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Lalique's Allure

Nicholas M. Dawes
From the Print Edition:
Premier Issue, Autumn 92

(continued from page 1)

For many Americans, however, Lalique glass collecting offers the opportunity to have real fun. "It is hard to beat a walk around the Paris flea market on a chilly spring morning, pausing for vin chaud or café au lait," according to a Midwestern collector. He is only too well aware that the days of finding cire perdue among the crates of brocantes or fancy junk are long gone. But the Marché aux Puces is one of the many exciting, and sometimes exotic locations frequented by Lalique enthusiasts. They also dart in and out of museums with Lalique collections, a feat easily accomplished in most every European capital. Lalique cannot be purchased from museums, although many dealers have tried. Therefore, it is the auction marketplace that represents the front line of collecting. Even so, a fruitless excursion to a flea market, antiques fair, a gallery or an auction has the same rewards for the enthusiast that a good day's fishing with no catch brings to a serious angler.

A day in Paris "on the hunt" can begin with the delights of the flea market. It can include the purchase of an extraordinary object, a first-class, lengthy lunch, a friendly argument in Franglais, and endless gossip about the fortunes of colleagues. In fact, the relationships developed on these expeditions often are one of the biggest draws for the collector and dealer alike. The day usually ends with a generous and elegant dinner--after all, this is France--at an hour when most Americans are watching The Tonight Show. "Before I started collecting Lalique, I couldn't speak a word of French," a New York collector said recently. "Now, I can argue in the flea market."

Most collectors don't need to explore the back alleys and tight nooks and crannies of the French flea markets. The world's fine art auction houses are an important forum for buying and selling Lalique glass. Among the most elegant are the regular sales held at Sotheby's in Monte Carlo, which provides an attractive weekend retreat from, say, Milwaukee. Lalique turns up regularly at Sotheby's and Christie's auctions worldwide, and at sales held in Paris by several French auctioneers. The largest French auction company is Ader Tajan, which holds an occasional auction dedicated to Lalique in the serene atmosphere of Tokyo's Okura Hotel. These auctions are held in French and Japanese, with live action telecast by satellite to bidders in Paris. Such sales are a far cry from the provincial events in Britain and the United States, which are often the source of the best bargains. Enthusiasts are especially advised to monitor the Lalique auctions held every fall at the delightfully English family firm of Bonham's, headquartered in a Georgian building just a stone's throw from Harrods in London.

Ask any auctioneer, dealer or collector about the problems of buying Lalique and they are likely to recount the abundance of fakes and forgeries that litter the marketplace. There are very few deliberate forgeries, but it is common to encounter glass made in the style of René Lalique which has had his signature added for purposes of deception. The novice can avoid such pitfalls by following the golden rule of art and antiques collecting: Never let the signature authenticate the object; always allow the qualities of the object to authenticate the signature.

Nicholas M. Dawes, a New York antiques dealer, is the author of Lalique Glass, a standard work on the subject.

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