By Guy Apter
As I write this, so the 6th production of the spectacular Masterpiece Fair is fast approaching. I use the word production intentionally. When I started in this business in 1984, the premier fair in Britain, and some would say the world, was the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair. This grand old lady had been going since 1934 and was held in the Great Room of the hotel of the same name. It was relatively small, which limited both the number of dealers and the size of their stand, but was hugely successful.
Grosvenor House attracted visitors from across the world. It drew in the very rich but it also attracted Mr & Mrs Averagely Wealthy who wished to buy beautiful things for their home – something with age, history and character – and it was a ‘must come to’ destination for collectors. The queue outside the hotel before the fair opened was astonishing and when the doors opened, so the collectors would come running into the fair. It is no exaggeration to say that we could sell half our stand in the first hour and continue to sell the other half and more by the end of the fair.
Approximately ten years ago things were clearly changing. Visitor numbers were down at the Grosvenor House Fair and indeed at most other fairs. Then seven years ago it was very clear to the three of us who founded Masterpiece that the antiques fair of old was tired – very tired – and the market needed something new.
But it wasn’t just the fair that was tired, the market had changed. People do far more shopping online and are far more event oriented. There are of course people who still collect but there has been a change here too. Twenty years ago someone looking for an eighteenth century sideboard for their dining room might have toured the antiques shops of London and then selected the one that best suited their room, budget or style preference. Nowadays, that customer is far more likely to be eclectic in their taste. The piece they buy could just as easily be Art Deco, turn of the century or modern, and be mixed with pieces from other periods.
It was abundantly clear that if a fair was to succeed it had to reflect these changes. It had to be re-invented and that is exactly what Masterpiece set out to achieve, and hence my using the word production at the beginning of this blog. Masterpiece is designed to excite, impress and attract visitors and some of these visitors are people who would never normally visit a traditional antiques fair. To do this it had to include a broader range of disciplines and periods than would generally be found at other fairs, and it has to live up to its name – “Masterpiece”. The dealers who attend are amongst the best in their field and they bring their finest pieces to the fair, many of which may not have been on the market before. They display these treasures with imagination and flair. The restaurants are pop-up versions of London’s finest and you would never know that the fair is housed in a temporary building.
Naturally, we would encourage you to come and judge for yourselves but if you are still in any doubt let me leave you with this: when visitors are asked why they came to fair, the most frequent answer has been “because friends told us we had to.”