Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It's the holidays...

Hence the embarrassingly long time since our last post.

A big part of what we have talked about for the past couple of years has been value. Seriously, beyond just about anything else, antiques offer solid value. For a very reasonable price, you can purchase a well-designed, well-made, American-made, sturdy, useful antique that will offer you years of beauty and use and still be worth something when you are ready to let it go. In America's current consumer environment, you just can't find that very easily. Ultimately, we firmly believe that it's this value and this quality that have the most potential to revitalize the antiques business.

To that end, you should read Ellen Ruppel Shell's Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture. Beyond being simply a diatribe against WalMart's treatment of its employees, it's an enlightening expose' of the dark side of America's bargain-priced consumer culture--from Woolworth's and the dawn of discount pricing to the sweatshops of 21st-century China. What's most revealing are the studies she discusses that point to an innate desire that we humans have for "a good deal," but that most of the purchases we make thinking they are good deals really aren't (but we all know that already, don't we?).

As those of us in the business look towards a new, and hopefully prosperous, year, let's focus some of our sales talk on quality and value. Let's face it, conspicuous consumption is so 1990s, and in today's economy, we NEED to be talking value and about getting the most for your money. This is the kind of attitude that will allow us to reach beyond our normal market (e.g. collectors) and connect with folks who just want stylish and affordable stuff to live with.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

It's all about quality...

As you'll read in our next column, we like antiques because of their quality. Today's economy is all about low prices, but if you think about it, you'll quickly realize that low prices are not really a good thing. Don't believe us? Check out THIS.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Time to be Thankful...

It's 2 days until Thanksgiving, which means that the stores have had their Christmas displays up for about a month. It's also auction week for me (Andrew). Friday and Saturday Garth's is having its 49th Annual Thanksgiving Weekend Auction. It's a good sale, lots of fun things, from painted furniture to ship's binnacles. Certainly the auction and the non-turkey dinner (we are vegetarians) are occupying our time, but we still always take a little time to be thankful. We are thankful that, in this economy, we still have jobs in a business that relies largely on discretionary income. In fact, we are especially thankful because it's a darn great business. We get to interact with fascinating objects and equally fascinating people each and every day.

So...have a great Thanksgiving. And since you have some time off, spend it looking at your favorite dealer's or auctioneer's website. Perhaps there will be something nifty that you just can't live without!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Antiques for holiday gifts?

Yep, now that the Halloween jack-0-lanterns are just starting to collapse on themselves, it is now officially time to think about the holidays. Lights and trees are up everywhere, and Jingle Bells can be heard at nearly every retail establishment.

Anyone out there giving an antique as a holiday gift? Or usually receive an antique as a gift? Hollie and I usually include antiques in our gift giving. Last year, my lovely wife got me a wonderful folk art frame from David Good (that is currently hanging on the wall above me). And several years ago, I purchased entirely antiques...for everyone in the family. Nothing I gave that year was less than 100 years old. Just small things...trinkets really, but the response was great.

Think about antiques as gifts. Know a young person who likes art and/or history? You can find them very neat antiques for less than $50. Try it and see if you can't hook them!

Monday, November 9, 2009

A busy couple of weeks!

Once again, I (Andrew) must apologize for the delay in posting. On October 31, Garth's had a firearms and militaria auction. It was a screamer, I'm pleased to say. We exceeded the high estimate of the sale by 10% and sold guns to buyers around the globe. It was a truly exceptional collection of early weapons and we were pleased to have been able to offer them. (BTW...we're not done with this collection yet!) Two strong sales in a row for Garth's...and Skinner's sale this past weekend was a good one. Methinks the market is on the upswing!

Then, last week, it was off to Delaware for Hollie and I. We did the Winterthur paintings conference and the Delaware Antiques Show. It's always a little like going home whenever we are in northern Delaware. Saw some old friends (both objects AND people) and made some new ones. I learned some nifty things in the conference workshops and we saw plenty of sales happening at the show. And we had a great time at dinner with friends at Jessop's Tavern in New Castle.

And so ends our travel for 2009, aside from the usual family visits at the holidays. It's been a busy year...over 20,000 miles on the road. We look forward to about 2 months off from travel, but I must admit...I'm already getting excited for Americana Week in New York!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

New domain name!

