Every January, without fail, when I enter the Winter Antiques Show, I think of Howard Carter, the British archaeologist and Egyptologist, who unearthed the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. I see Carter peering through a chink at the top of the stone wall separating him from the tomb’s antechamber, his only illumination a candle. “Can you see anything?” Lord Carnarvon, the backer of the exhibition, asks impatiently from behind. “Yes, wonderful things,” Carter blurts out. My sentiments exactly. And this year the “things” are even more wonderful as the Winter Antiques Show marks its 60th year, or Diamond Jubilee.
So, what are some of the wonderful things that set my collecting juices flowing at Thursday’s press preview? Anything and everything, but here’s a baker’s dozen of highlights that caught my eye:
• A pristine Shaker child’s rocking chair. (Booth 23, Suzanne Courcier • Robert W. Wilkins)
• A trio of large-scale American ventriloquist dummies—two boys (one of whom is named Sassafras Jones) and a girl—impeccably dressed and ready to jump off the shelf and perform a vaudeville routine, glass eyes shining. (Booth 31, Allan Katz Americana)
• The amusingly named “Portrait of a Dog and His Boy,” painted in Massachusetts in the 1840s. Yes, the shaggy russet dog takes pride of place in the frame. (Booth 9, Olde Hope Antiques, Inc.)
• Two exquisite and rare Audubon prints, a steal at $35,000 each. (Booth 62, Arader Galleries)
• Immaculately preserved, blindingly white and exceedingly rare 18th-century Sèvres busts of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, each on its original gilded wood base, for sale as a pair, price upon request. (Booth 60, Michele Beiny, Inc.)
• Richard Ansdell’s “Return From the Hills,” circa 1845, a classic example of British Victorian genre painting. Following an exhausting day of hunting, two Scotsmen take their ease: The kilted one lights a clay pipe, his companion leans over and drinks from a stream. Two horses bear the day’s trophies: a dead stag each. One of the dogs yawns. Big time. Yours for $475,000. (Booth 68, The Fine Art Society PLC)
• More dog paintings: King Charles spaniels on one wall, bull dogs on the opposite (Booth 64, Hyde Park Antiques)
• A massive Swiss carved Black Forest bear hall tree, 1879-1890. No entryway should be without this charmer. At the very top of the 80-inch-tall piece, a baby bear is caught in the tree’s branches. His open-mouthed expression says it all: He’s bitten off more than he can chew. Help. Not to worry, mama bear is below and rears up to give him a hand. Delightful and practical, too, at $21,000. (Booth 55, Tillou Gallery)
• Fabergé’s 1907 silver covered urn with swan handles, its body studded with amethyst, garnet and chalcedony. Accompanied by a similarly worked tray and ladle with a long, sinuous swan’s neck for handle. One cannot begin to imagine how much this beauty must weigh. (Booth 36, Geoffrey Diner Gallery, Inc.)
• The minimalist “White Bookshelf” wallpaper at this booth harmoniously backs the gallery’s eclectic objects. When asked, the dealer was unsure of its origins, knowing only that it came from abroad, possibly London or Paris. Some Googling later, and it looks like a pattern designed by Young & Battaglia and made in England by Mineheart. When I redecorate, the paper is definitely top of my list. White books on white shelves equals perfection. (Booth 34, Alexander Gallery)
• A finely detailed bone model of a boiler, ca. 1850 from Vienna. A conversation starter if ever there was one, priced at $48,000 (Booth 51, Carlton Hobbs LLC)
• An autograph page from the original manuscript of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, framed with a studio photograph of the author. Brace yourself: $2.25 million. (Booth 3, Kenneth W. Rendell Gallery)
• And, finally, something that is not for sale: Queen Victoria’s delicate, demure and dazzling diamond and sapphire tiara, on loan from a private collection and part of the show’s Diamond Jubilee loan exhibition featuring diamonds from Graff, Chanel, Tiffany and Bulgari.
As always, the Winter Antiques Show does not disappoint. But I’m ready to declare this 60th-anniversary edition the best ever, at least in the 30-plus years that I’ve been attending.
» Winter Antiques Show, Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Ave., Jan. 24-Feb. 2 (Daily noon-8 p.m., except Sun and Thurs noon-6 p.m. $25 admission.)
Joseph Stella, "Tropical Fruit," ca. 1938, Courtesy Thomas Colville Fine Art (Booth 50)
North Italian etched light cavalry half-armor, ca. 1570, Courtesy Peter Finer (Booth 29)