Britain's antiques fairs offer plenty of choice for collectors

Collectors of antiques and fine arts never really relax their vigil. Even on holiday they have an eye open to spot their next acquisition. They are not likely to be satisfied with the occasional furtive dash into an antique shop while the rest of the party champ at the bit outside.

If you are a dedicated collector, one way you can enjoy a pleasant vacation and still indulge your passion for antiques is to visit one of the many antiques fairs being held in Britain and other European countries this summer.

Such is the popularity of antiques in Britain that there appears to be hardly a day when someone, somewhere, is not holding a fair.

Dealers range from professionals who play to a handicap of strict datelines governing the age of the items they are allowed to offer, to pitch-and-put players who pitch their stands and put out the goods for a one-day stint in a village hall.

The premier fair in Britain this year is the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair, Park Lane, London (June 18-26). It is 50 years since the first Grosvenor House Fair anticipated the present boom in the business, and from the start it has been one of the events of the season. Almost 90 leading British dealers display for sale the finest antiques and works of art made before 1884.

Many of the major fairs have followed the example of Grosvenor House in staging a loan exhibition of interesting and spectacular items from great private and public collections. This year the fair has a ''golden'' theme, and one of the exhibits loaned by the National Art Collections Fund will be the splendid pair of solid gold ice pails made for the first Duke of Marlborough. They were bought for the nation with the help of the fund from Earl Spencer and are now to be seen in the British Museum. Each exhibitor will continue the theme by displaying an item of gold or gilt. At (STR)10.50 for a double ticket, including an excellent handbook, it is the most expensive of the fairs but also the most spectacular.

By far the largest fair in Britain is the Fine Art and Antiques Fair held at Olympia, London (June 1-9). As the title indicates, some of the exhibits are not antiques, but the datelines have been extended to include the art nouveau and art deco periods. The standards are high and the choice is enormous. Here also the National Art Collections Fund is providing special exhibits from three provincial museums.

Among other fairs in London this year will be the West London Summer Antiques Fair, Kensington Town Hall (Aug. 16-19); Chelsea Antiques Fair, Old Town Hall (Sept. 11-22); and the Park Lane Hotel Antiques Fair (Oct. 3-9).

England also has its share of specialist fairs. The International Ceramics Fair and Seminar held at the Dorchester Hotel (June 15-18) aims to boost your knowledge as well as your collection. Some very high-powered specialists in the fields of pottery, porcelain, glass, and enamels will be giving a series of lectures around the theme ''Outside influences on ceramics,'' while 45 dealers from many countries display their finest wares to a very discerning public. There are no restrictions as to date; the criterion is quality. An additional attraction will be a loan exhibition of Sevres porcelain from the collection of Viscount Gage of Firle Place, Sussex. Information and booking forms are available from: International Ceramics Fair and Seminar Ltd., 3b Burlington Gardens, London WIX ILE.

For bibliophiles, The International Antiquarian Book Fair at the Park Lane Hotel (Sept. 19-22) will provide an opportunity to browse through some 30,000 items on display by dealers from all over the world. From incunabula (early printed books) to modern first editions, from art to zoology, from a few pounds to many thousands, all are available.

Among provincial fairs, the Northern Antiques Fair in Harrogate, Yorkshire, was for many years ranked second only to the Grosvenor House Fair. This year, the 34th, is likely to be no exception. It will be held in the Royal Baths Assembly Rooms Sept. 20-27. Both Buxton and Harrogate are excellent centers for visiting some of the finest stately homes in the country.

The great popularity of antiques fairs has prompted some companies to mount fairs with a special flavor. Castle Fairs, as the name suggests, put on a number of fairs in well-known country houses. In addition to the antiques, fairgoers can enjoy the house and its grounds, a special exhibition, and a very good buffet. Some to watch for are these: Alnwick Castle, Northumberland (May 26-28); Goodwood House, Sussex (June 22-24); and Hopetoun House, near Edinburgh (Sept. 14-17).

Details of all the fairs can be found in the monthly magazine, The Antique Dealers and Collectors Guide, which also publishes a calendar of main events in Britain. This can be obtained (while supplies last) by writing: Collectors Guide , Kings Reach Tower, Stamford Street, London SE1.

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