We are pleased to announce that we have made this blog more "official" by giving it a new name: www.youngantiquecollectors.com. Update your links and bookmarks! (Don't worry...your links and bookmarks to www.youngantiquescollectors.blogspot.com will still work.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Coming in February 2010...

We are pleased to announce that we will be participating in the festivities surrounding the Heart of Country antiques show in Nashville, Tennessee February 18-20. Stay tuned for more details...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Why do you collect?

Everyone collects for different reasons. A while back, we offered an encyclopedia of sorts of the various types of collectors out there. From trophy hunters to bargain hunters, we covered them all. Of course, that was tongue-in-cheek (sort of). There are, in reality, a wide range of reasons that folks collect, and why you collect is, in many ways, as important as what you collect. In fact, we believe that you should think long and hard about why you collect, or want to collect. Knowing the why can help you better develop the what and can help make collecting more enjoyable.

For example, I (Andrew) am a history collector. In other words, I look for objects that have a story, a known past, a connection to an important event or person. Or I look for objects that help me fill in a piece of the puzzle in my research--identifying a stenciled motif on a Midwestern German blanket chest or a type of inlay on a southern Ohio chest of drawers.

Hollie, on the other hand, is more of an aesthetic collector. She looks for objects that, quite simply, she likes to look at. Age, origin, etc. don't matter as much to her, so long as she likes how it looks. She regularly tells me that our house would look a whole lot different if she were filling it by herself. From William Gedney photographs to Vermont painted furniture, Hollie wants to live with things that make her smile just to look at them.

In my work at Garth's, I usually try to determine why a potential consignor collected what they did. It can help me establish a good rapport with them, and often makes the consignment process more enjoyable for all involved.

In our upcoming firearms and militaria auction, there is a collection of 20th century items (uniforms, patches, buttons, etc.) that come from a central Ohio collector. Honestly, it's not big dollar stuff...not the rarest stuff, but I was immediately struck by the encyclopedic nature of it. There are complete field AND dress uniforms from WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Additionally, there is a darn near complete collection of headgear (helmets and hats). Hundreds of patches, dozens of medals and badges, and, though some might not like it, a thorough assemblage of Nazi armbands. Clearly this is a collection that was put together carefully and thoughtfully. But, of course, I wondered why?

As it turns out, the collector was an addict. Fortunately, he got help and completed his 12 steps and got sober. But he found that he needed to keep himself occupied to stay that way. So, he threw himself into collecting 20th century American militaria. Flea markets, surplus stores, antique shops...a patch here, a helmet there, probably never spent more than $100 at a shot. But over the years, he amassed an impressive collection. But now, 20-some odd years later, he's still sober and has decided to move on and sell his collection.

The "why" of collecting is different for each collector, just like the "what" is. And that's okay. If we all collected the same things for the same reasons, auctions and shows would be pretty boring. Diversity is a good thing; it keeps the marketplace interesting. And an ever-widening range of motives for collecting can only help bring more collectors to shows and auctions. And that's a very good thing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Deerfield...a Review.

We've said it before--the ADA Deerfield Antiques Show is probably our favorite show. That it always falls near our anniversary and that it takes place in the fall in New England certainly both contribute to that. Deerfield generally has about 50 dealers, which means that it's small-ish, manageable, and even intimate. And those 50 or so dealers are some of the best in the nation so you are sure to see some great stuff. But (there is always a but, but this time it's a good but)...but it's not New York. It's not Philadelphia. It's not what you could call "the big dance." That means that the prices are not like those in NY or Philly. We saw great things well into six figures, but we also saw things for less than $100. How cool is that?

This year, we added a number of stops (mostly consignment pickups for Garth's), so the trip was long....Wednesday through early Monday. Pickups in western PA, coastal Mass, and central CT, stops in VT (that included a stop at the Bennington Museum, one of the best little museums around - more on that soon...), and, of course, a couple of nights at our favorite inn in Amherst (The Purple Gables, though we've already booked it for next year, so don't even try!). We logged something like 2000 miles, and we finally arrived at home Monday morning at 4:00 am. Did we mention that we were driving a big honking van AND dragging a big trailer the whole way?

We also tried, for the first time, the Deerfield Tavern Night. Fortunately, they had some great chocolate treats, otherwise dinner would have been a bit of a disappointment...but not necessarily their fault...being vegetarians, buffets are always hard for us, especially with just one side dish. Great rum punch, though. And a wonderful time getting to know Arvin, Fran, and Christopher, a young family from Long Island who were newbies to the show.

