At the recent Art & Antiques Fair Olympia, a visitor departing the venue picked up an issue of Antiques Trade Gazette, saw a 17th century Spanish walnut vargueno advertised in its pages, and returned to the event to buy it from the stand of Hansord Antiques. The c.1620 iron mounted and bone inlaid parcel gilt vargueno desk was ticketed at £20,000.
Picking up a print publication, re-entering a fair in person and doing business with a dealer face-to-face – it could be a story from another age.
Despite facing early challenges, the latest Olympia, which ran from June 23-26, proved that there is still appetite for a good ‘old-fashioned’ art and antiques fair.
Plenty of challenges
Staged for the first time since 2019, it hosted 70 exhibitors. Rail strikes and high temperatures offered plenty of difficulties early on, but sales started in the first minutes, with, for example, silver specialist Stephen Kalms selling some Victorian claret jugs to a young couple previously unknown to him.
Laura Bordignon also started well, selling a pair of Taisho period puppies to a German couple who were new to the fair for around £3400 on the opening day.
She said: “We are pleased with the business achieved in Olympia having seen many of our loyal clients despite the rail and tube strikes during that week. We have met some new clients and the organisers did a good job despite the challenging circumstances.”
She went on to sell a pair of Meiji period eagle sculptures to a collector for a combined price of nearly £50,000.
Sarah Colegrave, a picture dealer, enjoyed a “good” Olympia, “which rather surprised me as it seemed to be against the odds with worrying economic warnings and train strikes aimed to make life difficult for the out-of-London clients”.
It was her first London fair post-Covid. She added: “I sold mostly to existing clients but there were a few new people and people who had found me online during Covid and wanted to take the opportunity to meet me at a fair.”
Organiser Clarion Events had worked hard to promote and preserve the fair’s 49th staging. Stands were offered for £365 per square metre – lower than pre-pandemic prices.
The announcement followed news that the LAPADA Fair was suspended due to costs and there is continued uncertainty over the future of the BADA-turned-Open Art Fair, making Olympia a welcome destination for dealers and buyers alike.
Meanwhile, Lennox Cato (a previous exhibitor at both the BADA and LAPADA fairs) returned for this Olympia after many years and said he was “very glad to be back”. His sales included a 16th century Italian walnut coffer, which sold for a price in the region of £14,000.
“We made some good sales, seeing existing clients and meeting new ones,” he added, and praised the link-up with Clarion’s simultaneous event, Spirit of Summer Fair.
Furniture fared particularly well. Hansord sold a pair of card tables, a dining table and pair of teak cabinets, c.1840. On the opening evening Justin Evershed Martin sold a pair of chairs on the opening evening, while a rare early 18th century burr elm chest, Italian, ticketed at £9500, was purchased from the stand of Anthony Fell.
Mark Goodger Antiques parted with a pair of regency card tables for £21,000 (not to mention three clocks and a tortoiseshell tea caddy, 1770, priced at £15,000).
Other highlight sales were a quarter-chiming skeleton clock in the form of Westminster Cathedral offered for a price in excess of £25,000 by Richard Price & Associates, a Charles Aldridge and Henry Green 1780s tea caddy from Mary Cooke Antiques for around £10,000 and an elephant sculpture by Barye dated 1875 and offered for a five-figure sum at Hickmet Fine Arts.
Walker Galleries sold paintings such as In France by Dorothea Sharp for around £12,000, a work by Fernand Legout-Gerard and Les Grands Boulevards sous la neige by Eugene Galien Laloue priced at £13,000.
For the organiser, the apparent presence of many overseas visitors was a high point, one of many elements lending the fair a pre-pandemic feel.
Fair director Mary-Claire Boyd said: “Dealers and collectors from the UK and further afield have been reunited after three long years and trading has reflected this.”
The Winter Art & Antiques Fair Olympia is set for November 1-6.