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Treasures of Old Buffalo; The Thrill of the Hunt

By Dana Tillou:

As many people know, Buffalo, at the turn of the 19th century was one of the wealthiest and affluent cities in the country. Great homes were built and beautiful objects in the art and antique field were being purchased, adding to collections to fill these grand homes. As time passed, the great depression came and went, some houses were being broken up and collections and furnishings were being passed on to heirs or sold. In many cases the heirs weren’t interested in the items they inherited – but it was certainly certainly nice stuff to have and use. They didn’t collect it so where was the knowledge and appreciation? Subsequently the 1950’s and 1960’s were a great time to buy paintings and antiques in Buffalo; there were some very good finds. Many fine pieces left the city because of the weaker market here. Today there is less appreciation for these items; priorities have changed and technology and efficiency has dictated much of our furnishings.

What’s kept me going in Buffalo and Western New York for the last fifty years? I would say it’s the thrill of the hunt in my art and antique business. The expectation on a given day of finding or identifying a special work if art is very exciting. Over the years there certainly have been some great finds in the art field. I had a call on West Ferry thirty years ago to look at some brass, and while we were talking, the lady opened the closet door and pulled out two paintings wrapped in old newspaper that turned out to be a pair of the greatest folk portraits, c. 1830, that I’ve ever seen. Value was in the mid five figures and they are now residing at the Fenimore House in Cooperstown, NY.

Conservation of paintings has always interested me. In 1982 in a house in Sheffield, Massachusetts, The owner showed me one of the most dramatic paintings of Niagara Falls I have ever seen, but the signature was unknown. In cleaning, the ‘top’ signature came off and underneath was the name Ferdinand Reichardt, 1857. I suspected this might happen. That painting was sold to the State Department Reception Rooms, Washington, DC, for the whole nation to see.

Some advise to heirs and children who have inherited objects and are possibly thinking of selling; get a good appraisal from a competent person who will do research and gave an honest appraisal based on the market in general, condition, quality, etc. We’re in an information age so it’s much easier to find the general value of an object. An appraiser with thirty or forty year of experience can be very helpful.

It has been very satisfying to identify different pieces that I see or come into my gallery, and see the delight in peoples faces when their hunch was confirmed, that their treasure was indeed of value.

There’ll be many of my great finds that have been languishing in storage for who knows how long coming up in a monumental sale: Dana Tillou Gallery on the corner of Virginia and Franklin Streets in Historic Allentown is having a sale with works of art dating from the 19th century to contemporary – and even some of those ubiquitous unknowns that turn out to be great treasures, including paintings from four private collections; three from Buffalo and one from Rochester.  Some of the artists represented will include: Alexander O. Levy, Henri Matisse, Colin Coots, Robert Blair, Virginia Cuthbert, Virginia Tillou, and Roy Mason. Included in the sale will be Oils, Watercolors, Prints, Drawings and Photos by many listed artists of regional significance and beyond. This is a two week sale that starts on Saturday February 12th at 10 am. Come early to get the best selection –see what treasures Dana has gathered from far and wide.

Gallery Sale Hours: Tuesday through Saturday from 11am – 5pm. We are at 417 Franklin Street, and we can be reached by phone at 716-854-5285.

Written by David Steele

David Steele

Architect ( a real one, not just the armchair type), author of "Buffalo, Architecture in the American Forgotten Land" ( ), lover of great spaces, hater of sprawl and waste,
advocate for a better way of doing things.

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