late Friday afternoon, there were still some
stands like Helen Girton's where a continual flow of customers made
it hard to get a word in edgeways.
There is no doubt of the appeal of ICFS as a specialist niche
event, but it is only a facet of the market. Come here for rare
18th century sculptural Vincennes or Sèvres, for the only recorded
example of a particular shape or pattern in First Period Worcester
or for studio pottery by Elizabeth Fritsch. But don't expect the
Mintons pâte sur pâte or Charles Baldwyn Royal Worcester discussed
elsewhere on these pages, or some other strong sectors of the
ceramics market like William de Morgan or Martinware pottery.
I used to feel the International Ceramics Fair and Seminar could
usefully broaden its remit to take in such areas, but now I am not
so sure. It seems to work best the way it is, fielding a relatively
narrow band of top-end wares that are of great appeal to a
specialist academic audience and/or serious collectors wedded to
their own particular specialities. A wider range of styles, ages
and prices would be a very different type of ceramics fair. Perhaps
there is room for one of those as well?
There are also, of course, plenty of other venues where ceramics
can be hunted out in June. Olympia still has a wide range of 30
European ceramics and glass exhibitors, Grosvenor House featured
nine and Kensington Church Street fielded its own event, Eight Days
in June, with English pottery and porcelain specialists Simon
Spero, Garry Atkins, Liane Richards and Roderick Jellicoe joining
forces to promote their own stock and business from June 13-21.
There were opening queues of keen collectors here, too - from 7am
at Liane Richards' Mercury Antiques - but Simon Spero also noted
that one of the key features this year had been the steady
attendance of visitors throughout the eight days, giving the
participants more time to discuss the stock with their potential
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