But back to the show. We only had time for a precious few hours there, but it was enough to offer the following summation: things were selling! As we've noted for the past 12 months, those dealers that are trying to be economy-friendly by bringing interesting stuff that is priced reasonably are making sales. Heck, Gary Ludlow and Ted Fuehr were even selling brown furniture!

But those dealers who are still setting up the same booths with the same prices from 2004 tend to sit alone and grump about it.

A few of our favorite things were a great VT painted tall clock offered by Jewett and Berdan, some great boxes from David Good and Sam Forsythe, and Steve Powers had a wonderful series of drawings by a 19th century West Virginian who had relocated to southern Ohio (since H. is from WV and A. from OH, it was, of course, a fav from the show). Our good friend, Sumpter Priddy, as always, had some neat stuff, including a wonderful MD carved piecrust tea table (okay, it was one of the top prices there...it was slightly more than we spent on our house, but it was gorgeous).

Folks, the market is alive, and, we think, has turned a corner, or at least is peeking around a corner. Auctions have been good lately, and the Deerfield Show saw many happy collectors leaving with bags and loaded vehicles.

We'll be at the Delaware Show in November, and if you're in the Midwest, the Ohio Country Show is this Saturday...great show with something for everyone.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Young Collector Movement is growing...

In my (Andrew's) daily meanderings on the web, I encountered a Detroit-related blog that profiled The Butcher's Daughter Gallery, a contemporary art gallery in Detroit. I know what you're thinking...Detroit? It's financially depressed...who's buying art? Is the art made from unsold car parts?

Okay, sure, maybe Detroit has suffered more than many other major cities in the current economy, but there is plenty of art and plenty of culture...and plenty of collectors. At Garth's, we get a healthy amount of consignments from the Detroit metro area, including some fantastic stuff (such as the Randau Collection that we sold last Thanksgiving). Let's remember, legendary dealer Jess Pavey had his shop in Birmingham, just outside of Detroit.

So, Monica Bowman (MA from Georgetown and she completed the Sotheby's Institute) decided to open a contemporary art gallery in Detroit. And she seems to be doing well. And we're pleased as punch.

Perhaps what I like best about her gallery (which, I should point out, I have not visited...yet), is her philosophy and her attitude. She caters to collectors at all levels (art from $50-$5,000, in her words, "Not all art speaks to all people, but sensible prices do"). She has a young collector program that allows newbies to pay over time for purchases. And she values value, she doesn't sell commodities, she sells art that enriches your life.

What really struck me is that she views art as an investment, not a financial one, but rather an investment in yourself and in your community. And on her blog, she goes further, "You buy art to become a better person, not a richer one."

We need more of this attitude in the antiques and art marketplace. Collectors who are collecting things they love and things they can live with, and dealers who seek out lovers of antiques and art and help them fill their homes with collections they can live with. Let's return to the days when you heard "oos" and "aahhhs" at auctions and shows, rather than "ka-ching!"

Sunday, September 13, 2009


We received this addition to our glossary via email:

Southern: adj. Used to describe an object that has a slight bit of quirkiness, the location of which cannot be determined. Also used when there is a desire to place more emphasis on an object (usually a one drawer work table or other such non-descript piece) in hopes of creating more interest. Usually used in conjunction with the word “probably”. Synonyms: Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia. See also: Ohio/Indiana.

Thanks Robert!

To read the entire glossary, click here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sorry we were MIA...it was auction week.

The economy is alive and well, at least in Delaware, Ohio. Garth's Annual Labor Day Auction was a blazing success...about 700 lots, over $800,000 in sales. Top lot was this:

Navajo Horse Race by Frank Tenney Johnson (California, 1874-1939), sold for $196,250. Click HERE to hear the bidding.

Guns were also attracting huge interest. Part 1 of a southern collection of firearms and edged weapons, estimated to bring about $50,000-70,000, brought $170,000. More of these to come later this fall.

It's almost time for Deerfield!! Anyone going to be there?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Take this survey!

It'll only take 5 minutes and it's completely anonymous. Help us gather a bit if info on collectors!

Click HERE to take Andrew & Hollie's Antiques Survey.

