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The Next Generation, in the Trade March 17th, 2011 by admin

Any family owned business run by the third generation, probably has had to evolve or have a format that is very predictable. I would be ignorant if I didn’t think luck and timing never hurt either. A fourth generation of family is lurking in my business; what must the possibilities of the decorative arts trade future be? Reports that the antiques trade is rebounding is the biggest joke in the fine and decorative arts world. You just can’t keep contemporary or 20th Century modern sculpture and fine art down. As a fourth generation dealer focused on the decorative arts, you better have luck and timing, or a real business plan. Business plans in the decorative art aren’t currently being well marketed, but probably don’t exist. The state of this part of the arts industry is rudderless and even the Sotheby’s/Christies duopoly can’t and don’t want to deal with it. If there ever was a reason to expose the reserve, these sales would be cannon fader for everyone. Auction methods aside, the opportunities for Newel are to enhance our fantastic rental business to TV and motion picture productions, with the salability of the items. Selling is a challenge. Today’s customer is savvy and knows how to procure information about anything, anytime, anywhere. Frankly, I don’t see how my experience in the industry gives me any clarity about tomorrow and what opportunities could out there. We need now the energy and thinking of the next generation, a 20 something. For me as a dealer, I still have a fond memory of how my grandparents build Newel with a nononsense focus on a rental business starting with Broadway, and then movies and TV along with window display and commercial photography. A land line telephone and a mechanical adding machine was all the technology you needed. Somehow, the second generation missed something between that technology and an iPad 2 technology. It must have been luck and timing back then. Number four will have quite a different method of operation, but it will always come down to substance in our industry. The proverbial “eye” will never be out of fashion, and is the only requirement to be “in the trade”. Without that there is limited entry in the art world. However, having ultimate physical control of inventory presents the greatest opportunity. For Newel, it isn’t wasted space; it is a rental possibility and/or a saleable item. I am truly excited about the potential creative opportunities if a family member wants to participate in this business’s future. However, the roots of success and long standing of the company has to do with the unique relationship my grandfather developed with clients who needed his products. He provided service and attention to detail. Perhaps this is still a requirement for any business to continue. Posted in shows, antitrust, irrevocable bid, dealer organizations, Sotheby's, Christie's,auction, antiques dealer, buyer's premium, reserve price, antiques | 1 Comment »

The Show Review March 14th, 2011 by admin

Newel’s first participation in an antiques show, Avenue Antiques & Art at the Armory Show, has been an incredible learning experience. While I might be critical of some aspects of how we could have done a better job, the overall effect on the public perception of our method of presentation was


superb. We attempted an innovative dramatic approach to displaying a sampling of our diverse inventory, and the startling and confounding reaction of the crowd was in evidence with the number of people who stopped to just take pictures of the booth. People who go to these shows want to see something new, and most were surprised not only by the over-the-top design but the juxtaposing of 18th, 19th, and 20th century inventory in the 4 vignette setting. Today, style and taste trump connoisseurship. Nobody under 50 would think of living in a period 18th Century French interior, or English, or American, etc. It is not only boring but “styleless” to live in such a narrow formula. Perhaps the only period that this one style formula works is with 20th Century modern and contemporary designs. And if I read some shelter magazines, absolutely nothing in a room, short of an upholstered cushion can work fine. That’s not what I aspire to, nor the crowds that comes to the Avenue Show or any type of antiques show. While I suppose the goal of doing a show is to sell, sell, sell, our priority was to create an image for our firm and get attendees excited about coming to our showroom and warehouse. After all, it is there that we have our strength in number of styles and periods of decorative arts. The ability to ultimately translate sales from the show will ultimately be measured by visits to the store and web site. The follow through will be the critical measure of our success. As for the show experience, I think that this one had a certain ambiance that I found to be more to my liking. No overabundance of boring brown wood or intimidating stands. A Winter Antiques Show it was not, but thank goodness for that, as I want to be part of something that isn’t so predictable and lackluster. The mix was good but could always be better and I hope our attempt at being a bit outrageous will be contagious to other dealers and encourage others to be more creative in their presentations. Now that the show is over, I must contemplate the future of this medium. When, how, where do I attempt to put this effort on again. Perhaps I should wait several weeks to assess the post show responses. Perhaps, but if “The Show is Newel”, then the next big project I will attempt, will be a new state of the art showroom at Newel. Let the 1st floor renovation begin! Posted in dealer organizations, shows, antiques dealer, antiques | 2 Comments »

