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Variety spices up antiques fair

Janice Peoples' dream turned into a reality yesterday at the Baltimore Summer Antiques Fair.

Haunted for years by the vision of a diamond-and-platinum ring she had imagined, the avid jewelry collector had searched far and wide for it, without success. Until yesterday.

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"I knew it had to exist," said Peoples, 50, of Alexandria, Va., as she gently turned the simple band dating from the 1930s around her ring finger. "I've been dreaming about this ring for years."

Not everyone knew as well as Peoples what they were looking for at the antiques show, which is in its 23rd year, at the Baltimore Convention Center. But they all found plenty to gawk at and turn over in their hands at this celebration of old books, ancient furniture and dainty, pretty things that have survived the test of time.

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This year, 550 antiques and collectibles dealers hailing from 35 states and a half-dozen countries set up shop at the annual show. One of the largest of its kind on the East Coast, it has nearly tripled in size since its inception in 1980, said Frank Farbenbloom, the show's founder and operator. Between 10,000 and 12,000 people were expected to be admitted over the show's three-day run, which ends this afternoon.

"The secret of this show is its immense variety," said Farbenbloom, a former antique jewelry dealer. "You won't be able to focus on any one thing."

Indeed, a person walking a short distance inside the vast hall, faintly scented with ancient dust, is likely to see a range of objects: obsolete bills of United States currency, French oyster plates, centuries-old Chinese furniture, vintage posters and well-worn leather armchairs.

Longtime vendor Michael Malley Jr. of Pittsburgh, who has observed the habits of antiques shoppers for years, said he has noticed that the large number of items doesn't prevent people from finding what they want. "I'm constantly amazed at how people are able to zoom in on their [area of] interest," he said, standing among displays of silver household items and linens.

A woman scanned Malley's merchandise and immediately asked to see a $165 silver toast rack from England, circa 1933. "It's a sweet little one," she said, before handing it back to him and walking away. The small rack, resembling a napkin holder with several slots, was used to cool and hold toast on the breakfast table. "The English don't like their toast hot," Malley explained.

Several booths away, Karen Hanson, 41, of Columbia looked with admiration at an 18th-century Russian wooden baby crib with a cover shaped like half an onion.

"Nobody else in the neighborhood will have one," said Hanson, who is five months pregnant.

"That's for sure," agreed her father, Wolff Gerhard, 74, of Kensington.

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The vendor said he was selling it cheap -- $650 -- because he had gotten it from someone in Maine. He would have charged more if he had picked it up on one of his frequent trips to Russia and Ukraine, where he finds his supply of religious icons painted on sheets of gold and iron and bronze crosses dating to the 10th century.

But Hanson declined to buy the crib, and moved on in search of smaller, less expensive items.

Peoples, marveling at the long-sought-after ring that was now on her finger, wrote out a $1,600 check to British vendor Joanna Elton.

"It was destiny," Peoples told the dealer, who had bought the family heirloom just a month ago from a woman in London. "Whoever had it made, wanted the same things I did."


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