So now that the dust has settled, I'm able to put my thoughts about the weekend into perspective and give a 'From Our Own Correspondent' styley fair review.
As a 'doll's house & miniatures fair' veteran of over 20 years, I've exhibited at some of the best, (and a few of the worst!) fairs in the UK. Back in the day, when I did my very first fair, there were only a handful throughout the country, and those were organised by people who were either miniature artisans in their own right, or avid collectors, passionate about the hobby, or both.
With the exception of Miniatura and Kensington, fairs were mostly modest affairs, held in town and village halls or small hotel conference suites, on a shoestring budget. However, despite the fact that the hobby in the UK was in its infancy, those fairs had a real joie de vivre, among the exhibitors and the visitors alike.
Over the years, perhaps inevitably, much of the joy has gone out of the miniatures business. The market has been swamped with mass-produced imports of variable quality. 'Big business' has scented a money-making opportunity and moved into the arena, and fairs have mushroomed over the whole country. As there are only a finite number of bona fide artisans to go round, fair organisers are increasingly turning to people who simply 'buy in' from miniature wholesalers, and as a result it is possible to visit a fair and see the same items duplicated on stand after stand. Quality handcrafted artisan pieces can be as hard to find as hen's teeth.
At one time, any Tom, Dick and Harry (and yes, it was mostly men) could buy a bench saw, jigsaw, router and a few sheets of MDF and set themselves up as doll's house makers. Having been trailed round fairs in the wake of enthusiastic wives, and firmly embracing the 'I could do that' mentality, they would subsequently appear at fairs with shoddy, poky, boxy attempts at doll's house architecture, hopelessly out of scale and more suited to the primary school classroom than a discerning adult collector's fair. The same applies to many other miniature disciplines, with the possible exceptions of glassmaking, or metalwork, or working in porcelain, where investment in specialist equipment and technical knowledge are indispensable.
Over the years I grew increasingly disenchanted with the fair circuit........ the rising costs of exhibiting, being undercut by people selling vastly inferior pieces and having my ideas and designs stolen/copied and passed off as other people's original work.
So I now choose the few fairs I do with great care, preferring those with as near to 100% artisan exhibitors as possible.
In theory, the Thame fair ticked all my boxes. Organised by an artisan, invitation only, the highest percentage of artisans of any fair I know, modest cost to exhibit.........
In practice, it exceeded all my expectations, and transported me back to the halcyon days of fairs 20 years ago. It is extremely rare to see so many top artisans outside of the big two fairs in Birmingham and London, and the quality of the miniatures on display was breathtaking. From Stokesay Ware, to Tony Knott, Jill Bennett to Simply Silver, Petite Properties to Sid Cooke....and many, many others. The cream of the country's miniature craftspeople all came together in a sleepy little market town in Oxfordshire to demonstrate just what the hobby is all about. The pursuit of excellence in small scales.
And as if all that wasn't enough, the fair raised over £3000 for the charity Breast Cancer Campaign.
If you missed it this year, make sure you look out for the details of next year's event. The Thame Fair is a really rare little gem.