What does a Victorian-era ladies dressing table, a sheet iron cow that topped a New Jersey weather vane and a purse made of plastic tubes have in common?

They're among the thousands of items on display at the 11th annual Charleston Antiques Show, which holds its opening party Thursday night.

The Historic Charleston Foundation began the show as a fundraiser to support is preservation work, and to educate people about one aspect of preservation - the history of decorative and fine arts.

Many of the 27 exhibitors at Memminger Auditorium have been here before, but most are bringing different items this time, items for people to peruse and - if they would like - purchase.

Melissa Nelson, the foundation's director of marketing, said the city's long history of decorative arts - not to mention its restaurants - lure antique dealers here from New York, the United Kingdom and beyond.

"Charleston is a very coveted show to be a part of," she said.

And it's a diverse one, with displays of ceramics, furniture, paintings, garden architectural elements, jewelry, handbags and more.

Brandy Culp, the foundation's curator, said while the show does further the foundation's mission and serves an educational role, "looking is fun, and that's also what the show is about. It's just fun."

Many items carry a price tag as hefty as their story. For instance, the circa 1860-70 ladies dressing table that has ornate painting, intricately fitted drawers and an oval sewing box is one of only two believed built. The $48,000 price tag on the one here partly reflects the reality that the other probably will never be sold: It's housed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

It stands near one of William Cook's one-of-a-kind items: A small-scale set of nine heavy dragoon helmets, complete with horsehair and silver guild. They were made by the same craftsman who made the originals for the regiment and are priced at $12,500.

Also for sale is a $47,600 silver trophy awarded in Paris in 1877 to the owner of what must have been a darn fine cow. The trophy weighs about 6 pounds and was brought by Stephen Kalms, who also brought 12 silver dinner plates dating from 1723.

While many items are unique - and expensive - that's not always the case.

Purse dealer Nula Thanhauser of New York has an Art Deco purse in excellent condition made out of baby alligator skin that is going for $8,500, but she also has mid-20th-century handbags made from colored plastic tubes and old curly phone cords that will set buyers back far less.

"It's no fun if you go to an antiques show and you're not able to buy something," she said.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771