The Show is Newel February 11th, 2011 by admin

I really love the tag line “The Show is Newel”. It says everything about this company and how antiques are used. As the term “decorative arts” applies to furniture and furnishing (the Playbill description of Newel’s credit for supplying sets to Broadway shows in the 1930-70’s), they are part of a lifestyle as reflected in how they are used and displayed. They all have a story and a past, so let the show begin! Newel is preparing to do its first “antiques show” with the Avenue Antiques Show at the Park Avenue Armory. I might have to eat my crow with all my criticism of how these things operate. However, it presents an opportunity to be relevant to today’s lifestyle, especially for those who can afford or at least appreciate how these items should be part of it. They ought to be no less appropriate than an iPad, or a Tom Ford couture cocktail dress. The ability to showcase a standard of living with a sense of style, taste, and sophistication should include antiques; but it is the presentation that gives the punch.


In my experience working at Newel, I’ve had little exposure to the rooms where Newel items have been purchased short of seeing them pictured in shelter magazines. Where Newel items are used in conjunction with providing extensive interior furnishing like window display, TV, and motion picture sets, they provide a big and important backdrop. They become part of the visual effect of the set as seen by countless viewers, and help define an image, whether in the movie “Arthur”, “The Godfather” or a Bergdorf Goodman Christmas window. These pieces offer an opportunity to create a fantasy world that is unique yet very personal. As an antiques dealer, to show these items in imaginative presentations opens a wider net as to how they can be used. Displaying them in a tradition, boring, predicable method only enhances how tiresome and irrelevant they can be to the “at the moment” style conscious consumer. Today, style is in the dress, the technology, and the ability to look and understand what is chic. Why antiques should be a part of today’s world requires the same kind of marketing as any product that embraces status. You see a model posing in Ralph Lauren clothing, the accessories like the location, model, and props in the photo shoot all accentuate the cloths. If you saw that set in the street or on a stage, you would stop and stare in awe. Presentation in a store or a show is what antiques dealers do in the most predicable way. Let the Show begin now, for this industry to advance and be relevant for the future. Posted in rentals, dealer organizations, shows, New York City, antiques dealer, antiques |1 Comment »

For 2011, Bigger Changes January 2nd, 2011 by admin

There has never been a time of such dramatic changes in the art and antiques industry. Certainly the last decade brought a steady diet of 20th Century in both paintings and decorative arts as a style trend, but the forms and methods of transaction have also been evolving. With the newest auction methods, the Sotheby’s/Christie’s duopoly has reached new heights in their conflicts of interest built into their transactions. Political influence aside, the ability to challenge these two “auctioneer” operators is beyond the ability of dealers to recognize, but primarily they lack any resources to make a case against them. It has and always will be the impedance of dealers and their organizations that has blinked to the auctioneer way. But the success of these and most thriving auctioneers has to do with the ability to create a business organization in a classic mold. It works for them because dealers never figured out how to create a company that has a management structure, and most of all a vision. Working at Newel for the last 42 years (summer of ’69) has presented me a particular view of the antiques and decorative arts world. I’ve always assumed that I work in the backrooms of a crazy museum; a museum that exhibited its inventory, but to the stage, TV, movies, and window display. It also seemed that it was a big business that was desperately trying to stay small. The ability to grow was restricted by space, an incredibly diverse inventory, and how to sell it. This year will begin a new chapter in the history and evolution of Newel. In the age of the little neighborhood antiques shop, survival has always been a challenge. Perhaps a little luck helps in being at the right place at the right time to make a find. But the opportunity to grow in this field has been like fighting an ocean tide. I do not see any signs in this industry that any dealer or group of dealers can rival the auctions in the procurement and sale of merchandise. Their methods relay on


