Home Dealers Calendar Articles Fine Art Database About AFA Login/Register
Home | Articles | Albert Sack: 2002 ADA Merit Award Recipient


by The Educational Committee of The Antiques Dealers Association of America, Inc.

This April 6 at the Philadelphia Antiques Show, the Antiques Dealers Association of America, Inc. (ADA) is hosting a dinner to honor Albert Sack. Mr. Sack will receive the First Annual Award of Merit presented to those who have made significant contributions to the antiques community. While a dealer, Mr. Sack has shared his extensive knowledge through his publications and lectures and by his informal tutoring and mentoring of many antiques enthusiastsfrom collectors to competitorsgiving freely of his time to extol the virtues and inner strength of American antiques. Last December members of the ADA visited with Mr. Sack to speak with him about his career in the antiques trade, through which he has been such a dedicated and enthusiastic participant for the last sixty-plus years.

We are walking up Fifth Avenue on our way to interview Mr. Albert Sack, a principal, with his brother Robert (their eldest brother, Harold, passed away a few years ago), of Israel Sack, Inc., the venerable antiques firm founded in Boston by their father, Israel, in the early decades of the twentieth century. The company is located in the Crown Building at the corner of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue. After taking an elevator to the sixth floor, we almost expect, as in previous visits, to walk through the extensive gallery and admire the array of exquisite antiques and decorative arts for sale. Today, however, we enter the Sack premises to see the inventory tagged and labeled for imminent dispersal at Sothebys. Great objects still fill the rooms, yet the quiet dignity of the space suggests an era that has passed. While in some ways this is true, Robert plans to remain involved through his work on the Sack Heritage Web site, and Albert is moving on to a different phase of his career.

Albert Sack in the galleries of Israel Sack, Inc., New York. January 2002. Photography by Erik Kvalsvik.

Like many of the great pieces of furniture he has handled over the years, Albert is himself an icon of the American antiques business, known for his integrity, sagely advice, and expert eye. Our interview takes place in the library, surrounded with reference books and notebook upon notebook of the invaluable Sack firms photographic archives. We are made to feel at home, for Albert is a true gentleman. He is also an enthusiastic raconteur, and we listen closely as he recounts some of his memories from years in the business.

You know, Ive been writing my memoirs and having fun, says Sack. My favorite stories are about the early characters. I grew up with them, sparred with them, had relationships. I get to the 1960s and I stop in my tracks. Things got dull then you know, he says. Ill recount that Lansdell Christie gave such and such and paid this amount&[his voice trails off]. There were some characters then, but the period I grew up in was unsurpassed. Not only were the antiques wonderful, but so were the peoplemy father, the collectors, and my dealer friends. The personalities, the con men&. It was a rough world, he notes.

The memoirs are not Alberts first entrée into writing. In 1948 he published Good, Better, Best in The Magazine Antiques that later became the basis of the essential text The Fine Points of Furniture: Early American (1950), and its successor, The New Fine Points of Furniture (1993). These books are the comparative touchstone for the study of American furniture design, and have taught would-be connoisseurs how to look at objects and refine their eye. These books set forth a process that Albert calls the test of qualitythe initial judgment phase by which a pieces aesthetic merits are assessed before any other factors such as age, rarity, or historic associations can be considered. When I wrote the book in 1950, says Albert, it was part of an effort to establish myself within the company. Prior to its publication I was like a fly on the wall. Collectors would come to the shop and say, Is Mr. Sack in? I would answer, Im Albert Sack, and they would say, Oh, I meant your father or your brother, Albert recounts with a grin. We note that through these books, he most definitely made a major impact on the field of American antiques. Albert, however, shifts the credit for his contributions to his father. The book was the theory that we lived with, you know, my fathers concept. I just brought it into focus.

