The Dealer: Behind the scenes at the LAPADA fair

The antiques dealers’ association’s get-together at Berkeley Square was the perfect opportunity to gauge the health of the industry, explains Ian Butchoff

We’ve just come back from a week of exhibiting at the LAPADA Art and Antiques Fair in Berkeley Square, suitably suited and booted, and are now recovering back at base.

The preview opened with a confident bang (definitely not a whimper) as the two and a half thousand specially invited guests assiduously worked their way through both the fair, and in the course of so doing, quaffed over 900 bottles of Ruinart champagne in just three hours.

Well done chaps.

Although I have been a non-executive director of LAPADA for some time, this was the first year I had been part of the fair liaison team and until now have remained blissfully unaware of the extent of the logistical and creative requirements in setting the whole affair up.

Marquee mayhem

Set in Berkeley Square, one of London’s busiest and most renowned squares and originally laid out by 18th century architect William Kent, LAPADA’s team set out to erect a giant marquee, incorporating the long standing (!) plane trees within its structure, giving the interior the feel of an 18th century Grotto.

“Supply diminishes, whilst at the same time, the demand increases from emerging markets – especially those who choose to make London their home”

Past residents of the square have included Winston Churchill and Robert Clive of India and on the fictional side the legendary Bertie Wooster – who would have found many elegant trinkets at the Fair to suit his disposition – as well as the anti-hero Harry Flashman!

Working within the highly restricted confines of four allocated parking spaces, the posh marquee, housing a restaurant by Rhubarb, suitable spongy carpeting, loos replete with lotions and potions, bars, air conditioning, electrification, and, oh, I nearly forgot, the 90 exhibitors -  was erected, made functional and attractive with the likes of wallpaper specialists de Gournay lending a helping hand.

Antique disciplines

The beautifully put together fair shows many disciplines of art, from jewelry, paintings and porcelain to through to furniture and sculpture.

Exhibitors have only a day and a half to get their stands ready for vetting, (committees of experts examining every piece for authenticity), so tensions and opinions tend to run high, but the fair is brilliantly run by our CEO Sarah Percy-Davis (a human dynamo if ever I met one) and her splendid team.

As usual, it all came together at the last moment.

So, the perennial question: how was the business? In truth, it reflected the condition of the jittery stock markets, although for us, it was a qualified success, providing some sales whilst providing the opportunity of meeting old, and potentially new, clients.

But it was noticeable that those who were purchasing the higher priced pieces tended to be from overseas.

Butchoff Antiques specializes in rare and important pieces from the 18th and 19th centuries, especially pieces from the Great Exhibitions, which have a finite quantity and are therefore difficult to source. Our aim is to put on a good show, with pieces to surprise, astonish and delight; finding the right pieces is our main aim. The once ubiquitous country house sale has all but disappeared. Few fine things come onto the market, so, we have to beat the bushes further afield these days.

The supply diminishes, whilst at the same time, the demand increases from emerging markets – especially those who choose to make London their home. We have seen many times, the 1980s, for example, when a market arose, in this case the Japanese, and moved into massive scale acquisition of late 19th European paintings, Art Glass, Art Nouveau & etc, pushing these prices up to undreamed of levels.  It is reasonable to infer that with the advent of newly created wealth in China, India, Brazil and Russia, the trend of to be anticipated price increases is almost a foregone conclusion.

Anyway, for this year, the Berkeley Square LAPADA Fair is done and dusted, and we are catching up on recovering, and preparing for the next fair.

One anecdote from the fair.

One of the pieces greatly admired on our stand was a pair of nine foot carved giltwood mirrors of wonderful quality, once owned by the actress Olivia de Havilland.

Olivia de Havilland

Olivia de Havilland

One visitor, an itinerant American, looked at the mirrors and appeared amazed.

He called me over, and said “Mister, those are the greatest mirrors I have ever seen, and believe me, I‘ve seen a few. If only I had a house that I could fit them into, and the money to buy them, I’d take them in a shot”.

I’ll try paying that promise into the bank.

Ian Butchoff is the founder and owner of Butchoff Antiques, located on Kensington Church Street . He entered the trade aged 11 and is today recognised as a leading authority on 19th century furniture. He is a co-founder and board member of the dealers’ association, LAPADA, and will be writing a regular column for Londonlovesbusiness.com.

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