And please feel free to pass this link on to your friends and colleagues, or post it to your own blog or site!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A New Trend?

Apparently being an auctioneer is cool and hip (or we'll say "phat" to those under 35). In the past few months, three new auction firms have sprung up, and their names are very familiar.

In June, Thomas Schwenke, noted dealer of American Federal antiques, held the inaugural sale at Woodbury Auction, LLC in Woodbury, Connecticut. Five hundred lots from various consignors, and it looks like the results were good...a Charles II japanned desk-and-bookcase leading the way at just over $23,000.

Then, this past week, we see two announcements, one from Krause Publications, publishers of Antique Week, that they'll be morphing their live auction platform, Collect.com, into an auction firm, with their first auction scheduled for November 5. Also, MAD just posted an article on the May 2010 premier of Leigh Keno Auctions. Keno, veteran Americana dealer and PBS star, announced the auction company will sell anything and everything over $100.

With the current market, it may seem an odd time to start an auction company, but there is logic here. First, there is the ever-important cash flow. Dealers and trade papers have bills that need paid every month, so they need a reliable and regular flow of revenue to meet these expenses. A decline in print subscriptions or a string of shows with slow sales, and it can get tough. With auctions, you know that revenue will be coming in because the antiques will sell and you'll get commission dollars.

Additionally, these folks are capitalizing on what they see as opportunities. Antique Week is read by thousands of folks every week and they already have the technology in place for online auctions, so actually running auctions might be seen as the logical next step. For Mssrs. Keno and Schwenke, auctions might be a way to turn "no thank yous" into income. Because of their reputations, each probably gets hundreds of calls each year from folks wanting to sell single items or entire collections/estates. These guys deal in high-end stuff and thus probably only buy a teeny tiny fraction of what's offered to them. However, by offering an auction venue, they might be able to convert a high percentage of these calls to consignments, and thus commission dollars.

So...will these new ventures be successful? Too soon to tell, and there will be great challenges. Antique Week is likely to hear from their advertisers, many of whom are auctioneers who will now see the weekly trade paper as direct competition. Will AW continue to offer great ad spots to their subscribers/advertisers? Or will their own auctions take over the center spread of the National Section? Will Keno and Schwenke be able to maintain two busy schedules (that of a dealer, with shows and shop hours, and that of an auctioneer)? Will they be able to maintain consignment flow after the novelty of their venture has worn off? The competition for quality consignments is cut-throat, and it may be hard for a new firm, even with their venerable names, to compete long-term with the trusted names of Skinner, Northeast, Eldred's, Pook, Doyle, and others, including of course, Garth's.

We wish them all luck, and look forward to reporting on them as their auction businesses develop.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Back from New England...

Five days and about 1,500 miles. That's a long trip. We saw lots of this:

It's a good thing we like each other because we spend countless hours on roads like this.

But take another look at the photo...beautiful scenery, no? Sure, a few gray clouds in the sky, and the orange signs signify that construction headaches may be coming, but we like to think more positively. This is a beautiful stretch of road...but what's just around that bend may be even better.

What's this have to do with collecting antiques? Plenty. We went to New Hampshire with a healthy amount of optimism. Maybe we still have a while yet in this recession, but the marketplace has shown some signs of an upward swing of late. And we weren't disappointed - New Hampshire has bolstered our optimism. Dealers were selling and prices at the Northeast and Skinner auctions bracketing the week were good.

What we found most interesting is something we've seen at other shows the past 12 months or so. Prices are down. We know that they are at auctions, but they are at shows, too. Dealers, at least those who want to make sales, are adjusting their prices. And it's working!

We don't expect prices (at auction or at shows) to return to what they were 5-10 years ago. But that's okay. In fact, it's good. (We even had one dealer express relief that prices have come down because "things were getting out of hand and unaffordable" for a while.) We're in a place where we need to attract new collectors, and it will be much easier with lower prices. Let's face it, if you're telling young folks that they should collect, it's hard to convince them if they need a big bank account. Now, it's possible to buy very good antiques at very reasonable prices. We, as dealers and auctioneers, could, and should, start talking about value when we talk about the antiques we sell. If you're talking to someone who needs a place to store their skivvies, you can talk to them about getting the most for their money. How about a new slogan: Antiques. Better style. Better value.

