Charleston paintings, ceramics, furniture, other items headed for Winter Antiques Show in New York City

This teapot fragment unearthed near Cainhoy is thought to be the oldest surviving piece of soft-paste porcelain in America.

This weekend could be the first time so many of Charleston's finest antiques were crated up and shipped North since the end of the Civil War.

But this time, it's about prestige -- not plunder.

The Historic Charleston Foundation has assembled 70 paintings, ceramics, pieces of furniture, jewelry and metalwork to be featured later this month at the 57th Annual Winter Antiques Show in New York.

The exhibit, expected to be seen by about 25,000 collectors and enthusiasts from around the world, will be novel because it will feature several pieces that have not been previously displayed in public.

Brandy Culp, a curator with the foundation, helped assemble the exhibition and will give one of five lectures about it during the show.

"The point of the exhibit is the level of sophistication and craftsmanship you see in the city from the 18th to the early 19th centuries," she said. "Charleston is known for its consumer base that was very interested in having the latest fashion from abroad."

The exhibit marks only the second time in 17 years that the Winter

Antiques Show's featured collection comes from the South -- and the first time that it comes from a collaboration of institutions, she said.

The featured antiques come from the foundation's collection as well as from Middleton Place Foundation, Drayton Hall, the Charleston Museum and the Gibbes Museum of Art.

"We chose the 'best of,' " Culp said. "This will place the whole of Charleston -- as it comes to fine arts -- on a whole new level."

Culp spent Thursday morning overseeing the painstaking packaging of the antiques for the nearly 800-mile trip.

The first floor of the Nathaniel Russell House was abuzz as workers with the specialty firm Bonsai Fine Arts of Baltimore gently placed each object in a custom-made wooden moving crate lined with foam to ensure a perfect fit.

"They won't even know they're travelling," Culp said of the antiques.

Culp said the pieces making the trip received special conservation and research, and some of them have only recently been discovered.

For instance, it will include a small watercolor painting that is the earliest known image of Drayton Hall, the circa 1740 plantation home on the Ashley River. The watercolor was owned by a Winchester, Va., man who informed Drayton Hall -- now a historic house museum -- of the painting's existence three years ago.

It also will feature a pre-Revolutionary War winged-back or easy chair that was made in Charleston and bought by the foundation a year ago. The chair is one of only 10 known to exist -- and none of the others were in Charleston.

Culp also showed fragments of a tea bowl excavated near Cainhoy -- fragments that the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology has had in its collection for years. However, new research has found that these were made by John Bartlam between 1765 and 1783, making them the oldest surviving soft-paste porcelain made in America.

"Those shards were not overlooked, but they were misunderstood," Culp said.

And the exhibit will include a 19th century Gothic-style fish serving set -- one of only three known to exist in America and the only one in its original box.

"We have an assortment of never before seen or never before widely exhibited, coupled with many old friends," Culp said. "In my mind, it makes a perfect mix."

The Historic Charleston Foundation defrayed much of its costs with private donations and support from the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Ultimately, organizers hope the exhibit and its catalog increase awareness about the quality of Charleston's early decorative arts and craftsmanship -- and that this in turn helps the foundation raise money for its ongoing efforts to acquire and conserve notable antiques with a Lowcountry link.

"We've lost so many things that could have been in this exhibit," Culp said.

The Charleston exhibit has been in the works for a year, but it will last only 10 days. Then -- unlike the silver, jewelry and other art looted from the Lowcountry after the war -- the items will return safe and sound.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.