Of antiques, American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “Our admiration of the antique is not admiration of the old, but of the natural.”. In the age of mass production and twenty-four hour deliveries, this sentiment is relevant now more than any other time in history. Big retailing has eroded our general appreciation of craftsmanship. Our society has prioritized speed, which means standardization, and a move away from the bespoke of time gone by. Antiques are a window into an alternative time, when uniqueness was the hallmark of quality. With much bravado, the annual LAPADA Art & Antiques fair held in Mayfair presents a diverse range of collectables for your viewing pleasure.
A bit of context goes a long way……
Let me be clear at the outset: I know very little about the world of antiques. I would not be able to apprise you in the skill of differentiating an Aumbry to a Trefoil (disclaimer: I had to Google those terms for comic effect in this post). Like many readers, I have a general curiosity of the antique world. A couple of months ago, a LAPADA newsletter deposited itself in my inbox, announcing their annual fair in late September. After ten minutes of discovery, a few words made my attendance a somewhat elementary decision: art, antiques, Mayfair, dinner, discounted-tickets. Feeling confident of my dear wife’s consensus, a few clicks and I had the e-tickets faster than you could say ‘bring your cheque book’.
The Association of Art & Antique Dealers (LAPADA) has been in existence for over forty years. The premise of the organisation is to promote a minimum level of quality to prospective buyers. LAPADA was the first antiques trade association to introduce a Code of Practice, and members (sellers) join the organisation to demonstrate the quality of their products. Whilst not a regulating body, the standards ensure that product labelling is correct and ensure clear details on the items history & restorative details, and that terms of sale are executed in a documented way. The fair has been running for nine years, and its website proudly boasts that “With prices ranging from £500 to £500,000 and above, sought-after pieces’ appeal to both the established collector and first-time buyer alike.”.
So it was a late September evening that my wife and I rendezvoused outside Green Park, and headed towards Berkeley Square; sans cheque book.
What to expect……
As we arrived, we were ushered through the brief bag search and swiftly deposited coats and bags in the cloakroom. We were presented with two parallel aisles, each adorned with various cubicles, hosted by a variety of prospective sellers. In this lofty purpose-built construct, there is a tremendous feeling of space and air. As you amble along, casting your eyes across the plethora of welcoming smiles, a kaleidoscope of colours gorges your senses. The dazzling sparkles from jewellery, freshly polished mahogany, all contrasted with a black interior and green foliage strategically dotted around. Many cubicles embody a homely feel, almost like a room at a stately home you can walk into. Mature leather aromas from antique chairs, desks and study ornaments, all recreate a space which you can emotionally relate to. The atmosphere is serene, tranquil, and oozes sophistication.
As you navigate through the aisles and stalls, you soon bear witness to the scale and diversity of artefacts that are exhibited. There is a vast buffet of jewellery for those who appreciate the aesthetics that enhance our fashion choices; Victorian broaches, antique Tiffany and Cartier rings, diamond encrusted necklaces, are all but a few of the selections. For home furnishings there an abundance of Edwardian desks, chairs, tables, gold candelabras, study globes, mid-ninetieth century busts, sterling silver cutlery, and sculptures (including a favourite of mine opposite). For art appreciators, there are a plentiful mix of contemporary and historical paintings, with some stunning landscapes infused with luminous colours, and weather themes explored across London. During my rummages, I discovered some fine ballet and opera watercolours from British artist Alan Halliday. Tapestries and textiles are in abundance, and one does not have to be an expert to admire the Persian rugs and their intricacy of religious and secular designs.
Curiosity and the appreciation of quality began to fester. As the time passed, we found engaging questions surfacing. If we were to start a collection, what room or type of item would we start with? Why that piece? I started to think of more eccentric items to really stand-out. I came across a mid-1930s 35mm cinema projector, in chrome silver, which looked a splendour of engineering (opposite). If that did not tickle your fancy, then you could always invest £2000 in a Jeholosaurus dinosaur fossil. It may not be large or a well-known species, but I am sure that Jurassic Park was the poorer for its absence.
The essentials: prices and standards……
As we walked from Green Park station, the address of Berkeley Square was a little vague. Spotting people with their LAPADA green bags, I was still unsure which building it would be hosted in. Then of course it dawned on me, that it was custom-built arena smack in the middle of the square. Tickets were priced at £40 for a couple, with a modest charge for cloakroom usage (cash only).
As I walked around, I was at first very impressed with the creativity of interior design, with tree trunks emanating for the floor to ceiling and looking like they had grown overnight. As I spotted the fourth one, my rational brain emerged and I realised that these were not artificial constructs, but were of course the real trees in the park that had been expertly incorporated into the design. A raised eyebrow from my wife signalled that it was time for dinner.
There is an informal seating area for drinks, and a main dining area at the back. Fine dining was not a expectation, but nevertheless that is what was received. It was a beautifully peaceful setting overlooking the square, courteous service, and high quality food. For those not interested in a sit-down meal, you can take advantage of a quaint ‘Denby Tea Room’ serving exquisite teas and cakes. I also spied many individuals meandering around sipping Champagne and/or Wine, just to ensure liquid lubrication might loosen the purse-strings. The pieces here though may be over the daily contactless limit.