So let's look at bends in the road with some hopefulness. Even if the orange signs mean stop-and-go-traffic for a while, it might allow you to enjoy the scenery for a change.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Glimmer of Hope....

Andrew here...and I've been very busy. A successful auction last weekend, and a slew of consignment pickups. Could this mean that the market is starting to climb out of the pit we've been in? Probably too soon to say now, but it's allowing me to go into Manchester weeks with a bit of optimism.

Stay tuned....

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

FYI: Protecting Consignors

Last month, Clayton Pennington's editorial in Maine Antique Digest urged auction houses to help protect consignors through the use of escrow accounts and the requiring of internet bidders to leave credit card numbers in order to leave bids. Both are good ideas.

The use of escrow accounts for consignors is proscribed under Ohio auction law. All payments from auction buyers in Ohio must be deposited by the auctioneer into an escrow account and that account cannot be used for anything else by the auctioneer. In fact, co-mingling of funds (mixing the auctioneer's money with auction proceeds) is one of the deadly sins an Ohio auctioneer can commit that will often get his or her license immediately suspended or revoked. This is good policy that helps protect consignors, and, frankly, all states should require the use of escrow accounts.

Requiring a credit card on internet bids, or regular absentee bids for that matter, is also wise, but doesn't necessarily solve the problem. Andrew had an experience when he worked for an auction firm in Cincinnati that illustrates this. A remote buyer bids on, and buys, a porcelain figure in an auction. Thirty days pass, two invoices are sent, and no payment has been received, so the buyer's credit card is charged for the purchase price and shipping and the item is sent. Within a week, notice was received from the credit card company that the buyer is claiming fraud (the figure was allegedly damaged and that damaged was not disclosed before bidding) and the moneys have been refunded to them. So...now the buyer has the item and the money.

You see, organizations like banks, the post office, UPS, etc. etc. simply do not understand antiques or how the antiques business operates (have you ever tried to explain to FedEx that they could pay to have the item fixed, but it's still worth less because now it's repaired???). In this case, the figure had a factory flaw that was described in the condition report, but the person at the bank didn't know the difference between a factory flaw, a crack, or a chip, so they immediately believed the buyer and refunded their money, and left the auction house hanging. Andrew did end up getting the item back, but after two months of arguing with the bank, appealing their decision, and hounding the buyer.

This is the flaw in the use of credit cards as "security" against deadbeat bidders: it's simply too easy for someone who is determined not to pay to actually just not pay. Use a bad credit card number (does anyone actually confirm card numbers prior to executing bids? And we'll talk later about the expectations of bidders and how frustrating extending deadlines would be if it became necessary to allow time prior to auction for a verification process....), lying about damage or some other issue to get a payment refunded, or had the auction house charged the buyer the purchase price but not shipped it, appealing the charge on the basis of non-receipt. Auction houses are simply at the mercy of the banks who are ignorant of how this process is suppose to work.

What might be a better way to protect consignors, and auction houses, against deadbeat bidders is a national database of non-paying bidders. Let an objective organization, such as the National Auctioneers Association, manage it. If an auctioneer encounters a deadbeat bidder, let him or her submit proof to the organization and that bidder's info gets entered into the database. Auction houses could run checks against the database for bidders new to them. If Joe Deadbeat can no longer register to bid at auctions because he's in the database, then that'll be fewer consignors who get disappointed by not getting paid for their item(s).

Bidders have all sorts of protection against crooked auctioneers (law enforcement, attorney general, auctioneer licensing organization, and, of course, banks), but auctioneers and their consignors have little protection against crooked bidders. And the last thing an auctioneer wants to do, even more than not getting paid, is disappoint a consignor.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Anyone Headed to New England??

As the summer reaches its midpoint, it's time to start thinking about antiquing in New Hampshire. Between Northeast Auctions' annual Summer Americana Auction and the shows in Manchester (and this year, in nearby Marlborough, MA, a sale at Skinner), there loads of great stuff to look at, to learn about, and to buy!

I [Andrew] will be there, visiting friends and colleagues at the shows and previewing the Skinner auction. Sadly, I won't be able to get to the Northeast sale. But, I'm sure I'll see plenty of great stuff.

So, if you find yourself in NH in a few weeks, be on the lookout for a man with no gray hair (i.e., me, a young collector who actually has a little bit of gray). I'll also be picking up some consignments for Garth's fall auctions and I'll be happy to do so for you as well!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

That's more than what I paid....

