US: What was the impact of the sluggish economy and the downward DOW coupled with 150,000 troops in the Gulf on the New York Ceramics Fair? Well, barely a dent in enthusiasm or sales, much less a blemish on attendance in the event organised by the California-based Caskey-Lees enterprise.

At this four-year-old fair with 40 dealers, 16 of whom are British, attendance was up more than nine per cent over last year to 6573. Interestingly, while the trade in London and Paris may be in the doldrums, collectors here were keen to buy at a variety of price levels. The fact that several dealers who participate in a full roster of fairs claim this event is one of their best further elevates the stature of this show.

Opening on January 15, the evening prior to the Winter Antiques Show, long considered the city’s premier social event, the fair ran for four days.

Held at the National Academy of Design’s Beaux Arts mansion on upper Fifth Avenue, the opening night attendance was a Ferragamo-pumps-and-navy-blue-blazer kind of sedate crowd. Or, in other words, serious ceramics collectors.

How sophisticated were the attendees? London dealer Jonathan Horne’s sales reflected the collecting base and his results epitomised the roaring success of this fair. “It was my best fair ever,” said Horne. He sold primarily 17th century pottery as well as his catalogue entry, a 1765 Staffordshire double-walled cinque foil lead glazed teapot in the Chinese style for a handsome five-figure sum.

An impressive 20 per cent of his sales were to new clients. Alan Kaplan of the New York gallery Leo Kaplan, best summarised the attendance in two specific groups. “First, the show attracts every major pottery collector in the country and they buy the more important pieces. Then, the Americana collectors are seeking examples that would have been displayed on their antique furniture exactly 200 years ago,” said Kaplan. He believes the Americana buffs fancy generic wares. His evidence: sales at his stand were evenly divided between those two types of clients.

“Yet first and foremost, this is an English pottery show,” said Kaplan, who also brought cameo glass and paperweights. Salt glaze was exceedingly popular, with a 1765 salt glaze teapot with polychrome enamel decoration going for $15,000.

Talk about a collecting crowd. Garry Atkins sold his star lot, a large early slipware charger, to a private collector for a hefty five-figure amount. For him, creamware sales were rampant and an eagle-eyed
collector snapped up a Staffordshire creamware tureen with cover and stand, c.1775, for $5000. “Last year, it was salt glaze.” He believes that slipware, with its simply painted motifs, appeals to folk art fanciers; the early 18th century oblong charger he sold for $3500, for example.

But it wasn’t simply rarities making collectors swoon. Staffordshire figures, primarily the cunning canine kind, were on a high like never before. Long cherished by both the decorator set and haute WASP families as the perfect pair for mantels and consoles, now their popularity is best charted by Oxfordshire dealer John Howard’s sales. He sold more than 100 figures, or close to double his sales last year.

For Maria and Peter Warren, who are based in Wilton, Connecticut, their prize piece, an early 18th century drab stoneware teapot, was snapped up for a low five-figure amount. With a white spout and applied pressed decoration, the teapot was unusually distinctive.

They sold a fair amount of creamware in practically every form, from jugs and vegetable dishes to bowls, with prices running from $600 to $6000. Mr Warren found the sales superior to last year by as early as the second day of the show.

Paul Vanderkar defined his sales as across the board. Staffordshire pottery tulips, which are considered beguiling by the decorator trade and seen in many a Park Avenue apartment, were highly sought after. Prices ran from $2500 to $6000 each and clients were from all over the States.

Glass too was in favour. Charles Truman of London’s C&L Burman sold even more than the previous year. In all, he sold five pairs of decanters, with some going to wine collectors, while in 2002 he did not sell a single one. An early 19th century claret jug went for a hefty $10,000, and he made one sale to an East Coast museum.

Nearby, Mark J West experienced a highly successful opening night, with sales of ten Val St Lambert vases from Belgium’s Val St Lambert museum for $2000-$7000. Two East Coast museums purchased 19th century glass from him. This dealer found Art Deco highly sought after.

Like his colleague Truman, Mr West also wrote up decanters, primarily all late 18th century examples, from $500 to $1800. “In just two days, I’ve taken in as much as at the seven-day November Olympia,” said Mr West, explaining his enthusiasm for the American event.

Jill Fenichell, whose pottery and porcelain wares are sought by many in the decorating trade, found the magic selling point to be in the $5000 range. Red-stickered were a pair of Longton Hall soup plates, c.1765, with finely painted floral bouquets, a pair of Chamberlain’s pierced and gilded Worcester baskets, c.1815, and a diminutive bulb pot with a view of Moscow. “No matter what shape the economy is in, quality moves,” said Ms Fenichell.

She found Japonesque ceramics heavily requested and also sold a Christopher Dresser earthenware pitcher, c. 1880, and a Royal Worcester Japonesque candlestick.
Aurea Carter witnessed a veritable flurry of sales of approximately 50 pieces in less than two days. Bow, Derby, Worcester, Chelsea and Wedgwood were high on the list.

“In fact, the fair is better than last year and really equivalent to the June Olympia,” said Ms Carter. She believes fairgoers find the small scale of the fair, coupled with its fine period surroundings, an enormous attraction.

Majolica, which almost has its own cult following, was in full force at the stand of Charles L. Washbourne of Chappaqua, New York. This dealer brought close to 275 examples with prices up to $30,000. On preview night, he sold a massive jardinière for close to $30,000. With Egyptianesque faces along with vegetable and floral garlands, the piece had all the requisite bells and whistles. “Clients today demand the more unique pieces rather than, say, Joseph Holdcroft examples,” said the dealer.

As usual Quimper was moving at the stand of Solomon Suchard. Just as collectors were snapping up Alfred Beau’s finely painted examples, they were also looking for the more naively painted dishes. But Art Deco period wares were also in demand by New Yorkers. With the V&A about to open the largest exhibition devoted to that period, perhaps collectors are hoping to get a head start in that area.

Interestingly, in contrast to last year’s fair, Oriental wares seemed to be slow-moving. “Clients are weighing up their options,” said Nader Rasti of Knapton and Rasti. Cohen & Cohen racked up a six-figure sale for 18th century Chinese export examples, but overall Chinese porcelain was a weak note.

This year’s event included more contemporary ceramics dealers and Leslie Ferrin of Lenox, Massachusetts quickly sold a tobacco brown stoneware tray with 32 small celadon cups by Peter Beasecker for $1550 to an Atlanta client. Decorative arts curators picked up studio pottery by the likes of Matthew Metz and Linda Sikora; the price points were modest.

When Jonathan Horne said, “This fair has gone from strength to strength,” he was referring to the increasing number of sophisticated collectors. Part of the attraction was the educational component, a lecture series by the prestigious Chipstone Foundation and a top-tier loan exhibition from Historic Deerfield.