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Part of the problem is that the World Trade Centre was the headquarters of US Customs, and all the paperwork for transactions was lost in the destruction. Temporary offices at JFK and Newark airports are struggling with the flow of goods.

The cancellations are a sign that business between British dealers and their American counterparts will be badly affected by the terrorist attacks of September 11, which have already resulted in the cancellation of several New York auctions and an antiques fair at the Seventh Regiment Armory.

Two of Britain’s biggest shipping firms, London-based Gander and White and Anglo-Pacific, are still busy with orders taken before the attacks, but say business in the immediate future is likely to be depressed.

Gerry Ward, managing director of Anglo-Pacific, reported the response from booked clients as “very mixed”, since September 11. “Forty per cent of the dealers who had booked us for the November Olympia have cancelled,” he said, adding to fears that the winter fair may be hard hit. “We expect to see a reduction of business up to Christmas, but I am not pessimistic about the long term future,” he said, citing the need of US dealers to stock up in England.

The backlog of containers at US customs is a major problem affecting the shippers and their clients because of the consequent slowdown of payments and turnover of goods. As well as all the paperwork being lost in the World Trade Centre collapse, every container has to be X-rayed under new security rules.

Oliver Howell, managing director of Gander and White, said: “The phones went dead the first week after the attacks and we cancelled our shipments to the States.” The firm had begun sending goods to the cancelled Haughton fair in New York, and these shipments are now being returned. However, London dealer Adrian Sassoon has decided to keep his Sèvres porcelain on ice in New York as he looks for a suitable venue for a solo show. Meanwhile, demand for shipping from American interior designers with ongoing projects to finish are providing Gander and White with business.

And out in the provinces, there is one shipping firm which has not felt the pinch at all. “We are still up to our eyeballs in work,” says Bristol-based Tony Williams, of A.J. Williams. “We had a fax from two ladies in California who said they were cancelling, and then they phoned to say they were coming over after all.”
The trade will be hoping for the same attitude from their regular overseas clients in the months to come.