I (Andrew) hear this a lot. Too much, in fact. When talking with a potential consignor, I often give them my thoughts on what a given object might bring at auction (always subject to further examination and further research, of course). So often, when I say that Joe Consignor's refinished cherry 4-drawer Sheraton chest will probably bring 500-800 at auction, I get, "But I paid more than that twenty years ago." I then, of course, begin lecture number 313, which is on the economics of the ever-changing marketplace and that trends come and go, and that today's marketplace emphasizes different things than the marketplace of the 1980s.

It seems to me that a large number of collectors, when they were building their collections, either assumed, or were told by dealers/auctioneers, that antiques appreciate in value. These collectors are then disappointed by my estimate, and then often again when their things sell.

It can be true that antiques appreciate in value. It can also be true that antiques can depreciate in value. Frankly, I don't believe that anyone can reliably predict what will and will not appreciate. Sure, if you are fortunate enough to be able to buy the very best (best forms, best decoration, best condition, etc. etc. etc.), AND you don't have to pay top retail (say, at the Winter Show in NY), then your collection might have a better-than-average chance of selling for more than you paid. Maybe. Let's not forget about trends. Victorian was all the rage a generation ago. Today...not so much. In the early 2000s, weathervanes were breaking records, but that market has already cooled, and I really don't believe the $6 million Indian weathervane purchased in NY a few years ago will ever achieve that price again.

On one level, this trend frustrates me. As an auctioneer, I feel like I'm getting blamed because the market has changed and someone's stuff isn't worth as much as it once was. But on a more important level, this trends saddens me. These life-long collectors have poured their hearts and souls into their collections, have felt a quickened pulse when "on the hunt" for their next purchase, and smiled every time they looked around their home and the objects that filled it. These folks' last emotion related to their collection is that of disappointment. Folks, that's truly unfortunate. It's hard enough to let go of your lifetime collection. I have had collectors cry when I emptied their house because they know that they will miss the stuff I'm taking to auction. I can appreciate that. I'm going to be like that. But then, for some reason, some of these same collectors seem to forget all the good memories, all the joy, all the passion, and focus only on the dollars and cents, thus the disappointment. Yes, I'm sure it might be a bit of a blow to the ego that the market doesn't "appreciate" your collection like you do. But you know what? No one will appreciate YOUR collection like YOU do. So why worry about it?

I do realize that for some, the financial hit might be troubling. I'm truly sorry for that. And that is why we NEVER encourage anyone to think of their antiques as investments. We want folks to collect because they love the stuff. When we talk to our friends about antiques, we talk about history and art and usefulness and green. Yes, we also talk dollars and cents, but we talk about "retained value," not appreciation or investment.

Living surrounded by history and art...that's why we buy this stuff. And when it's time to sell, we're going to be thankful that we were able to act as stewards for a collection of history and art. If we make money, great; if we don't, we'll consider the loss a small price to pay for the memories. Isn't that why you started collecting in the first place?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Lightening the Load.

Maureen Winer's commentary in this week's Antique Week made a good point. She describes a friend who developed a "habit" of paying for and filling up storage units, costing him both time and aggravation. This is often called hoarding (see previous post on the Collyer brothers (February 2009)) and it's sadly all-too familiar among antiques collectors.

Over the past six years in this biz, we have been in a lot of houses. Many have been pleasantly full of antiques, but we've also seen many that can only be described as "packed, with paths." Rarely do we find a house that we would describe as "sparsely decorated." And what's so sad is that, as a general rule, the folks with the most stuff are the least likely to actually want to sell it. We'd like to say we know someone who regularly complains about not having any money, but is paying for at least five storage units that are filled with antiques, but in reality, we know a lot of someones with this problem! And when some of them do finally send a few things to auction, they often insist on high reserves on everything, many times getting it all back, even when there wasn't enough room for it to begin with. And let's not go into all the fees and expenses related to storing and (attempts at) selling that only increase the amount of money tied up in the something that they still haven't actually gotten rid of! So many of these folks consider themselves dealers, but we have to wonder if they have ever really sold anything. In actuality, they seem like their own best customers!

