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“We opened to pandemonium,” said Brad Dover of ceramics specialist Jupiter Antiques of the first day of The Petworth Park Antiques & Fine Art Fair from May 5-7.

He means it in a positive way, referring to the attendance at the third Antiques Dealers Fair Limited’s (ADFL) annual event to take place in the small West Sussex market town.

Organisers confirmed that with 4000 visitors coming through, it was the highest attendance of the fair to date.

Set in the grounds of the National Trust’s Petworth House, known for its former owner’s patronage of JMW Turner and its stunning art collection, the fair was bustling throughout its run.

It is under the steady hand of director Ingrid Nilson and is one of five annual ADFL fairs around the country which have a reputation for being both well-appointed and well-attended. The recent event was no exception.

“I think the fair has now found its ideal size and layout,” she said. “It holds its own in a challenging market and there were some extremely good sales across the board.”

State of the market

However, perhaps due to changes in the market, some returning dealers observed that their sales dropped from previous years, with a different crowd, less willing to spend, coming through.

Among these was maritime and sporting art dealer Jamie Rountree, who opened a branch of his London gallery in the town earlier this year.

“I sold a lot more in the Petworth gallery the following Saturday than I did during the fair,” he said, adding that, though the gallery “washed its face” thanks to the sale of some pictures to the decorators’ market, it was the gallery’s least successful Petworth of the last three events.

The same was true for 18th and 19th century furniture specialist Guy Dennler, who said there was a different crowd than in previous years. He added: “It’s quite difficult times at the moment. The very rich are wanting the very best and the ‘medium’ rich can’t make up their minds.”

He said that he managed to sell throughout the fair, though, including a good walnut tallboy to an existing client from London.

Other furniture sales included a pair of 19th century pier tables sold by William Cook Antiques and a George I burr walnut chest priced at about £7000, as well as a Louis XVI period mahogany inlaid tric trac table sold by Hugh Leuchars.

Some stand-out jewellery sales also emerged. One couple, married for seven years, were pleased to finally come across the perfect ring at the stand of their friend Nick Arkell. Richard Ogden, who shared a stand with milliner Rachel Trevor-Morgan, sold an Edwardian fringe necklace of graduating oval amethyst and pearl at £1550 among other pieces.

Dover and Kevin Pearcy of Jupiter Antiques also had success, despite taking some convincing from Nilson to take their debut stand at the event. As Dover recalled, they were “dubious” but they came away convinced.

“What surprised us was that we sold from all sides of the stand,” Dover said. “Usually at fairs buyers tend to focus on one part of our stock, but this time it seemed that there was something for everyone.”

Nearly 50 specialists exhibited at this year’s fair including stands featuring dealers from the Petworth Antiques Dealers Association as well as a collection from the newly revamped Petworth Antiques Market, which reported very positive results.

The second sale at that stand was to one of the fair vetters and the last took place in the final few minutes of the fair on Sunday.

“It was wonderful for us,” says the antiques market’s Kathryn Mandry.

The next ADFL fair is The Esher Hall Antiques & Fine Art Fair which takes place from October 6-8.