Dealers were informed that no editions would run next year by owner Dan Leyland of MaD Events last Monday, two weeks and a day after the last edition closed.
In an email Leyland and the team said that times are “too challenging” to plan for further fairs. The decision was blamed on the reluctance of dealers to commit to future editions following the November staging. The email added: “We certainly hope to return in the future but must be realistic that in the current economic climate that may not be for some time.”
Founded in 1986, the fair was a destination for British, particularly Midlands, buyers of traditional pictures, antiques and collectables, as well as catering to those from further afield. For its staunch supporters, its loss comes as a blow.
Tom Smith of Dovecote Antiques became a Minton specialist after buying a plate at the NEC fair aged 18 and has been standing there since 2013. He was among those at its latest edition from November 24-27.
He told ATG: “It is a fantastic fair, the best fair on our level, and the only one we do. It leaves us with no fairs and although we will probably do another eventually, I’m also thinking about selling up. It could be better to get rid of my stock and become an agent or adviser for our private clients.”
Mark Goodger, an exhibitor at the most recent event, was sad to see it close for 2023 after 18 years exhibiting there.
He said: “The pandemic really is to blame with so many dealers retiring or finding other ways to sell their goods. The Midlands and so many dealers outside the capital need this fair, and with a break like this it’s time for reflection. I hope Dan and the team – or a new organiser – can look at doing a desperately needed rebrand and shake it up.”
Art Deco ceramics specialist Andrew Muir took to Instagram af ter the announcement writing “the best of all fairs has gone”. He recalled that it was once the “best attended and most profitable fair for collectable antiques,” but like many other events has now been squeezed by rising prices and the loss of dealers (some of whom retired or went online after Covid).
Long promoted as the UK’s largest vetted antiques fair, it once hosted 500 dealers per event, and even 10 years ago would bring in around 300.
At the last staging, only 114 names were listed. Most of the special events and exhibitions that accompanied the event in its heyday had been scrapped and the long queues of visitors that once reliably appeared outside before the opening were much diminished.
Some were not surprised that the axe had fallen on another UK fair.
Clock specialist Richard Price, who stood at the event intermittently for several years, said it was once a reliable destination for dealers to buy from one another. This year, after arriving early primed to pick up new stock, he made only one purchase at £50. His sales were limited to a couple of clocks and a watch.
Next April he is committed to The Open Art Fair in Chelsea and was among those who returned their form to MaD saying he would not attend.
“I was very disappointed there was nothing to buy,” he said. “I do not think anyone is surprised it has shut down. A lot of people have lost interest. Dan and his team have worked so hard, and the fair looked very good three years ago. Business is changing and some fairs are continuing, but I couldn’t see any potential in NEC at the last edition.”
Several exhibitors thought the recent fair was more positive. Smith of Dovecote Antiques said it had been on a par with its equivalent last year.
“It’s true that business was slower,” he said. “Some of the international trade was not buying as much as usual, but that’s cyclical. Those buyers will come back when their home market revives. But the NEC was good because you saw good British buyers who buy less online and like to engage in person. There is an element of impulse buying.”
MaD Events acquired AAfE in 2019 from Clarion Events. The plans were to grow exhibitor and buyer numbers but, after running twice in that year, Covid struck.
It was the first major antiques event to be called off ahead of the first lockdown and did not take place again as an in-person event until October 2021. It ran twice this year (April and November) but the summer edition was cancelled when Birmingham hosted the Commonwealth Games.
Plea for a return
Over the years the event has had its share of owners and the brand was tried at a series of other locations, including ventures in Manchester, Glasgow and London.
With the closure of the NEC fair in 2023, the UK loses one of only a handful of goodquality regional events.
Goodger is among those eager for the fair to return. “NEC has everything: great routes in, railway and even an airport. It’s not all about London.”