Antiques Extravaganza

Baltimore prepares for the nation's largest antiques show, where bargains abound

Gus Davis and his partner will look for paintings and silver to furnish their home. Kris Charamonde is in the market for an art deco desk for his den. Judy Oppel will seek out a tchotchke, maybe a bracelet or a paperweight.

And all of them will find what they’re looking for in Baltimore.

”It would take a lifetime of travel to experience all that the Baltimore show has to offer,” says Judy Oppel, an organizer of the Baltimore Summer Antiques Show, the largest indoor antiques show in the U.S. and among the biggest in the world.

Who knew you could see the world on just one trip up to Baltimore? John Waters’ infamously eccentric hometown is something of a global antiques capital. From Sept. 3 to 6, more than 30,000 people are expected to attend the city’s 29th Summer Antiques Show over its four-day run at the convention center in the city’s Inner Harbor area. There’s something for everyone, from the inexperienced antique shopper to the discerning collector to the highly specialized antique dealer. Over 550 international dealers will showcase collections of fine art, furniture, jewelry, decorative art, glass and more. The centerpiece is a 70-dealer antiquarian book fair featuring rare, vintage books and manuscripts.

Oppel sees the show as a great introduction to antiquing, as a way for the novice ”to get an idea of the marketplace and price range” for even specialized categories. Oppel is in charge of the event’s lecture series, which is free and open to the public. For an hour twice daily, the series offers exhibitors and other experts speaking about specific areas of art and antiquities. The lectures are meant as a community service to help better inform the public, and particularly to make participants feel more knowledgeable about potential investments.

”It’s a gay-friendly show for sure,” says Camilla Dietz Bergeron Ltd.’s Gus Davis, who will exhibit his collections of antique and estate jewelry. ”For anyone in the gay community who’s interested in the arts and beautiful things, it’s a wonderful opportunity. You don’t necessarily need to be a buyer at this point — you can just come and look and educate yourself.”

Kris Charamonde cautions, however, that ”it’s difficult to walk out of there without buying something because the prices are fantastic.” Charamonde is managing partner of the Palm Beach Show Group, which owns and runs this show and three others, including the D.C. Spring Antiques Show, half the size of Baltimore’s.

Prices are relatively low because the show is first and foremost for those already in the arts, antiquities and jewelry trades, though the general public is welcome to attend and shop. Just don’t expect a flea market or anything resembling Antiques Roadshow, where attendees bring in collectibles to ascertain their value. Instead, the focus is strictly on showcasing and selling the top finds from those whom Charamonde calls ”the world’s experts: the two or three top people in their field throughout the world.” These are ”people you can trust to sell you fabulous things,” adds Charamonde, who himself is an exhibitor at the show, showcasing a collection of antique jewelry.

”It’s the best silver show in the country,” says Mark McHugh, who with business and life partner Spencer Gordon has been exhibiting at the Baltimore show for 12 years. This year Spencer Marks Ltd. will feature silver made by various Baltimore silversmiths, including Kirk and Warner. 

”There are incredible values — you’re not paying retail prices,” says Davis, adding with a laugh, ”retail is for rednecks.”

”I think most of the dealers, in this economy, will be a little flexible in their pricing,” Charamonde says, when asked if prices are negotiable. He adds that unlike commerce and the stock market, the antiquities industry has ”remained fairly resilient in this recession. So I think [antiques] are really going to be strong for the next few years.

”Now is the best time to buy.”

The Baltimore Summer Antiques Show takes place Thursday, Sept. 3, through Sunday, Sept. 6, at the Baltimore Convention Center, 1 West Pratt St., Baltimore. Tickets are $12. Visit www.baltimoresummerantiques.com.