When it comes to understanding what antiques are worth, there are three simple things to take into account, according to antique dealer Virginia Johnson.
"It's the quality of the piece, the material it's made out of ... and a name," she said while sitting amid her Steuben dishes, Waterford crystal and carved wood English vases. "People always like to look for a popular namesake."
Items ranging in category from rare coins and books to silver candelabras and hand-crafted jewelry exhibited these qualities and more as they were set up for the approximately 1,500 area residents who made it out for the Vienna Winter Antiques Show last weekend in the Vienna Community Center.
The first part of a biannual event — the other takes place in October — typically raises between $8,000 and $9,000 for the community center each year from a portion of the entrance fee, according to Johnson. The event, which has been going on since 1968, featured more than 20 local vendors this year.
Traditionally it features only high-end pieces made before 1920, the year when assembly line-produced goods began to push handcrafted materials into the background, Johnson said.
Johnson, the matriarch of the 40-year-old event, manages the show each year with the help of her family. She comes from a long line of antique collectors and dealers, with a grandfather who used to be a New York City auctioneer, she said.
OVER THE YEARS her show has played host for a number of different customers, including local dealers, collectors, congressional staff and their families, curiosity-seekers and even former first lady Ladybird Johnson, she added.
"For a lot of the people who come here, it's an image thing," Johnson said. "If you want to set a proper table for dinner guests, where are you going to go to find these things?"
It's the smaller, more intimate setting, that makes it stand out from other antique shows, said Vienna resident Richard Ali, who owns Pointer Creek Antiques in Manassas.
"It's got a friendlier atmosphere than most of the bigger shows," Ali said. "It's a good cross-section of different antiques and styles ... and the sellers can typically spend more time with you."
But events along the similar size of the Vienna Antique Show have been gradually disappearing in Northern Virginia, according to Johnson. Because of the draw of dealers to large, comprehensive regional shows that feature antiques such as "The D.C. Big Flea" at the Dulles Convention Center four times a year, there has been less interest in smaller regional shows, she added.
"I still think people like to come to this show because the dealers actually have a chance to speak with the customers," Johnson said. "It's not just a big mixture of a lot of things."
It for exactly those reasons that Rosemary Sinclair and Karen Steidel made the trip from Annandale to the antique show last Friday afternoon. The two had already purchased some linens, plates and a match holder.
"They have a nice collection, and it's not so big where you're exhausted after you're done from walking around all day," said Sinclair.
"This is one of the best one, I always seem to find something I like," said Steidel.
WITH SPARKLES from the overhead lights reflected on its mirror-like surface, Dan Edmond, Vienna Antiques Show dealer and owner of Cobweb Antiques, picks up a silver Tiffany & Co. bowl for inspection. Edmond estimates that it was produced sometime in the 1890s. A price tag on the inside of the large bowl reads $1,950.
"This is made by Tiffany & Co. which is always sought after based on the name alone," he said. "Plus I like that it can go with anything, it's very beautiful but also very plain and simple."
Representing just some of the silver and antique flatware available at the event, Edmond, who is originally a coin collector, said that he thinks the draw for antiques comes in the desire to move away from the mundane.
"I think people like to have things that are original, things with a history," he said, "and you can find a lot of that here."
Johnson said that a desire to inherit the history that comes along with the antiques is a major reason that many people so passionately search them out.
"Almost all of this stuff, it's things that are passed down from family member to family member," she said. "When they buy things like this, it's like they've got an instant ancestor."