By Terry Ingram, on 16-Sep-2011

The consensus on the Sydney Antiques Show held by the Australian Antique and Art Dealers Association  in the Pavilion at the Royal Randwick Racecourse in Sydney last week appeared to be "lots of lookers but few buyers." 

"I have no hesitation in conceding I did not sell anything," said Sydney's Martyn Cook, who is strong on furniture (a difficult market) and was a latecomer to the fair, taking the space reserved for Clive Brans, when, close to the fair, the Perth dealer pulled out.

But clients who had not yet visited his new Redfern premises made their first contact since his recent move from Woollahra and visitors streamed through  steadily - although worryingly minus the late Sunday afternoon rush.

An estimated 1200 attended the opening night against the usual 800.

Sunday afternoon is when the "be-backers" come back to make offers. 

Cook deserved better, and his stand with partner Thomas Hamill attracted a lot of attention. One of the last dealers to move from Queen Street, Cook none the less brought along the two most popular objects shown at the fair. These were a portrait of a horse by 18th century British horse painter George Stubbs "Grey Hunter at Oxcroft" which greeted visitors at the entrance and a nine inch dildo, catalogued as a "comforter."

The latter, a finely carved piece of Sri Lankan ivory, came with its original early 18th century box. It had survived centuries of penetration without any visible damage or discolouring. The Stubbs oil painting  marked "Private Loan" was not for sale, although it might well become available, said Cook..

Insurance costs were a problem given the "tent like" open nature of the pavilion building so it could not be shown on the crowded opening night. But a very topical inclusion for an event at a race track it attracted a lot of inquiries. Another horse picture, Gimcrack by Christie's by Stubbs in July grossed £24.4 million. 

The "comforter", bought by Cook from the recently deceased London dealer John Hobbs, was priced at $19,000 and surprisingly did not sell, but then it could be viewed only on application.

The price was in the range of the ball park asking price of the best sales of the show. About half a dozen sales were reported at $15,000 to $30,000.

Popular were antique earrings (dripping diamonds) at Anne Schofield Antiques, and canteens of silver cutlery at Abbotts Antiques. Schofield could not explain the new fetish for the ear but the rising silver price helped underpin flatware prices. it is at a level where some antique silver can be melted down at a profit.

Dealers like Martin Gallon with Victorian paintings,  and Kevin Murray with English silver scored some successes which must have been built on the consolidation of the specialities in their hands as others have left the business.

The problems of the Australian picture market (with the droit de suit in particular adding another barrier to sales) probably explains the absence of dealers in Australian art who had brought a lot of life back to the fairs early in the decade, from the show.


Cross dealer sales helped with Christopher Day, a former exhibitor, walking out with a purchase from Gallon on the opening night.


The fair was missing two dealers who have also previously turned up some corkers, notably John Hawkins and Warwick Oakman, who are to have a fair of their own(with some UK dealer representation) in the Ballroom of the Moran family's Swifts in Darling Point within a few weeks.


It is expected to be a charity fund raiser at a substantial admission price, but the "fair" is expected to attract premium interest not just because of the find making dealers represented but as a chance for the public to see what the Morans have done to the Swifts.


Extraordinary demons also took hold. Jewellery dealer Karen Deakin was unable to open the safe with stock for the fair for the first two days. 

Smalls fared well, with dealers saying farewell to objects which are said to have attracted the admiration of representatives of the National Gallery of Australia and New South Wales Governor, Marie Bashir, which Antiques Reporter hopes to confirm in a later report. 

About The Author

Terry Ingram inaugurated the weekly Saleroom column for the Australian Financial Review in 1969 and continued writing it for nearly 40 years, contributing over 7,000 articles. His scoops include the Whitlam Government's purchase of Blue Poles in 1973 and repeated fake scandals (from contemporary art to antique silver) and auction finds. He has closely followed the international art, collectors and antique markets to this day. Terry has also written two books on the subjects