techniques that a dealer can’t create in structuring a sale. Just follow the money; and seller’s commission and a buyer’s premium. Dealers, try pulling that off. For Newel, 2011 will be a year of trying to change itself, its image, its industry. Essentially, we are still the same firm formed by my grandfather. It was started as a prop house and people still think of Newel as being part of the film and TV industry. Yes, I would agree, but please show me another place in the world that has such an incredible diverse collection of quality pieces under one roof? That’s an image problem! Additionally, the greatest challenge for me for this New Year will be to create more change in the antiques industry. The opportunities have never been so glaring. From a low point in financial conditions to a disproportionate taste biased to 20th Century, the future doesn’t look like those effects will continue. We will endeavor to operate in a way that will give the public an auctioneer option, for buying and selling. Posted in antitrust, rentals, irrevocable bid, investment, dealer organizations, Bonham's,Sotheby's, antiques dealer, auction, buyer's premium, reserve price, Christie's, antiques |5 Comments »

Doing the Right Thing December 6th, 2010 by admin

One of the best complements I ever received was from a client who purchased something prior to my ownership of the company. A situation happened with that client several years later, after I bought the company which required me to examine the importance of one’s reputation. She taught me a lesson on humility and said I was doing the right thing. Recently, a dealer who I know and respect called me about an issue we both shared and one that requires me, to do the right thing. Several blogs ago I wrote about my thoughts on the vetting process and my doubts about it as an effective tool to give consumers a feeling of authenticity. While I may think that I know a thing or two about what I look at, what I don’t know would certainly fill the New York City public library. A case in point was in the last International Antiques Show in New York, I wrote about a set of 8 Art Deco sconces. I mentioned this set because I thought that perhaps they were not “right”, as they appeared to me to be possibly altered in some manner. They were in the booth of the dealer who called me this week. We had a good conversation about the issues both of us and several other dealers had experienced with a similar client and our frustration at how we were all being abused, and treated with disrespect not only as professionals but as businessmen acting in good faith. The other reason he called was concerning my blog post and he recognized my comments on the set of his sconces. When I saw the sconces in his booth, this dealer was not there but if he was, I would have certainly asked him about the set. His call was also to clarify my blog comments on his set. The dealer explained to me the history of where he found the sconces and the condition that he acquired them. That there were actually 8 additional sconces and that they were in desperate need for restoration when he purchased them in Europe now sounded more plausible. They were apparently from a hotel too, which would explain the quantity. And while the dealer didn’t claim they were by any particular known designer of the period he made an honest attempt to explain the facts about his experience with the sconces. What I had written requires me to acknowledge that perhaps I was incorrect in my assumption that there was an issue on the merit of those sconces.


After my conversation with this dealer, I thought about a way I could make amends for my blog comments. I felt compelled to clarify what I had written, and I hope that making a public statement of apology in this blog format would suffice. Doing the right thing in business and in life sometime requires putting your tail between your legs. It can also be a necessary yet cathartic obligation. Posted in shows, New York City, antiques dealer, antiques | 1 Comment »

Auctioneer Insider Trading, SEC or Consumer Financial Protection Bureau November 23rd, 2010 by admin

