Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Accessories Diary: Antiques, Antiquities & Epitaphs

Nicole DiCocco's Hermes Kelly bag that she received as a Christmas gift. What's in store for Valentine's Day?
Antiques, Antiquities & Epitaphs
By Alison Minton

January in New York City is generally a dead zone during event season, except for the Winter Antiques Show’s opening night party to benefit the East Side House Settlement when Manhattan’s glitterati strip off their winter wear to reveal a treasure trove of covetable accessories. This year the fashion parade up and down the aisles of the Park Avenue Armory took place on Thursday, January 21st.

As always, the bounty was an eclectic mix of vintage, classic and custom pieces and many of the guests showed a flair for fashion to rival the exhibits. Marlene Robinson’s boots were made for walking, Lily Yudain, Dawne Marie Grannum and Victor dE Souza had it in the bag, Jean Shafiroff nailed it and Scottie Cabrera tied it all together. 
Marlene Robinson got her latticework boots in Atlanta.
Lily Yudain carried a hot pink scrap felt Vacide Erda Zimic bag from Jill duPont's Greenwich boutique Out Of The Box.
Dawne Marie Grannum carried a Versace clutch.
Victor dE Souza's floral Gucci tote bag was a sign of Spring.
Jean Shafiroff's accessories of spiked grommets were affixed to her Victor dE Souza dress.
Scottie Cabrera's bow tie and pocket square were custom made by Norma Lason.
The jewelry is always particularly eye catching and Manuela Zissler-Grenert, Julius Debruhl Lewis and Courtney Boothe Christensen all wore pieces of note.
Manuela Zissler-Grenert wore a Lisa Sotilis 1970's vintage necklace of gold, jade & pearls, called Kalliope Muse.
Julius Debruhl Lewis wore a set of vintage 1970's bracelets from Paris.
Courtney’s necklace, in particular, has a beautifully romantic backstory perfect for telling during this week leading up to Valentine’s Day.

Courtney’s husband, Gus, had the necklace of white and yellow diamonds, and emeralds custom made and presented it to her during their wedding reception. He designed it to reflect one of the readings from their wedding ceremony which was from Philip Glass’ opera “Einstein on the Beach.” 
Courtney Booth Christensen's necklace was a custom made wedding gift from her husband, Gus.
But the specific lyrics that inspired the necklace are an answer to the question, “How much do I love you?” ... Count the stars in the night sky, measure the waters of the oceans with a teaspoon, number the grains of sand on the seashore ....”  The white diamonds reflect the stars, the emeralds represent the ocean and the yellow diamonds the sand on the beach.  If you’re not wiping away a tear or two, your heart is made of stone (and not gemstone).  Any men reading this column might want to follow Gus’ example and get thee to a jeweler before Sunday the 14th.
From antiques to antiquities ... a tale of an accessory. The story began in Peru approximately 700 years ago and came to a head last month right here in front of my computer. Some time between 1200 and 1470 AD someone from Pre-Columbian Chancay Culture made a small piece of pottery shaped like a deer or similar animal. Fast forward to January 1995 ... I was on a dinner date with my friend Gordon Whiting.  As we exited a taxi I looked down and spotted a wallet on the floor.  Thinking it might be Gordon’s I picked it up.

It wasn’t and it had over $400 of cash inside. I was reluctant to give it to the driver and instead decided to try to find the owner myself.  Aside from the cash the only other items in the wallet were grocery store cards and business cards belonging to an antiquities dealer named Robert Sonin. Remember, it was 1995, so I had no way to do a quick Google search about this man the way we can today.  I called the number on the cards and told him I had found his wallet and that he could come to my office to pick it up.  At the time I was working in the private club industry and the lobby of a busy club seemed like a safe place to meet someone to return a wallet. When Mr. Sonin showed up, he was most grateful to be getting back not only his wallet, but also the cash inside. 

