Sepia-tinted reminisces were politely interrupted though, on more than one occasion, with calls to “put aside rivalries” to safe-guard the trade’s future.
Not that much competitiveness was evident on the night. LAPADA chief executive Freya Simms was an honoured guest at the lavish dinner hosted at the Clothworkers’ Hall in the City, as was Angus O’Neill, Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association president.
In her keynote speech to the event’s 100-or-so guests, BADA president Victoria Borwick highlighted the recurring themes of challenge and cooperation in the life and times of an association founded in adversity during the final months of World War 1.
The precise spur for dealers to form the association back then was a tax threatened by prime minister Lloyd George on luxury purchases – plus ça change! – but one that was seen off by dealers joining forces to combat it.
“What did your predecessors do?” Borwick asked guests. “They did not despair, they did not give up, they rallied around and faced with the prospect of their livelihoods being threatened, an enterprising group of 14 dealers met in a smoke-filled room at the offices of Connoisseur magazine on Duke Street, St James’s, on May 7, 1918.”
The dealers in that room a century ago – Partridge, Bluett, Amor – are brand names still familiar today, Borwick noted. BADA annals record that they decided to “continue in existence for the purpose of caring for the many and varied interests of the antique and allied trades”.
Borwick ended an entertaining trip down memory lane – courtesy of BADA’s rich archives – with a reminder that dealers 100 years from now will judge the current trade, just as those present in the room were assessing their forebears.
“Only by members of the trade working constructively together will we ensure that the next generation is educated about antiques and fine art,” she said. “I sincerely hope that the BADA will be that driving force to put aside rivalries, as they did 100 years ago, and speak for the trade.”
Later, BADA chief executive Marco Forgione picked up on the theme of cooperation, observing how the association's founding fathers had "set aside corporate ambitions, realising they were stronger together".
He praised Borwick for her advocacy of the trade in Parliament which "at times was at great personal cost," alluding to the former MP for Kensington's spirited defence of the antique ivory trade since 2015.
It was a night to commend BADA's stalwarts, not least secretary general Mark Dodgson for his tireless, 29 years of dedication to the cause of members. "You're the heart and soul of the association," Forgione said, as Dodgson accepted a Lifetime Membership award from BADA chairman, Michael Cohen.
Though speakers got away without mentioning the other ‘B’ word all evening, the peppery uncertainties of Brexit cropped up in several conversations to which ATG was privy.
No one, at least not within earshot of ATG, mentioned the words ‘association merger’.
But the inclusiveness of BADA’s centenary celebration, together with an acceptance that defending the trade is part and parcel of its future, suggest that closer cooperation between art market trade bodies is surely on the cards.
Noelle McElhatton is Editor-at-Large at Antiques Trade Gazette