NEW YORK - Like a fine antique, a furniture dealer must acquire a certain patina before arriving at The Winter Antiques Show.
The 75 slots at the annual bazaar, which opens Thursday, are so coveted that dealers wait decades to join the decadent display, where New York socialites are the main clientele and museum curators peruse the antiques and antiquities.
'We have a very low attrition rate,' said Catherine Sweeney Singer, the show's executive director. 'Of course, you can be removed for not having show-worthy material, but that's very rare. Generally, people leave the show because they've died.'
Dealers can apply, but the show is invitation only, and some, Sweeney Singer said, waited as long as 30 years before being asked.
'It all depends on what we need to round out the show,' she said. 'If we invite four dealers in folk art, then we'll look for someone whose specialty is something else.'
Among the handful of new dealers this year are Elliott and Grace Snyder, who run Elliott & Grace Snyder Antiques in the Berkshires. The two have been in business since 1970 and deal primarily in 17th, 18th and early 19th century material, with an emphasis on American vernacular furniture, textiles and metalwork.
'It's exciting to give this a try. It's a beautiful show,' Elliott Snyder said. 'And after all, it's one of the top two or three shows in the world. I think I've been to all the major shows in Europe - it really is right up there.'
Snyder said his booth will feature a signed document box, circa 1820, with original paint, and a wooden wassail bowl, circa 1685, with its original finish, signed by both its maker and original owner. Both are from Boston.
He's also bringing a harbor scene of New York City done by painter Edmund Coates expected to fetch around $125,000.
The annual show typically draws 25,000 visitors, the organizers said, underlining New York as one of the antiques capitals of the world. For $20, the public can view sacred objects of Pharaonic times, medieval armor, Renaissance paintings and documents, 18th and 19th century furniture and more. Proceeds benefit the East Side House Settlement, a charity founded in 1891.
Elinor Gordon, who turns 90 in February, has been exhibiting at the show since it began, specializing in Chinese export porcelain.
'It's impressive even for an old goat,' she said of the event. 'And I've never taken Geritol. I keep on living because I keep on working.'
What to Watch
This year, Sweeney Singer said a number of dealers are showing weather vanes in mint condition, some with original paint.
Dealer David Parker of Associated Antiques in Southport, Conn., is bringing a coveted desk made by Herter Brothers, who made furniture during the turn-of-the-century New York, and there are a number of other desks showcased by dealers from many eras, including Art Nouveau and Art Deco.
Mirrors are also big this year, which is rare because standards are high: They must be in original glass, not re-gilded and the condition of the paint is important.
Painted pieces with original pigment are also being shown this year, like the Snyder Antiques box, and a standing American Indian figure with original paint.
The booths are extremely pricey, reflecting the booming market worldwide in fine arts. But Sweeney Singer said it's possible for those, ahem, less-monied to purchase at the show. She did it herself when she was younger.
'If you decide 'I'm going to buy one thing at the show,' it could be a piece of silver for a thousand dollars, or something to get your collection started,' she said.
Prices are posted, but there's always room for negotiation. Dealers will often lower the price if you're buying more than one piece, or if you can sweet-talk them down a bit. They said they do not artificially inflate prices, but there's a cushion built in.
It's hard to say what something is worth, because that changes depending on what's hot right now.
'Just because something is going for some crazy price doesn't mean it's a trend,' Sweeney Singer said. 'Something good retains its power and if you have the eye to find it, you can end up with some valuable pieces.'