Driving home tonight I heard on the radio a report about a Federal government raid on several hedge funds and included the name of Goldman Sachs (as if they wouldn’t add some cache). The alleged actions were thought to involve some sort of insider trading information. Would it make a difference if it was just “acknowledged” as a way of doing business? Meet the art market; the Sotheby’s/Christie’s duopoly has made a science of this method. As having worked in this industry since the summer of 1969 (Woodstock anybody) I’ve seen great changes in valuation, buyers, and taste. My first real experience in the market was when my grandfather would visit our family in Philadelphia, which gave him an excuse to do some buying on Pine Street. His reputation certainly preceded my later forays down there. My grandparents took me on a “grand tour” buying trip to Europe in the summer of 1963 which was so innocent at the time. Auctions, why? My grandfather and dealers of his kind did pretty well back then, and a heck of a lot better than dealers today. The market and supply for art and antiques has certainly taken a hit with the Great Recession, but some areas of this industry are doing just fine. Iconic 20th century artists are in great demand and Asian decorative arts are reaching staggering heights. How does that translate into insider trading? Let the negotiating begin! Auctioneers like Sotheby’s and Christie’s operate from a different perspective than any dealer or other auctioneer. A duopoly only includestwo. Other auctioneer must try to copy the duopoly, if they can. Since the time they both in due course, adopted the buyer’s premium, they stacked the deck against both the buyer and seller. Now, their legal obligation to the seller (UCC code) was pawned off to the buyer. Thus began the acceptance of their exclusive method of doing business and in a way that can’t be done as openly as in this industry. It has evolved to the point where they can actually tell you they are giving away inside information. With the availability of their irrevocable bid format or bidding up to a secret reserve, there is opportunity for trickery and deception. It doesn’t help that fees are used as bait to entice the buyers and sellers. Cross pollinating both can only help with their eventual cut. The opportunity to work the market by their control of both the buyer and seller would be unconscionable in any other industry. Then again, to some hedge funds and investment bankers, this may sound too good to be true. It really is disgusting to see how this auction process today is so corrupted. Smaller auctions must try to emulate the duopoly’s methods, or they will never make it. Secret reserves and the seller commission/buyer’s premium conflict are systemic in this industry. It has reached the point of convenient acceptance. This industry has the potential to be the poster child for the public’s


manipulation and the government’s need for cleansing. Just remember, when the auctioneer is in control as the only insider, no one wins better than the house. Do the math: Secret Reserve Price = bid rigging Ever RISING/non-negotiable buyer’s premium = price fixing Sotheby’s + Christie’s = Duopoly Bid Rigging + price fixing + Duopoly = ANTITRUST Posted in antitrust, irrevocable bid, investment, dealer organizations, Sotheby's,Christie's, auction, antiques dealer, buyer's premium, reserve price, antiques | 2 Comments »

You Want Vetting? November 3rd, 2010 by admin

Besides looking at interesting and good merchandise as presented in a “fancy” antiques show, like the Haughton International Fine Art and Antiques Show in New York last week, it’s really fun to find the fakes or disastrously put together items. Vetting? Excuse me! One of my favorite all time “finds” in one of those upscale shows was a magnificent Japanese round bronze jardinière with various animals like a lion, elephant, and monkey in relief. Great patina too, and I had 3 more. The (French) dealer who displayed the piece is unfortunately no longer in business, but the vetting process is still promoted by the Show organizers as some sort of guarantee. As I reminisce about what I’ve seen in this past show that qualify as “finds”, I thought I might comment on 2 stellar examples. In the booth of a British dealer, who brought his best English furniture and decorations, there stood out to me a pair of magnificent red tole wall sconces. What large size, shape, color, and decoration. But hold on. The two arms were 2 small gilt bronze dolphins holding a fount with the same red tole. However, upon looking more carefully, it was a different red and differently decorated. And what did the dolphins have to do with this piece anyway too? I think if anyone saw what I saw, you’d have to question the originality of the sconces. The second was a bit trickier, but none the less, more intriguing. Finding a set 8 of Art Deco wall sconces can seem almost too good to be true. When they have style and are unique in form and material, they can be exceptional. This set had a large back plate of decorated mirror with 2 centered vertical bronze arms in a Gilbert Poillerat design. What designer could have made them? Upon closer examination, it seemed a little funny that the bronze arms were extending from the mirror backing in an area of the decoration. Why would you put the hole for the bronze arms over the edge of the decoration? Could the mirrors and the arms be “married”? Vetting is strictly an opinion by people who claim to be transparent. I’ve heard of some interesting stories where a dealer will protest about these arbiters of what is and isn’t right. Is the dealer store or the venerable Sotheby’s or Christie’s auction houses more accurate? This is what’s fascinating about our business. Sometimes the best connoisseurs get it wrong. It is in the eye of the buyer who must understand what they are buying. A stock broker might have tooted Enron stock; look at those earning! Cooking the books can be like selling fakes. Fortunately, most items that do pass through the market are pretty original and every good antique is meant to be displayed in its best condition. Museums don’t display their items in “as found” condition and dealers certainly want to put the best possible sparkle on their merchandise. At any


