National Antiques Shows in Mexico:
are collectors & dealers ready?
by H. Tovar Melgar
In the States it is called the "show circuit" most of us have followed it at one time or another. You pick up one of the thousands of antiques rags available on the market to check out what good shows are coming up in the following weeks: Brimfield, Hillsville, Scottsdale, Sweeney, Lakewood... there's always something going on somewhere. Antique dealers buying, selling, trading, traveling from one show to another, it's commonplace if you're in the business. That is, if you're in the business in the U.S.
In Mexico the show circuit consists of one national antiques show held once a year. The Fourth National Antiques Show, held in Saltillo, Coahuila this past September featured forty-four dealers from the states of Aguascalientes, Chiapas, Morelos, Nuevo Leon, Jalisco, Mexico, Puebla, San Luis Potosi and Coahuila. A show of this size would not even be note worthy in the U.S. Here in Mexico however the event is a rare opportunity for dealers and crucial to helping develop interest in this business.
Important shows in the U.S., like the once a year week long convention in Hillsville, Virginia (population of a few hundred), attract thousands of venders and millions of buyers. Many of the dealers who attend this show will motor on to Brimfield, Massachusetts; Atlanta, Georgia; Canton, Texas or Long Beach, California to set up shop at the next show... and the next, and the next.
Do Mexican antiques dealers and buyers have the mind-set to develop a series of national shows that will attract business? In Monterrey, Nuevo Leon this coming January 13th-17th a new show, FINARTE, will be celebrating it's second year in the "show business". The International Arts Fair 1999 will be organized to host dealers and collectors of antiques, fine art and quality designer items such as wrought-iron bedroom suites and rustic pine furniture. The five day event will be held in the city's Expo center, where items will be on display in three different showrooms. There is also talk of organizing such events in Mexico City and in Guadalajara, Jalisco. So yes, the desire to develop such a circuit appears to be there.
The Saltillo antiques show, which just commemorated it's fourth year, is largely government sponsored. Proceeds from admission and booth rentals are donated to local charity. The show is touted more as a "cultural event" than a business venture, which is perhaps where the problem of low vender turnout lies. Dealers spending hard earned money for a booth do so with the expectation of selling, not to display "national treasures" for the visitors enjoyment. We're talking about free enterprise here. I can find cultural enlightenment at my local museum. No need to travel eight hundred miles for that, thank you.
But the problem goes even beyond this. Blame for lack of any kind of national show circuit in Mexico must also be placed upon dealers. Part of the attraction these type of events hold for collectors is the anticipation of finding a "deal." Unfortunately, many Mexican venders look at these shows as a means of scoring a "goal."* Prices are inflated, stories invented and too many times merchandise is flat-out misrepresented. Is it any wonder turn- out is low and sales are mediocre?
This occurs in the local weekly flea markets as well. Prices somehow double during the trip from the shop shelf to the open- air market booth, while vendors complain to one another that there are no real buyers anymore. Did we all take our daily dosage of dumb pills this morning?
Granted, disposable income and spare time to devote to collecting is much more available in the United States than in Mexico. This accounts for part of the reason there are so few national antiques shows. But strong Mexican buyers and collectors are out there actively pursuing the business, they may just be a bit more cautious about how much they spend and on what. For this reason, if Mexico is indeed to develop a national circuit of antique shows, dealers must be extra careful about representing their merchandise in a fair and ethical way and refrain from inflating prices during such events. If not, buyers will stop attending the few such shows now available to antiques dealers in Mexico, and the prospects of developing future shows like the one in Saltillo will vanish.
The Saltillo event just celebrated its fourth year, which indicates that there is a market for antiques shows in Mexico. The diverse mix of merchandise offered by venders included 17th and 18th century estofados and oil paintings, Meissen porcelain, Baccarat crystal, Art Deco furniture and vintage 1940's Rockola jukeboxes. Dealers who sold "right" reported strong sales of both high and low-end merchandise.
The show itself was very well organized, which should help to attract more merchants and consumers in future years. Many of the dealers present this year were first-time attendees, and most plan on returning for next year's show as well. The five day event also featured a standing room only evening auction with more than 142 pieces from through-out the Republic of Mexico put on the block. The presentation of a new book by Mexico City antique dealer Rodrigo Rivero Lake, entitled La Visión de un Anticuario, drew in a healthy sized crowd of dealers and collectors on the opening day of the show.
While there can be no doubt that events like the yearly National Antiques Show in Saltillo are a crucial step in the right direction towards helping to develop a show circuit in Mexico, we need to be aware that the responsibility for continued success of such events lies on all of our shoulders promoters, venders and collectors alike. We still have a long way to go.
*The term un golaso (a goal or "big goal") in Mexico refers to someone knowingly selling a fake or damaged item as being a good piece fraud.