It's been called the largest and most important art and antiques exhibition of the summer. I can't confirm that, but I can tell you that the Baltimore Summer Antiques Show is huge, beautifully designed and features the widest range of high-quality vintage and antique items for sale that I've seen anywhere.
For me, attending the show is like going to a museum, but better — the items on display have been curated by hundreds of top specialists from around the world. And unlike museums, which house mostly "permanent" collections established over the course of decades or longer, the merchandise at the show represents the most current trends in art and antiques.
The best part: Everything is for sale.
Now in its 31st year, the Baltimore Summer Antiques Show is one where prices for documented, authentic antiques and art range from the hundreds of dollars to the millions; where one dealer may be offering $300 vintage cufflinks and the vendor next door is displaying a museum-quality Monet or a 1,000-year-old gold crown.
As Scott Diament, one of three founding members of the Palm Beach Show Group, which produces the show, says, "It has everything all in one place, all at one time."
Of course taking in the entire show all at one time is another story. With more than 550 exhibitors bringing an estimated 200,000 items spread out over almost 250,000 square feet in the Baltimore Convention Center, it's hard to absorb everything in just one day.
The show offers a wide range of prices, with items Diament categorizes as good, better and best. "Good items," he says, "most people would be able to buy. Better items are for collectors — people who know a little more about condition and rarity. And best items are for the most intense collectors with considerable disposable income."
Unlike other annual antiques shows in the region, this show has a truly international presence, with dealers from 15 countries and buyers from all over the world. And while Baltimore's international profile is overshadowed by such nearby cities as New York, Philadelphia and Washington, its second-tier status is precisely what makes Charm City the ideal location for the show.
"Baltimore is the perfect place," says Diament. "It is easy to get to and navigate around, and has a rich history of collecting as well. It is also within 60 miles of 8.3 million people who live in some of the most affluent areas in the country — people with a propensity to buy and collect."
Gus Davis, who works with the New York dealer Camilla Dietz Bergeron, has been exhibiting vintage and antique jewelry at the show for five years in large part because of location.
"International airports are close by, and it's an easy drive from New York, Virginia and DC," says Davis. "The show attracts buyers from all over the world. Last year we saw buyers from the UK, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Belgium and South America."
One of Davis' clients, however, travels to the show from a much closer locale.
Amy Newhall, who lives in suburban Baltimore, has been attending for several years with friend and interior designer Stiles Colwill.
"The first time I went, I was astounded by the quality of everything there, especially the jewelry," she says.
Her affinity for vintage jewelry is what ultimately led her to Camilla Dietz Bergeron.
"They are very selective in what they offer," says Newhall, "everything is very high-quality, which is what you get with the older pieces."
Colwill has attended the show for decades and looks forward to it as one of the highlights of his year.
"We have three or four house guests who come — it is an annual tradition," he says. "I go looking for myself but also take clients. It is not uncommon to spend two or three days at the show."
As a former director of the Maryland Historical Society, Colwill knows his way around antiques and is no stranger to sussing out a good deal from time to time. One of his favorite acquisitions is a rare silver pitcher made in Baltimore by Kirk & Son, circa 1880.
"It's in the aesthetic style, which he rarely worked in," says Colwill, "with large cast flowers applied to it.
"Another of my all-time favorites is a painting by the early-19th-century Pennsylvania artist Jacob Eichholtz. The painting is one of several of the Ragan sisters — I have one, and the other is at the National Gallery," he beams.
Like Davis, dealer Janet Drucker of Drucker Antiques recognizes the strong market for vintage jewelry. However, unlike Davis, who will be bringing an assortment of fine vintage pieces from such classic makers as David Webb, Tiffany and Cartier, Drucker also specializes in silver flatware, hollow ware and decorative pieces from Georg Jensen, an early-20th-century designer whose work is becoming increasingly popular.
Drucker has been attending the show, she says, "almost from the beginning," and continues to exhibit year after year because of the clientele and the ambiance.
"I like the Baltimore show because there are so many people that can't make it to the New York shows that come to Baltimore," she says. "The show is set up beautifully, and visitors are really comfortable being there. There's a little bit of everything, and it is really well-planned."
The setup Drucker refers to is of paramount importance to art dealers. Unlike many shows, which separate dealer space with draped fabric supported by a framework of pieced-together pipe, the Baltimore show features roomlike exhibit spaces with walls, which allow paintings and lighting to be displayed as they would in a gallery setting.
This feature, among others, has attracted the likes of some of the world's top antique art dealers, including M.S. Rau Antiques. Based in New Orleans and internationally known for dealing in name artists like Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir and Gauguin, M.S. Rau also specializes in antique silver, furnishings and porcelain, as well as other carefully selected items.
One of M.S. Rau's most loyal local clients is Annapolis resident Dr. David Watt. "I enjoy collecting original oil paintings by noted artists," says Watt, " and mostly buy from Bill Rau, who has superb, unique pieces in perfect condition with incredible provenance."
But for avid collectors like Watt, the show isn't just about hitting one or two favorite dealers and then calling it a day.
"It is a great show," says Watt. "There are high-end vendors from around the country with an excellent selection of furniture, art and collectibles.
"My wife and I enjoy going back each year to see dealers we have done business with in the past, but for the noncollector, the show is a great opportunity to see very high-quality antiques and appreciate their beauty," says Watt. "The dealers are very open and outgoing and willing to share their passions with you."
Dennis Hockman is editor of Chesapeake Home + Living magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
Baltimore Summer Antiques Show
The Baltimore Summer Antiques Show at the Baltimore Convention Center begins Thursday and continues through Aug. 28. Hours are noon-8 p.m. Thursday, 11 a.m.- 7 p.m. Friday and Aug. 27, and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Aug. 28.
It's the only show in the country to include a separate book fair featuring over 70 dealers. Seven lectures take place during the show, covering topics including silver, furniture, ceramics, art and antique flags. Two sit-down restaurants and a coffee bar are located at the show.
The $12 tickets are good for all four days. For more information, go to baltimoresummerantiques.com