So grateful that he brought along some gifts for me, including the small piece of aforementioned 700-year-old Peruvian pottery that he was carrying in a Tupperware container. 
The 700-year-old Peruvian pottery vessel Mr. Sonin had offered me.
He told me that the day he lost his wallet he had been at one of the major museums to pick up a gold figurine for restoration. He pulled out a handkerchief from his pocket, unfolded it and a solid gold Meso-American figurine appeared. It looked familiar, like something one would see in the display cases at the Met. I was stunned. At that point I jumped to the conclusion that something insidious was going on and that I had fallen into a ring of illegal antiquities dealers. I was an Anthropology major at Cornell and had taken enough Archaeology classes to know about the black market for antiquities and that I wanted nothing to do with it.  Mr. Sonin also brought a book about Peruvian pottery for me, which seemed harmless to accept. Granted the gifts were very thoughtful and generous, but I was starting to squirm at this point. Then he told me he wanted me to have half the money that was in the wallet I had found. 

I accepted the pottery and the book, hoping to end the visit quickly, but I refused to take the money.  A few weeks later I received a letter from Mr. Sonin with a check for half the money. You can read it for yourself, below:
I wrote him a thank you note. What else could I do?  I was sure I was already an accessory to a crime of tomb robbing, so what was another $230?  Ten months later I received a Christmas card from Mr. Sonin.  I never heard from him again and over the years forgot his name, but not the crazy story.   I showed the pottery to two of my former Archaeology professors at Cornell who both thought it was authentic.  It has spent the last twenty years on a shelf in my living room, a reminder of an odd encounter and a great story to tell once in a while.

Howard Nowes, the man who helped crack the case.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I was flipping channels and settled on a reality show called Untying the Knot.  What caught my interest was an antiquity that was part of a divorce settlement (you have to watch the show) and needed to be appraised.  The appraisers took the item to an antiquities gallery in Manhattan called Art for Eternity, owned by expert Howard Nowes.  I thought about the little piece of pottery and that maybe I should take it there. 

Now, having access to Google, I just looked up the gallery and Mr. Nowes and on January 26th I sent him an email.  I couldn’t remember Mr. Sonin’s name, because twenty years had passed since I read the letter or had any contact with the man.  I gave Mr. Nowes an abbreviated version of the backstory and he emailed me back and said the antiquities dealer I described sounded like Robert Sonin.  Amazed, I needed to know if it was, so I tore through my bookshelf looking for the book on Peruvian pottery hoping to find the name.  I found the book and inside was the letter from 1995.  I had tucked it, and the Christmas card, inside and sure enough it was from Robert Sonin.

I learned from Mr. Nowes that Mr. Sonin had sadly passed away, but I breathed a twenty-year-old sigh of relief when Mr. Nowes told me that Mr. Sonin had been a “reputable scholar/restorer and authenticator for the trade.”  My little animal was not a hot commodity, but it was authentic.

Coincidentally, or not, Mr. Sonin died on January 26, 2011, exactly five years to the day that I contacted Mr. Nowes and found Mr. Sonin’s obituary.  I have now found some peace in knowing more about the mysterious man who showed up at my office with a piece of history in his pocket and another in a Tupperware container.  Whether or not my piece of antiquity channeled Mr. Sonin’s spirit to bring closure to the story on the anniversary of his death, I don’t know, but Pre-Columbian cultures did believe in the afterlife and telling it here keeps Mr. Sonin’s memory alive.

Let me end this column by sharing photos of other generous gifts that some very lucky friends of the NYSD received over the holiday season.  As I said last year, I’m definitely not celebrating at the right house.  Enjoy the eye candy, and a very happy Valentine’s Day to all.
Allison Weiss Brady's husband gave her a 40 cm Hermes Birkin bag and matching Chanel ballet flats.
Penny Grant received this Oscar de la Renta necklace from Oscar, her pug.
Alexandra Lebenthal received two Larry Vbra cuff bracelets, Kenneth J. Lane earrings and gemstone earrings, all from Kentshire.
Amy Kamis Tarshis received a French Art Deco celluloid brooch by Jakob Bengel for Fabon of Paris.
Bettina Bennett received these Judith Ripka earrings from boyfriend Gordon Beck and ...
Bettina's mother bestowed on her the right to wear this antique Hemmerle gemstone butterfly brooch, which is a family heirloom.
Jane Pontarelli got one-of-a-kind pink tourmaline earrings by Jemily Fine Jewelry.
Melanie Seymour Holland received this Miss Selfridge necklace by Madame Fortuna.

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