show, vetting is really buyers beware; when an exhibiting dealer doesn’t display a price and or description of the items in their booth, that dealer really is telling buyers beware of asking a question, any question. Posted in New York City, shows, dealer organizations, Sotheby's, Christie's, auction,antiques dealer, antiques | 1 Comment »

An Antiques Trade Association, For Whom? October 12th, 2010 by admin

Antiques dealers should understand that their interests are not only with the public, but with themselves to survive. They should also know that the interests of auctioneers are in direct conflict with how dealers operate. Public auctioneers are allowed to operate with blatant conflicts of interest along with a secret reserve deception. The Sotheby’s/Christie’s duopoly is quite experienced at this and more, as a testament to their conviction of collusion back in the 1980s. As I was reading the Antiques and The Arts Weekly (The Newtown Bee) there was an article on a group of dealers, auctioneers, show managers, a trade publication, and a collector, among others in the industry looking to form an antiques trade association. Perhaps the group should have also included a museum representative, conservation specialist, professional appraiser, etc, etc, etc. There are plenty of qualifying parties for their mission to “promote collecting of antiques in the United States”. However, who is this trade organization to represent and how should it articulate its goals. To promote collecting is a noble goal but dealers who are totally fragmented within the antiques industry need their own independent collective voice. Museums have their advocate organizations and certainly the Sotheby’s/Christie’s duopoly know how to weigh in on questions of public policy and government positions on their methods of operating. It is interesting to note that they were prepared for the New York legislature’s debate concerning auction operations or even seeking their comments on the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Where are dealers being represented in these issues? Most successful trade association are run by professionals who understand who they represent and how best to articulate and implement their goals. Dealers need more than just an organization to promote collecting. Antiques dealers are essentially a small business model, with issues of capital, labor, operating costs, competition, and technology. There are hundreds of industries with small business trade associations. From your local dry cleaner, restaurant, hardware store (if it is not already a Home Depot), or car dealer, the interests of these small businesses are represented and advocated by their organizational trade association. Unfortunately, the antiques trade has plenty of experience with organizations that give lip service to representing dealers. There is no lack of vying dealer organizations to promote who is more exclusive at representing a certain “strata” of dealer; the pecking order is usually on display at certain socially initiated antiques shows. It is all superfluous to what a trade organization should to be doing. Then again, dealers are their own worst enemy to organize beyond class and connoisseurship. Their needs have become more apparent and necessary in order to gain public confidence and control their auction adversaries who have taken market share by unfair means.


Posted in antitrust, shows, irrevocable bid, dealer organizations, Antiques & The Arts Weekly, Sotheby's, Christie's, auction, antiques dealer, buyer's premium, reserve price,antiques | 2 Comments »

