``What goes round, comes round,'' say English antique dealers, explaining that this country's abundant supply of antiques keeps recycling and resurfacing through thousands of shops, auction galleries, street markets, and antique fairs. Both the prestigious Grosvenor House and Burlington House fairs attracted international dealers and audiences this season, and both reported unprecedented commercial and artistic successes.
Smaller antique fairs continue to proliferate, particularly those being held in local hotels and public halls. These have sprung up in every part of the country, nurturing a revived interest in collecting and a greater awareness of style and quality.
The market flow of antiques is not only internal, but in and out of the country, as well.
The British Information Office reports that in 1986, antiques (furnishings, paintings, silver, etc., more than 100 years old) exported from England amounted to a total of 300.6 million (about $496 million).
The imports of antiques from other countries into England, for the same period, totaled 178.9 million (about $295 million). Almost one-third of these imports were from the United States.
Sotheby's auction house, headquartered in London, announced a record $1.3 billion in worldwide sales for the 1986-87 season that ended Aug. 31.
Christie's International auction house in London announced worldwide sales of $900 million for the same season, a growth of nearly 50 percent in pounds sterling over the year before.
``Heightened demand and the increasing scarcity of superb art have driven prices for many artists to all-time highs,'' chairman John Floyd commented.
``All the indications are that as long as the major world economies maintain their current momentum, England will remain an international center for art and antiques, the auction sales rooms will flourish, and antique dealers will be kept in high style,'' the Financial Times of London reports.
At the recent Burlington House Fair held in the Royal Academy of Arts, some of the 65 exhibitors admitted that, as top-quality objects became harder to find, they considered themselves fortunate when they could buy back pieces from old customers.
Harriet Wynter, a dealer in antique scientific instruments, remarked that prices of old scientific instruments had skyrocketed and that one of her best sources were the customers to whom she had sold instruments many years ago.
``When they get ready to upgrade their collections, or sell them, they come back to me, and I am grateful,'' she said. ``I have resold one instrument three times now.''
Thomas Crispin, a well-known dealer who is an authority on 17th-century English oak furniture, concurs. ``I don't see my sources drying up for years to come,'' he says, ``because when anyone, including my own customers, has good old oak to sell, they usually think of me. There is always a demand for mellow 17th-century oak pieces. English people buy them for their country houses. They add character.''
Owners of the Brod Gallery, London specialists in Dutch and French Old Master paintings, declared, ``When we sell an Old Master painting, it is difficult to replace it with one of equal quality. We depend on contacts with old clients and collectors, who hopefully will remember us when they think of selling. Today there is a much higher demand for quality than ever before. And the expertise for establishing quality is much greater now.''
``Every year the number of serious collectors increases, and they are buying really good things,'' says Brian Haughton, a London porcelain dealer and founder of the International Ceramics Fair held here in June and the International Silver and Jewelry Fair coming up at the Dorchester Hotel here Jan. 29 through Feb. 1, 1988. ``There is much more money around now. And British museums are now buying again, too, after a quiet few years. Everybody, of course, is searching for `the perfect piece,' and poor-quality things you can't give away.
``Sure, we would buy back any great piece, because the market for it grows ever more competitive. So much porcelain was made in England that I think we will always have sources. And just when I might think the supply might be dwindling a bit, another great country-house sale comes along, and wonderful pieces come out from behind the wainscoting.
``English porcelain is a favorite with our American buyers, but the English buyers are currently having a love affair with the soft paste porcelain made at the S`evres factory in France.''