It is obvious that Albert has a great reverence for his father and that he and his brothers learned a great deal by following his example. My father was a great man, says Albert. When he came to this country in 1903 there was only a small group of American furniture collectors, and they were considered eccentric. There were no museums featuring Americana, no books, no guidelines, he continues. The early collectors and my father saw the quality of American furniture and how to recognize the differences between it and English furniture. If somebody asked him how to distinguish American and English furniture, my father would say, its easy, by its accent, laughs Albert.

From left to right: Israel Sack, 1953. Courtesy of Israel Sack, Inc.; Albert Sack in New York, 1980s. Courtesy
of Deanne Levison.; Dinner at the Hennages, November 1976. June Hennage to his left and Deanne Levison
to his right. Courtesy of Deanne Levison.

Though my father didnt have reference books that informed him who the Garvan carver was or wasnt, says Albert, he could recognize a great expression of Americana, as could his best clients. He worked with most of the great collectors of the past, among them Henry du Pont, Maxim Karolik, Ima Hogg, and Katherine Prentiss Murphy. These early collectors and my father had an understanding, a passion for objects, relates Albert. When I came in from a buying trip, my father and collectors in the shop just dropped everything. Theyd come outside and the piece would be upside down in an instant, everyone huddled around it. It was thrilling!

Everything my father looked at was from the standpoint of the inspiration and talent of the craftsman, says Albert. A truly great craftsman had a god-given talent that transcended that of most of his peers. In recognition of this, I saw my father turn down great furniture if he thought it was out of proportion or if the craftsmanship was mediocre. He loved beautiful forms and created some of the greatest museum and private collections yet known.

We all agree that there are still wonderful objects available on the market today, and collectors ready to pursue them. The growth in the field has been phenomenal, says Albert. I appraised the Bayou Bend Collection in 1969 before it became a museum. There wasnt one piece I appraised at over $100,000; now a number of the same objects are worth several million dollars each. You know, my father never saw a piece sell for $100,000. He died in 1959. Now, think of the million-dollar pieces, the fact that we bought a secretary for $12.1 million back in 1989 was amazing. When we sold it, it was the highest price ever paid for a work of art, except for a painting, from any country or era, he proudly says. Americana has arrived as an art form, and when a great object comes on the market, the price is strong. You cant discount Americana, but it still has a long way to go in that there are no European museums devoted to Americana except the American Museum in Bath, England. Other than the Diplomatic Reception Rooms at the State Department, which is not a museum, there is no museum of American decorative arts in Washington, D.C.!

I see American furniture as a living expression of what America started out to be, was, and is. People read about the great men of history, and these are the great products of history, what men made when they were released from the traditions of Europe. They came to this country where their spirits and creativity were unleashed and in turn expressed in their furniture, says Albert. Dealersfrom those early on and in the present daydevelop an awareness for this connection and educate their clients in these lessons of Americana. Thats what we have always been dedicated to doing, providing more than just the sale of antiques, he says.

On that note, the phone rings, and because the receptionist has stepped out, Albert picks up the receiver. He does not say, This is Albert Sack, but answers with the name of the firm. He patiently responds to the questions and then with equal courtesy returns to us, continuing to regale us with stories of his excursions over the years and his plans for the future.


Much has transpired since the December visit, both with Mr. Sack and the firm. The contents of Israel Sack, Inc., were sold at Sothebys, New York, in January, and Albert has joined with Ronald Bourgeault at Northeast Auctions in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Albert will continue to maintain an antiques shop, by appointment, in Portsmouth. At 87, Albert doesnt seem to be slowing down. When he speaks about being able to once again join in the hunt for antiques, after years of tending the New York shop since the passing of his brother Harold, his eyes light up. Says Albert, Its a new beginning, and I cant wait to get going!

This is the first of a regular column contributed by members of the ADA.

Antiques and Fine Art is the leading site for antique collectors, designers, and enthusiasts of art and antiques. Featuring outstanding inventory for sale from top antiques & art dealers, educational articles on fine and decorative arts, and a calendar listing upcoming antiques shows and fairs.