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'Buy American' surfaces as trend in antiques market

By Marilyn HoffmanStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / January 21, 1982

New York

If you are in the market for antiques this winter season, you should be aware that ''buy American'' is apparently the strongest buying trend today, with English antiques in second place and all categories of Chinese works of art, from ceramics to paintings to furniture, gaining steadily in demand.

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You should also be aware that the state of the general economy is having its effect on the $8.7 billion art and antiques market in the United States. This retail turnover estimate, for the year ending July 1, 1981, comes from Gray Boone, publisher of Antique Monthly magazine, who says: ''The market is definitely changing and fluctuating. The general enthusiasm has diminished across the board, which is a reaction that comes with every recession-depression. Yet things of top quality continue to command top prices, while the middle range of mediocre-quality objects are now lower in price.''

''Yes,'' confirms C. Hugh Hildesley, a senior vice-president at Sotheby's auction house in Manhattan, ''the middle of the market is shaking out, right across all categories, and speculators are getting out.'' He says, however, that despite current economic difficulties throughout the world, areas of the art market that have maintained auction popularity this season include all categories of Americana, from furniture to decorations, paintings, and prints. American impressionist paintings, as well as folk art, did extremely well, he reports, while sales of American Victoriana remained steady.

While Business Week magazine reports that its survey of auction, dealer, and private estate sales ''shows lackluster demand for many items and some sharply depressed prices as well as collector resistance to the pinnacle pricing of 1979 and 1980,'' Elizabeth Shaw of Christie's auction gallery in New York argues discreetly that ''the market is definitely more selective. We are cautious but optimistic for 1982, and are trying to emphasize better quality. When we get top material, it brings top prices, as witness the 18th-century Queen Anne secretary desk which recently brought $860,000. It had belonged to Queen Mary and to the Duke of Windsor and was in beautiful condition.''

Miss Shaw contends that there are lots of good buys right now in American Empire and Federal furniture, as well in l8th-century English silver, 17th- and early 18th-century English oak furniture, and in English portraits. ''We see all American paintings doing extremely well,'' she says, ''as well as American drawings, prints, and watercolors. Books, both antique and 20th-century first editions in pristine condition, are enjoying a strong market. And we saw a record-breaking sale of American pewter this past year.''

Terry Kovel, co-author with her husband of such books as Kovels' ''Know Your Collectibles'' and Kovels' ''Know Your Antiques,'' agrees with many other bellwethers in the field that investors, and particularly speculators, are getting out of the art and antiques market, and that bona fide collectors are feeling more comfortable once again. ''This means,'' she says, ''that things are being bought more intelligently, and prices will make much more sense and stop escalating up and down like a yo-yo.''