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Dealers prepare for antiques show

| Friday, Feb. 21, 2003

O'HARA - Antiques dealer Thomas Brown has some financial advice for young people new to the collecting market: "Find what budget level you're comfortable with, and pursue that. You can always upgrade later. Your home has to be furnished anyway -- it might as well be tasteful and have character to it."

In today's sluggish economy, antiques are "holding their own" as a long-term investment, said Brown of McMurray, who is among the more than 50 dealers who will display treasures this weekend at the 18th annual Antiques Celebration at Fox Chapel Yacht Club.

Antiques dealer Ada Brandegee echoes Brown's opinion. She and her husband, Rob, owners of Brandegee Antiques Inc. on the South Side, were reassured during a recent trip to New York City. "We visited six major antiques shows, and everyone was saying business is good," she said. "We didn't expect it to be so strong."

Her husband adds: "Antiques might be a lot safer than the stock market. They sit there and appreciate in value, and you can use and enjoy them. The best antique will outperform just about any stock."

A wide variety of antiques are doing well, Ada Brandegee said, particularly folk art. "In New York, one duck decoy sold for a record $800,000. It was a beautiful bird by a known maker and in perfect condition."

This will be the Brandegees' first appearance at the Fox Chapel antique show. The two have been collecting antiques for close to 40 years. They became interested in collecting when they bought a house in Squirrel Hill 38 years ago.

"The house dictated antiques," Ada Brandegee said, "and we started into it with a vengeance. Four years later, we became dealers out of necessity."

The couple's personal collection emphasizes American country formal furnishings from 1680 through 1720. They also admire quilts, for which there is a newfound awareness among collectors. Interest in quilts had subsided in recent years but is increasing, she notes, adding that their finds include a signed Civil War-era quilt made in Greene County and some unusual African-American quilts.

The Brandegees will have several special items at the show, including a Connecticut Valley bonnet top cherry chest-on-chest with carved shell and details, circa 1770; a 20th-century butterscotch painted carved wood weathervane; a mahogany drop-leaf Queen Anne breakfast table; and a painted wood circular plant stand with shelves.

One of their most "showy" pieces is a 7-foot-high wrought- and sheet-iron folk art item titled "Hand of God." The piece formerly sat atop a Vermont lodge hall, Rob Brandegee said. It points upward and is "bold, hammered and very exciting," he added.

Brown, whose specialties include American furniture and paintings, said Fox Chapel is the only local show in which he participates. He exhibits at 12 national shows in cities such as Philadelphia and Chicago.

"Collecting is a wonderful adventure," Brown said. "It enlightens you to our heritage. For the past 30 to 40 years, there has been a strong appreciation for American antiques that makes for a competitive market."

Some of the items he plans to sell include Pittsburgh industrial oil paintings of steel mills from the 1930s by Ohio artist Louis Bruyere; a Queen Anne cherry Connecticut highboy, circa 1760; and an 18th-century two-drawer tray-top tea table.

Dr. Howard Tanning and his wife, Kate, of Fox Chapel, also will be among the show's dealers. The Tannings, who specialize in decorative arts and pre-Victorian American furniture, recently opened a 40-dealer co-op, The Antiques Center of Strabane, in North Strabane, Washington County.

Kate Tanning has noticed a trend toward antiques being bought as functional home furnishings.

"I see people buying very utilitarian things right now," she said, "things they can use and enjoy. Antiques are actually an inexpensive way to decorate as compared with new furniture, which, once it leaves the store, is not worth anything. People should consider buying antiques for their accrual value."

The Tannings' offerings at the Fox Chapel show will include several items of local interest, such as a 19th-century Allegheny County atlas, a 2-gallon jug from 1880 with markings from the South Side, an Andy Warhol letterpress print, vintage Bakelite and Mexican jewelry.

While Brown agrees that antiques are enjoying a wave of popularity as investments, he said they also should be appreciated for their aesthetic value.

"Antiques are a long-term investment," he said. "But, the joy of collecting should override the investment."

Lynne Dingus of Burnside, Ky., formerly of Fox Chapel, is manager of the show, which will benefit programs of Family Resources, a family and abuse center in Pittsburgh.

The 53 dealers from 16 states and as far away as London include local dealers George Stout of West Newton, who Dingus said specializes in folk art and "outlandish things from the 19th and 20th centuries"; and Dorothy Lerner of Fox Chapel, showing a selection of bronzes, jewelry and fine art.

If you go

  • What: 18th annual Antiques Celebration
  • Where: Fox Chapel Yacht Club, 1366 Old Freeport Road, O'Hara.
  • When: Feb. 22 and 23. Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Feb. 22; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 23.
  • Admission: $5, good for both days.
  • Details: (412) 963-7001.

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