Finding Hidden Treasures at the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show

The annual San Francisco Fall Antiques Show (SFFAS) has longstanding ties with the Fine Arts Museums, sharing benefactors, lenders, board members, and volunteers, including special project curator of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture, Maria Santangelo. For the past several years, Santangelo has donated her curatorial capabilities to the exhibition that serves as the centerpiece of the fair.

Maria Santangelo

Maria Santangelo

This year, SFFAS commemorates its 30th anniversary with the exhibition Hidden Treasures: Celebrating 30 Years of Surprising Finds at the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show. Inspired by the pearl—a valuable treasure hidden within an oyster shell that is the traditional 30th-anniversary gift—the 2011 San Francisco Fall Antiques Show celebrates three decades of finds by featuring works of art that have an element of surprise.

The entryway into the Fort Mason Festival Pavilion.

Santangelo and co-curator Holland Lynch (daughter of former president of the Museums’ Board of Trustees Richard Goss) selected various works that highlight the unexpected, including trompe l’oeil paintings, boxes with secret compartments, metamorphic furniture, and other visually intriguing pieces.

The reasoning behind these deceptive designs may be protective, such as a tea caddy’s secret compartment concealing a valuable silver tea spoon;

Tea service

Tea pot with lid, early 19th century. England, English. Lustre ware. Estate of Mrs. Julia Dunn. 50682.1a-b

whimsical, such as a snuff box crafted in the shape of a shoe; or practical, such as a side table that unfolds into a set of library stairs.


This exhibition is made possible through generous donations from antiques enthusiasts, many of who are also donors to the Fine Arts Museums. Santangelo approaches local private collectors, SFFAS exhibitors, and Bay Area cultural institutions—including the Fine Arts Museums this year—to lend artworks to this four-day-long showcase.


After Peter Carl Fabergé (Russian, 1846–1920). Inkwell, 19th–20th century. Diamonds and hardstones. Estate of Sarah Hermann. 1996.145.19a-b

“This is an exhibition on a serious shoestring,” says Santangelo. “But we try to present a small, focused, and beautiful presentation with proper labeling and didactics.”


A related lecture series will feature talks on hidden treasures ranging from royal collections safeguarded in Kunstkammern, given by Archduke Dr. Geza von Habsburg, to stolen artworks still at large, as shared by former FBI agent Robert Wittman.

See what treasures you can find in the exhibition and at the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show, which runs October 27–30. For more behind-the-scenes information about the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show, please visit their blog.