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For example, Gillian Neale, the well-known Buckinghamshire specialist in blue-and-white, was pleasantly surprised with her sales and commented: “I came with extremely low expectations but business has been really rather good.”

The consensus among standholders, endorsed by the organisers, was a pattern of business I think typical of many fairs, with around one-third of the exhibitors enjoying decent business, another third just ticking over and the rest disappointed.

Firmly in the first category was the Northamptonshire country furniture specialist Paul Hopwell, who had his best ever NEC, selling for £24,500 a George III Cheshire oak cupboard which he described as the best he had ever owned.

He sold the cupboard to a Cheshire collector on the first day, but sales continued and at the close Mr Hopwell said: “It’s been a seriously good fair with my sales including an 18th century oak longcase, two oak cupboards, two side tables and a set of 18th century ash dining chairs.”
The dealer also said he had bought well in both sections of the fair.

Another happy exhibitor was Northern Clocks from Cheshire who sold five longcases, all to privates. English and American folk art is the forte of Erna Hiscock and John Shepherd from Kent who described business as “fantastic” and numbered American dealers among their customers.

Another folk art specialist, Becca Gauldie from Perthshire also sold to the American trade. Midlands ceramics dealers Peter and James Frost-Kelsey of Quarry Antiques enjoyed a profitable swansong; they have shown at the NEC since 1986 and this was their final fair before retirement. Another veteran of 1986 calling it a day was Birmingham silver dealer Kath Paterson of Lizard Antiques.

Incidentally, although a good many visitors have said privately they believe the total number of exhibitors is well down from the 600 consistently claimed by the organisers, a spokesman for Centrex, the organising arm of the NEC, insisted the figure is right.

He explained that the total remains the same, it is just that they are spread out around fewer stands with more and more sharing. Still, I do not think anyone is going to bother to count. Attendance was a more precisely quantified 24,306.

Fair director Fran Foster summed up: “While business could never be described as strong, there were very many good sales and those exhibitors with fresh stock and competitive prices certainly benefited.

“I was also pleased to see rather more Americans attending the fair than there have been for some time.”