Saturday - 01 November 2014

An object lesson in how to get the balance right

12 July 2005Written by ATG Reporter

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 London season.

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 after 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 customers.

Anne Crane

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