Where the Mod Things Are

A sneak peek of 20th Century Cincinnati's 17th-annual show

With more than 2,000 attendees at the 2010 show, around 40 percent of those coming from outside the Greater Cincinnati area, 20th Century Cincinnati is one of the nation’s best — and few — Modernism events.

No matter if you’re a treasure hunter, a vintage home restorer or nostalgic for the past (or Don Draper’s apartment), show producer Bruce Metzger guarantees “a very cool scene” this weekend. CityBeat caught up with Metzger, who also produces the Tri-State Antique Market and the Ohio Country Antique show under the moniker Queen City Shows, to get the inside scoop about this year's show, including what kind of goodies shoppers and browsers can expect to see, how to shop for quality vintage modern products and what sized truck to bring: a big one.

CityBeat: How many vendors will be at the 2011 show? Why do vendors and visitors travel from all over for this event?

Bruce Metzger: There are 45 different booths listed in the 2011 show program; a few of those are shared by “partner” vendors, getting us close to the 50 dealers we advertise. There has always been a solid core of dealers from mostly metro areas of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. Add to that a few from Chicago, a few from the Philadelphia area, a few from Washington D.C., area, two from near Des Moines, Iowa and one from Buffalo.

There are very few Modernism events in the country — you can count them on your fingers: Los Angeles, Palm Beach, San Francisco, Denver, New York, Washington D.C., Detroit, Chicago and Miami. And Miami has been canceled the last two years. Enthusiasts of 20th century design don’t have a lot of choices to attend gatherings of like-minded folks, so they will travel where and when they must.

CB: What inspired you to start the show?

BM: I was inspired by the Indianapolis Art Deco show in the 1980s. That show fell into decline right about the time we started having this themed show in Cincinnati, so I was the beneficiary of their demise.

CB: Describe what shoppers can expect to find at this year’s show.

BM: Furnishings, lighting and art are the big draws at 20th Century Cincinnati, but there is so much else that brings attendees: jewelry, vintage clothing, ephemera, dinnerware, art glass, pottery — all kinds of decorative accessories, really. The main thing is that it all relates to styles and designs that were first introduced in the 20th century. …You won’t find a 1950s Early American dining table at the show — that is from the period, but only a rehash of some earlier design. You will find a Danish Modern table manufactured at the same time — a style that was new and fresh in the ‘50s.

CB: Can you describe what “vintage modern” is? What objects come in “vintage modern” style?

BM: The term “modern” was first used around 1900 to refer to emerging styles in literature and the arts that were basically a rejection of the past (Victorian). I’m not sure when or how “modern” became confused with “contemporary” but they are not the same thing. “Vintage” helps define “modern” that comes from an earlier time as opposed to “modern” design that is currently made and manufactured.

Vintage modern can be identified by a few factors. Generally, there is a lack of embellishment. … There is a merging of technology with decorative arts — streamlined locomotives to amoeba tabletops to flying saucer lamps. There may be the use of new materials and construction techniques — chrome, stainless steel, molded plywood, fiberglass and plastics. Modern design influences can be found in nearly every aspect of 20th century life, from buildings (Union Terminal), to jewelry (Bakelite plastic), to gravy boats (Russel Wright American Modern dinnerware), to office furniture (Eames for Herman Miller).

CB: What’s the general price point? Are prices negotiable?

BM: I’m sure there are many choices for $20, but one should expect to drop between $200 and several thousand for a pedigreed piece of mid-century modern furniture. That said, there are a lot of very cool things in every category that fall under $200. Some dealers will be willing to negotiate prices, but this is not universally true. In general, vendors become more agreeable when shoppers purchase in multiples, bring cash and are prepared to take away their purchases (bring a truck).

CB: Are all items quality and authentic?

BM: “Quality” will be in the eye of the beholder. “Authentic” is a very gray area; I suggest you look at the “guide to vintage modern” at www.20thcenturycincinnati.com.

Most importantly, all of the vendors at 20th Century Cincinnati sign an agreement that they will sell their merchandise on a “guaranteed as represented” basis. It is up to the buyers to get written receipts detailing what the item is and listing any condition issues, repairs, restoration or replacement parts. I can’t stress this point enough for anyone buying antiques or vintage goods at any venue. I know of two instances in the past where items were returned for condition issues — full refunds in both cases.

CB: Do you have any advice for shoppers going in?

BM: Buy what you like and are willing to live with. Unless you have studied and feel comfortable with your own knowledge, develop a relationship with a dealer. Many of these dealers are experts in the field — take advantage of all they know.

CB: Are there items of historical importance?

BM: I know that both art museums and major auction houses have sent representatives to the show in the past. … I know there was a small coffee table or side table by one of the famous American designers of the mid-century period that caused quite a stir at the show back in 1999 or so, when we held the event at Museum Center. That piece made its way to a major New York auction house and set a world’s record when it sold there later that same year. I did not see this go down, but sure heard plenty about it later.

CB: Can you describe this year’s special exhibit?

Metzger: The American Sign Museum has allowed us to choose around 20 signs and other advertising pieces from its collection that we felt reflected good modern design elements. The earliest is from the 1930’s and the latest is probably a Fillmore poster from 1968.

CB: What’s your favorite part of the weekend?

BM: My favorite part of the weekend is having 11 p.m. dinner on Sunday at IHOP or Waffle House or some other late-night spot. This happens after the dealers have all packed up and gone and the Convention Center floor has been cleared. It’s fun putting on this party, but a real relief when it’s over.

20th Century Cincinnati will take place at the Sharonville Convention Center (11355 Chester Road) 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. $7 admission is good for both days. Click here for more information.
Scroll to read more News Feature articles
Join the CityBeat Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.