The round of applause that broke out for fair organiser Matthew Adams at the Royal Horticultural Halls on Sunday, March 15 was loud and, exhibitors said, very well-earned.
True, some dealers stalling out at the London fair on Sunday had thought twice about attending.
Others were more certain about taking part. “It’s the best fair in London on a Sunday,” said Lucy Verity, who deals 18th and 19th century jewellery with her daughter, Verity. “Matthew keeps it very tight and doesn’t allow reproduction in.”
The warm applause for Adams was for "going the extra mile” to make the fair worthwhile, one dealer told ATG, such as reducing the entrance fee from £6 to £1.
Former dealer Adams had also done the rounds at Portobello the day before, reminding people to attend.
The number of stall holders at the table-top fair was inevitably thinner this time, down from the 142-dealer norm to under 100. Some were given two tables as a bonus to fill out the room.
Stands prices were not reduced, and dealers were reluctant to drop prices beyond their usual discount. “We’ve paid a certain price for our stock, and auctions are still running,” said Kitty Verity. “If we stop, then everything in the chain stops.”
A queue of buyers formed before opening time at 10am, with dealer purchasers making their usual beeline for favoured stalls. Noticeable by their absence this time were Asian buyers, in particular the Japanese.
‘Hold our nerves’
As the fair drew to an early close, Adams said event organisers need to hold their nerves. “The day before the fair, one caller said I was irresponsible for going ahead. But I balance that against all the other messages I had from dealers asking for this to go ahead, because it’s vital to their cashflow."
The next event in April was advertised last week but since then, heeding government advice, Matthews has postponed it. “I’d rather miss one than miss five,” he said, wryly.
In the meantime, dealers are being guided by their own wits and intuition, which suggest that online is the place to go.
“The coronavirus crisis is likely to last for months and selling face-to-face opportunities will become rare or disappear,” one dealer said. “I’ve got four shops online - three on eBay, one on Etsy. This crisis shows dealers can never have too many.”
* To read more about postponed, cancelled or amended fairs and auctions visit Antiques Trade Gazette's latest coronavirus changes article.