Antiques at Kips Bay, a New Trend? September 30th, 2010 by admin

I have written about my impression of the design trend “D’decade”, Mid-century Modern. It probably hit its zenith several years ago at the Kips Bay Decorator Show House when the interior design trade exhibited its best talent in a classic mid-century designed apartment turned condo building, Manhattan House. As I remember that event, nothing could have been less relevant to the design trade than antiques. Times seem like they may be changing. It has always seemed that through almost 4 decades, the Kips Bay Decorator Show House was the singular place to exhibit as a professional interior designer. Interestingly, this year several designers have requested pieces that I believe make a statement that antiques can at last come out of the closet. As I was reviewing the selection of items going up to the Show House, there were several outstanding Art Deco and Mid-Century items that were far from 60’s “kitsch”. These were best in class period items and the same level as the Biedermeier, Russian, Italian Neo-classic and Georgian pieces also going up to Kips Bay. This diversity of merchandise was something I did not expect, but have heard discussed by designers who have come in to Newel and are searching for more than just minimalism in decorating. Will this potential opening in the design trade have any “stickiness”? The public’s perception of antiques as old, out of touch, expensive, and traded in a dubious industry, has been years in the making. From the architecture of new construction, to TV shows like The Antiques Road Show, and convicted high end auctioneers like Sotheby’s and Christie’s the public has every reason to go to contemporary manufacturers. For the retail customer how can you know what you’re buying or selling, and for what price. Contemporary furniture and design makes it a nobrainer and no doubts about what you just purchased. Antiques take a little time and thought. With the re-introduction of using antiques at a Show House like Kips Bay it will be hard for critics and the press to not notice their use. It will be interesting to read and hear comments on this within the interior design trade. But there are two big constraints on furthering this trend. One is that many young designers are not schooled in the classical furniture periods and lack exposure to recognizing good quality pieces and using them in an optimal way. The second and more disconcerting is the lack of merchandise on or coming to the market. Mid-20th Century merchandise abounds, anything earlier of any quality is not so easily available. The use of these antique decorative art items includes an intrinsic functional value that should be part of the economics of the total investment. Taste and an appreciation of their ownership are the necessary ingredients for stimulating this trend. The fact that it is actually an environmentally “green” investment doesn’t hurt either! Posted in antitrust, investment, Millennium Modern, New York City, Sotheby's, auction,antiques dealer, Christie's, antiques | 1 Comment »

Deflation in the Antiques Trade August 17th, 2010 by admin


The “go-go” years of the antiques trade in the 1980s relished the economy’s inflationary bias. The effect on prices for these objects was devastating, in a good way. Prices, like homes values prior to the present “Great Recession” had no where to go but up, up, up. As long as I can conceive of pricing in this industry, the possibility of a contraction was not only remote, but strictly limited to small segments that might go out of fashion. The comparison to real estate is uncomfortably similar. Real property and antiques are tangible in a different manner than gold, jewelry, or stocks & bonds. Real estate and an 18th Century chair take up space and require care and maintenance; they don’t fit into a safe deposit box unless you want to pay rent to store it in a warehouse like Christie’s new facility outside of Manhattan. Of course that way you can deduct not having any aesthetic pleasure from its asset value on top of the storage rental! But the difference between real estate and antiques splits off when you think that you can’t overbuild antiques like houses. Anyone who has been involved in the antiques market knows that this field and the art segment of the industry are different. The two sometime go in tandem, but the 1980’s saw a definite divergence when art and especially Impressionist art prices collapsed with the Japanese art investment bubble. That time period however, was pretty good for antiques and they were in fashion. But in my mind, it was the first time the industry had actually experienced a deflationary cycle. Prices in that art category fell for several years and even today its market demand has been commandeered by contemporary art. Are we now seeing this in the antiques business? Prices are not what they were, period. The deflationary effect of oversupply and contracting demand is self evident. The present environment does still create record prices both from auctions and private transaction for many items, but as a broad based industry trend, even the red hot mid-20th Century decorative arts period has hit a bit of a wall. Like real estate, antiques need an increase in demand to strengthen any form of market price support; we don’t and never did it with mortgages or sub-prime loans. Deflation in the pricing of antiques has become the new reality of the market. With interest rates skewed to the haves and have-nots, financing a purchase is not an option. The present state of affairs could be systemic, or just a short term casualty from the existing economy, perhaps even a long overdue price correction. In the end we are subject to the whim of the market, and if deflation is even on the minds of the Federal Reserve Board, they can take a glimpse at this market to see the possibility. Posted in New York City, investment, real estate, Christie's, auction, antiques dealer,antiques | 4 Comments »

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