‘People come to us because they trust us and our eye’ — 75 years of Apter-Fredericks
As furniture and works of art from their 75-year-old family-run antiques business come to auction, we talk to Harry and Guy Apter about the company’s storied past and exciting future
For brothers Harry and Guy Apter, dealing in the finest English antiques has been an extraordinary and rewarding adventure. ‘We only buy what jumps out and appeals,’ Harry says of the family’s famous eye for excellence. ‘Everything is bought with passion.’
For the past 75 years, Apter-Fredericks has supplied connoisseur collectors, fabled interior decorators — including royal favourite Dudley Poplak — and such prestigious bodies as the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston with English furniture and works of art of the highest calibre.
‘The name Apter-Fredericks has long been synonymous with impeccable quality and condition, and distinguished provenance,’ says Amelia Walker, Specialist Head of Private & Iconic Collections and Co-Head of Sale at Christie’s. ‘The works of art coming to Christie’s all fall under at least two or all three of these categories.’
‘The sale is representative of the range and quality of items we’ve had so much pleasure in handling over the years’ — Harry Apter
On 19 January, Christie’s presents Apter-Fredericks: 75 Years of Important English Furniture, a dedicated live sale of more than 140 lots encompassing furniture, Chinese works of art, and fine and decorative arts by the foremost craftsmen and designers of the 18th and 19th centuries, including Chippendale, Linnell, Gomm, and Ince and Mayhew.
‘The sale is representative of the range and quality of items we’ve had so much pleasure in handling over the years,’ says Harry. ‘Of that we are very proud.’
The storied dealership was founded in the 1940s by Alfred Fredericks. He was soon joined by his son-in-law, Bernard Apter, who would go on to run the business with his wife Carole for many years. Their sons, Guy and Harry, would later take on the mantle. From 1946 until 2019, the Apter-Fredericks gallery was a mainstay of London’s Fulham Road.
‘Our parents were a brilliant team,’ recalls Guy. ‘Our father oversaw the buying, our mother 90 per cent of the selling.’ Under their tenure, he explains, the business evolved from primarily dealing with the trade to supplying private clients and museums around the world. ‘It’s rather wonderful to have been part of that change and seen us rise to the top.’
Unsurprisingly, Harry and Guy grew up steeped in the worlds of art and antiques. ‘We were always having exciting conversations about recently bought pieces,’ says Harry.
‘I remember being in the shop a lot as a child and going out on the road with my father in the school holidays,’ recalls Guy. ‘You could say we were shackled to the business from the start.’
‘It’s a wonderful feeling when you look at something you’ve handled and realise that this is as good as you’ll ever see’ — Guy Apter
Over the years, the Apters have handled some remarkable pieces, among them a George III rosewood bombé commode by Pierre Langlois, part of a small group of seven related commodes, four of which are in the Royal Collection.
‘You don’t deal in those kinds of pieces every day,’ says Guy. ‘It’s a wonderful feeling when you look at something you’ve handled and realise that this is as good as you’ll ever see.’
Then there was the Regency ‘Carlton House’ pattern Boulle drum table by Thomas Parker that was probably supplied to the Prince Regent; and a pair of chinoiserie cabinets that had never before been published. ‘Making discoveries is extraordinarily exciting,’ says Harry.
So too is reuniting lost pairs. The brothers recall buying one of the two mahogany William Gomm commodes (above) in a sale in America. Some months later, they found its pair. ‘That was a truly remarkable moment,’ says Guy.
For the Apters, working hand in hand with clients to find the perfect piece is another of the rewarding aspects of the job. ‘People come to us because they trust us and our eye,’ says Harry. ‘And now, with less stock and no physical showroom, we’re looking forward to spending more time visiting clients.’
‘My mother couldn’t believe it when Dustin Hoffman opened the door — she nearly fell over backwards’ — Harry Apter
They’re soon exchanging stories of memorable, if unexpected, client encounters. ‘I must have been in the business all of 10 minutes,’ recalls Guy, ‘when I met a lovely old lady at our stand at Grosvenor House Art and Antiques Fair. We talked for hours about three different pieces, but she couldn’t decide on one.
‘So, as a rather cheeky young businessman, I joked that she should buy all three. To which she said, “What a great idea.” She promptly pulled out her cheque book and signed “Mrs. T.S. Eliot”. She became great friends with my mother. Going to the flat that she shared with Tom was like going back in time — there was so much memorabilia from his life.’
Dustin Hoffman, it turns out, also visited the gallery. ‘He knocked on the door between Christmas and New Year and bought a small piece of furniture,’ recalls Harry. ‘I later dropped it round to his house with my mother. She couldn’t believe it when Dustin Hoffman opened the door — she nearly fell over backwards.’
Have there been items they’ve regretted parting with? ‘Too many to name,’ Harry says with a laugh. ‘Though there is one particular silver table, which I sold to some friends at Masterpiece a couple of years ago, that I do really wish I’d kept. My friends think I’m joking when I tell them, but I’m not. It was the most perfect piece of furniture. It had the most perfect proportions, colour and shape. It just sang.’
‘Dealing in antiques is about more than just selling a product. We’re selling a little bit of ourselves’ — Harry Apter
Guy picks out the George III sycamore, satinwood and fruitwood marquetry Pembroke table offered in the forthcoming sale, dating from around 1770 and possibly by John Linnell. ‘I’m very sorry to see that go, as it belonged to our parents,’ he says. ‘I hope its new owners will gain as much enjoyment from it as we have.’
Other treasures coming to auction include an Irish George II mahogany side table, which Guy describes as ‘quirky’ and having ‘an air of mystery about it’, and a George III satinwood, harewood, burr-yew, tulipwood and marquetry breakfront bookcase (below) attributed to Ince and Mayhew.
‘Dealing in antiques is about more than just selling a product,’ says Harry. ‘We’re selling a little bit of ourselves, as well as the story and history behind it.’
By way of example, Guy cites the George III giltwood pier mirror (below left) from around 1765 that hung at Cliveden during the Profumo scandal. ‘Just think who — and what — has been reflected in that mirror,’ he muses.
Such pieces generally command steep sums, but there are also exceptional items at more accessible price points. The miniature Regency blue john campana vase pictured above, for example, is offered with a low estimate of £500.
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‘Buy the best you can afford from people you can trust, with a good reputation,’ advises Harry. ‘You won’t go wrong like that.’