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As the most important UK quality fair since the economic crisis took hold, there was more focus than usual on Winter Olympia, from November 10 to 16.

Under the circumstances, it would have been extraordinary if the fair had not been badly hit, and although many exhibitors who did not fare well pointed out that the number of stands was well down from last year (actually just 35 fewer), one could say it is a tribute to the pulling power of Olympia that it could muster even 200 stands.

It must be remembered that Olympia is a very expensive fair at which to stand, so again it is not too surprising that this year a significantly high proportion of exhibitors failed to cover costs.

One well-known ceramics dealer who has been with Olympia for some 30 years said an hour before the close that this looked like being the first time he would actually lose money on his stand.

The fair was tough, and surely everyone expected that. The mood at the opening party was more fatalistic than optimistic.

However, the phrase that kept cropping up around the stands was “pockets of business”, and even some of the dealers who just ticked over admitted that there was business out there.

Sales may have been selective, but actually there were a considerable number of them, and the situation was muddied with dealers who had done quite well not wishing to broadcast the fact for fear of upsetting their less fortunate neighbours (who sometimes had also done well).

Pictures proved very strong, with English watercolours expert John Spink, an Olympia veteran, having a storming fair, declaring works over £10,000 the easiest to sell.

Trinity House from Broadway sold Strawberry Pickers by late Victorian painter William Gunning King for £65,000 and director Simon Shore commented that the calibre of visitor had been impressive and he had strong interest in his most serious pictures.

Super-rich New York socialite, philanthropist and financier’s wife Audrey Gruss was among those taking a serious interest, and she bought a bookcase off London 20th century design guru Gordon Watson. Mr Watson enjoyed steady sales throughout, with American decorators among his clients.

As with all recent, fairs, period furniture proved difficult, although again a handful of dealers in this field enjoyed remarkably good business.

Jewellery sold very well, period silver not as well as usual, but some of the objects soared, such as the Arts & Crafts on the stand of Decorative Arts @ Doune, who enjoyed a very good fair.

Period quality clocks continue on a roll, with Anthony Woodburn selling six and Richard Price selling a French automaton timepiece to an American couple living in London for £16,000.

Clarion maintained visitor numbers at 22,352, almost identical to last year, and more importantly they retained their reputation for attracting the “right kind” of visitor.

Even if over all the show lacked a bit of the glamour of recent years, Clarion did their job in difficult circumstances and this was appreciated by many exhibitors.
Also, it must be said that perhaps the stock was not quite as glamorous as recent years, there being a noticeable lack of the usual showstoppers.

The fair proved very hard work in very hard times and there were casualties. But I think there was even more business than exhibitors were admitting, and while Olympia is down it is not out.

A further report on the fair will appear in Dealers’ Diary in next weeks ATG printed newspaper. To subscribe, click here.

By David Moss