With paintings by the masters, rare books and home goods crafted hundreds of years ago, Baltimore's Convention Center will become a museum of sorts next week — but one where people with large enough wallets can bring home the exhibits.
The Baltimore Summer Antiques Show returns with all of the gilded finery people have come to expect from the show — one of the largest in the country.
All told, the show includes more than 200,000 pieces, includiong fine art, furniture, silver, jewelry, porcelain, glass and textiles — with prices ranging from the modest to a painting that sets the record for the most expensive item ever offered at the show: a Monet you could hang in your living room for $5.8 million.
The painting has spent most of the past 100 years tucked into a private home in Switzerland, but it has had quite a wild ride this summer.
Its anonymous owners, desperate for fast money, put it up for sale late last month. While most of Europe was on vacation, one of America's largest antiques dealers put up the cash to buy it on the spot. And now, "Inondation à Giverny" ("Flood at Giverny"), a swirly work of yellow and lavender trees reflected in a flooded river, is for sale again.
"It's a real treat to have something that hasn't been seen in a public exhibition since 1959," said Katy Rothkopf, senior curator of European painting and sculpture at the Baltimore Museum of Art. "It's a real thrill. I'm definitely going to go."
The painting is large, 3 feet across. It's one of only three works the artist produced of an 1896 flood of his home in Giverny.
Though a painting of this caliber would typically be offered at one of the prestigious auction houses of New York, London or Paris, Bill Rau, owner of MS Rau Antiques of New Orleans, bought it from the Swiss family when the rest of the art world was preoccupied.
"We were in the right place at the right time," Rau says. "Sometimes you get lucky."
Those who have somewhat lower budgets pockets can also get lucky at the show. Antiques shoppers will find a collection of James Fenimore Cooper's writings bound in blue leather, a map of the Chesapeake Bay from the 1600s, an original Uncle Sam "I Want You" poster from 1917 and a rare Mahonri Young boxing sculpture.
For those new to the world of antiquities, the show can be daunting. We asked local dealers for pointers on how to walk the aisles like a pro.
"I tell my children if they are going to an antiques show to approach it as a feast for the eyes," says Jackie Smelkinson with Marcia Moylan, owns Baltimore's Moylan-Smelkinson/The Spare Room with Marcia Moylan. The two have been vendors at the show since its inception 30 years ago.
"Just walk around and find something that you love. It's almost like going to a museum, except everything is for sale, everything is within grasp."
Do a little homework — or not If you're looking for something specific, say 19th-century ceramics or vintage French jewelry, it can be frustrating to zero in on just that. The show doesn't segregate by age, style — or anything. Everything is mixed together. So if you know what you're looking for, Susan Tillipman, who owns the Annapolis-based TOJ Gallery, suggests going to the show's website beforehand and mapping out a list of booths to hit.
That said, Tillipman says that people who merely make a beeline to two or three booths will inevitably miss quite a bit.
"If I were new, I'd just start at the beginning, wear very, very comfortable shoes, and just walk," she says.
It doesn't hurt to haggle It's always all right to ask for a better price. All experienced antiques shoppers do.
"You say, 'What's your very best price?' " Tillipman says. "People shouldn't be afraid to go into any antiques show and ask. In fact, it's very uncommon for someone to come in and just buy without asking."
Adds Smelkinson: "It's always alright to make an offer, even a silly offer, if you do it politely. There have been silly offers accepted — we've done it."
Also, people shouldn't get discouraged if they run into a lot of high-ticket items. Both vendors made clear that while there certainly is the multimillion-dollar Monet and plenty of pretty things that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, there are deals to be had and lots of items in the $100 range.
The best time to buy At flea markets and farmers' markets, there's a strategy to swooping in at the 11th hour for last-minute mark-downs. That's not the case at an antiques show.
Moylan says if items aren't sold by the end of the day Sunday, they're perfectly happy to box them up and bring them home.
"We like to say we're just going home," she says. "We're not going out of business."
Serious collectors and dealers arrive when the doors open Thursday morning. They pounce on good buys. "The early bird gets the worm," Smelkinson says.