Feeling particularly culture starved recently I decided to remedy the situation with a visit to the Sandton Antiques Fair. I have always been interested in fine art and antiques and the fair struck me as an island of refinement and preservation in a throwaway society. The fair takes place on the first Sunday of every month at the Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton where it has been held for the past 12 years. Needless to say it has become a fixture on the calendar of many a collector, interior decorator and antiques dealer.
Classical music greeted me as I made my way towards the fair which thronged with people. The fair is aptly located near Sandton City’s Venetian styled ‘arcade’ as I like to think of it just outside Exclusive Books. Each month, over 60 of South Africa’s finest antique dealers set up shop in this area and the array of treasures on display is quite astonishing.
The first dealer I came across was Alena and Dusan Oravec’s ‘Jewellery & Diamond Exchange’. While examining their beautiful array of antique jewellery and watches I came across a delicate white gold ring inlaid with an aquamarine blue topaz and tiny diamonds. I made the mistake of trying it on. Five minutes later I walked away with a much lighter purse.
Next in line was The Associated Art Gallery which had a small Irma Stern picture on display alongside an imposing Tantalus, art books and crystal ware. Turning from this table I noticed a large, old book at a table across the hall. I made a point of finishing a takeaway coffee I had purchased before approaching to take a closer look though. Unfortunately I am something of a klutz and the idea of spilling coffee on a book which had a card propped up on it with the words “Please don’t touch” emblazoned on it didn’t seem like a good idea.
The book turned out to be a Protestant Bible. But this was no ordinary Bible as the book’s dealer Ricus Dullaert explained. Apparently it was made in 1729 by a French Catholic Abbot who had taken an interest in Judaism. The Abbot’s unusual (and possibly heretical?) interest was clearly reflected in his work. Instead of the catholic imagery which I can only assume typified most Bibles of the day, all of the illustrated scenes depict Jewish religious stories. This fascinating find was on sale for R35 000. In addition to religious pieces, Dullaert sells 17th & 18th century Dutch furniture and Chinese antiques. His best pieces sell for as much as R1m.
Moving on I came across a mix of antique and vintage jewellery at ‘Paisley’s Antique Jewellery’ which has been in business since 1985. Two stand-out items here included an ornate silver Victorian locket and an incredibly intricate mosaic cross. Next door, ‘La Vogue’s’ owner educated me about the differences between modern and antique opal usage in jewellery. Whereas many contemporary pieces feature mere opal ‘discs’, good antique jewellery usually features solid opals and is something buyers should be aware of.
The ‘Silver Pug’s’ dealer was particularly proud of a rare silver art nouveau strawberries & cream server. Apart from this delicious serving item and a solid silver coffeepot (R7, 600) The Silver Pug only had china on display, which the dealer explained was not his usual stock but that he was “battling to keep up with demand for silver items.”
Notable pieces at ‘Things of Old’ included a Georgian milk jug, a pair of solid silver candlesticks (R6000) and a silver Russian soup ladle. All manner of appealing old time pieces were on sale at ‘Quality Time’ including a particularly attractive, 186 year old, fully functional pocket watch which whirred away delightfully as the dealer opened its back with a tiny silver key.
The Old Corkscrew’s visiting card cases was another highlight. According to the dealer Jeremy Astfalck who also happens to be the Chairman of the South African Antique Dealers Association (SAADA), the intricately carved ivory cases were made by the Chinese for the British during the Qing dynasty which spanned from 1644 to 1911. Some cases took up a year to make and can sell for as much as R100 000 today.
My meanderings led me to Clyde Terry, the owner of the renowned Clyde on 4th and the man responsible for running not only the Sandton Fair but the newly opened fair at Killarney Mall and the National Antiques Fair. He believes that a person can never be too young to start collecting antiques and added that antique auctions are currently setting new records as investors look for alternatives to volatile stocks. “But whatever the economic state of affairs, good antiques always make for a profitable investment,” he said. “Antiques are also good for the environment,” he quipped which only makes sense really as they are essentially recycled items.
Rare stamps, bank notes, coins, maps, Wedgewood, Royal Copenhagen crystal, cameos, vases, dress clips, porcelain, copper pieces, marine chronometers, South African art, thimbles, crystal decanters…such were just a few of the other items on display and I came to the conclusion that I would just have to come back another day to take it all in. I don’t mind of course. I fully intend to come and do some gift shopping and perhaps invest in a few rare stamps in the near future.