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All last year it did not happen, and, although there are signs that business is markedly picking up in America, there seems to be no super-successful British fair on the horizon.

Birmingham is a good case in point. There was much enthusiasm and high hopes for the first National Fine Art and Antiques Fair, organised by Fran Foster and held in The Forum at the National Exhibition Centre from January 28 to February 1.

Everybody says it was the best looking fair ever held at the NEC, and there are no complaints about Mrs Foster’s organisation. But for most of the 95 exhibitors it was not a memorable experience.

It started busily but on the first afternoon blizzards put paid to business prospects, and the same was true the following day.

Things improved on the Friday and the weekend was busy, with plenty of last minute buying and keen anticipation of after-sales.

Indeed, it was after the fair closed that Haynes Fine Art from Broadway clinched the sale of a large oil painting by Thomas Sidney Cooper to a local collector for a price in the region of £180,000.

As at so many provincial fairs over the past couple of years, pictures were the commodity in demand.

Callaghan Fine Arts from Shrewsbury made sales from £2000 to £50,000 to both new and existing clients and Gladwell & Co from London sold a number of canvases to new clients, including one for that ubiquitous “significant five-figure sum”.

Rowles Fine Art from Welshpool sold eight works and, among a number of other galleries who reported brisk sales, Kenulf Fine Art from Gloucestershire said they had sales up to £30,000.

Elsewhere, business was more patchy but a number of period furniture specialists did a lot better than expected, often with the more expensive items selling.

After the show, Fran Foster said: “We are extremely pleased to have presented a fully booked fair of a quality not seen at the NEC for more than 12 years and I am personally flattered to have received many, many compliments for the fair’s decoration and high standards.”

With the weather having taken its toll this year, perhaps we will have to wait until next year to see the true potential of this new event, which attracted 7645 visitors. It seems the exhibitors agree, since more than 70 have said they will be back in 2005.

MOVING south to London, and into what has been one of the buoyant areas of recent years, my first reaction to the Decorative Antiques and Textiles Fair – the winter leg of the three annual decorative fairs at the Battersea Park marquee – was that it was the best-looking production of this popular event for some time.

And most of the 100 or so exhibitors said at close of play that it was the most successful for some time in terms of business.

Not that by any means did all the exhibitors enjoy bumper sales, but, I think there was more optimism than at any time last year and some dealers did good, consistent business throughout.

There was no real pattern to the buying. After a very busy opening day, business achieved followed no discernable trend, the smaller items selling as well as the large and expensive, and the more conventional brown furniture finding a market alongside the quirky and 20th century design classics. Indeed, a few of the dealers in brown period furniture had their best decorative fair for a long time.

Serendipity from Herefordshire had one of their best fairs ever with more sales than at last June’s Olympia. They sold plenty of furniture in the £10,000-15,000 bracket, including three extending dining tables and a Regency four-poster bed.

Twentieth century furniture, a hallmark of this fair, also did well with London’s Berg Brothers selling their largest and most important pieces, a c.1960 chrome and walnut dining table by Paul Evans of New York and a parchment-front wardrobe.

Trade and decorators were active but, again, ever more in evidence and of importance at this event is private buying, which was considerable.

A good rather than a remarkable decorative fair which bodes well for the spring.