Based on what we've seen, it's pretty clear that a fairly small number of "collectors" and "dealers" have, over the past 30-40 years, done an enormous amount of buying, perhaps supporting a not-insignificant segment of the middle and lower end of the market all by themselves. Seems like every auction has a guy who'll bid on anything if it gets cheap enough, and we always wonder what this guy's house looks like. We can only imagine....

You want to help move the antiques marketplace along, perhaps help it start its climb out of this slump? Look around your house or shop, pick out 5-10 things, and send them to auction or sell them to a dealer from whom you have purchased over the years. Don't think about what you paid for these things...just sell them. Put them back out there and let them find a new home. You'll be doing a couple of good things. Firstly, as mentioned, you'll be helping the antiques marketplace. Secondly, you'll be lightening your own load. You have enough stuff - honestly, we all do. It might be painful at first, but just let these 5-10 things go. Wish them luck and say goodbye. After a few weeks without them in your home, see if you *really* miss them. You just might find the process of "load lightening" liberating.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Young folks DO like antiques!!

For you curmudgeons who don't think that the younger generation isn't interested in antiques or history, check this out:

We went to Connecticut last weekend for the wedding of a couple of very good friends. The wedding was in an historic barn at the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum in Wethersfield. So, in the midst of a complex of great 18th-century houses, these two 30ish folks got hitched. The needlework embroidery above is their chuppah (marriage canopy in a Jewish wedding), which they made themselves based on a tree of life embroidered picture (made by young Mary King of Philadelphia) at the Winterthur Museum.

Now pay attention...these are your potential young collectors. Why aren't they collecting now? Same as so many 20- and 30-somethings...college debt, tough job market, trying to save a few pennies to start a family or for the long term. We need to spend some serious energy reinvigorating the middle market, because for folks like these (and, frankly, us), that's our entry point into the wonderful world of collecting.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Get involved!

It's been a hectic couple of weeks for us. A friend's wedding in CT, plus several work trips for Andrew have largely kept us away from our digital lives. But we're back.

We just got word that Ohio's governor is proposing a ginormous cut to Ohio library budgets. It may result in as much as a 50% reduction in funding and for many of the state's nearly 300 public libraries, this could spell disaster. Reduced staff, reduced hours, or outright closure...just when library services are so desperately needed. This comes on the heels of the Ohio Historical Society's announcement that if local funding for some of its sites around the Buckeye State isn't obtained, they will be forced to shut those sites down at the end of the month. One of these sites is the Campus Martius Museum...site of the first official settlement in the Northwest Territory, and the place where Andrew cut his teeth on decorative arts research.

We certainly don't want to step up on a political soapbox, and we know that the economy sucks and cuts need to be made....BUT libraries and museums form the foundation for our shared culture and heritage. Without these treasured institutions and their hardworking staff, much of what we collectors, dealers, and auctioneers know about the stuff we buy and sell would not be known. If we, as an industry, are serious about turning young folks on to antiques, then we need to do what we can to support the libraries and museums that get kids and young adults interested in history and in learning. Call your reps and senators, make a donation (of time or money), and, most of all, go and visit your local library, museum, or historical society. Tell them you appreciate what they do!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

More time on the road...

It's a busy time for us. Two auctions in the past three weeks at Garth's, and then this weekend, it was showtime...that is, the Fairhaven Antiques Festival in SW Ohio and the Heartland Show in Richmond, Indiana.

There has been much said about the Fairhaven Show in recent years, mainly about its decline. We were not around for its heyday back in the 1980s, but it's still a damn good show. Small, yes...maybe 50 dealers, but some great stuff. David Good, Sam Forsythe, Clifton Anderson, Steve Powers, Chuck White...when you get these folks together, you're going to see some great Americana. And there are less well-known dealers there with moderately priced objects, and even some folks peddling flea market stuff. There is something for everyone, and the setting is fabulous!

Heartland, though much larger, is similar...some great dealers with great stuff and some smaller dealers with good and varied stuff. We were able to document a couple more examples of Midwestern-German stencil-decorated furniture (www.midwesterngermanfurniture.org), including a great blanket chest with birds.

We think that these types of shows, those with a wide range of offerings, are the best kind for the young collector. Let's face it, NY and Philadelphia are just too intimidating for young collectors. But these smaller shows are a great place for the novice to examine some great things and thus learn, but also go home with a nice thing that is affordable. Note, we said "nice thing" and "affordable". That's what it sounds like when when the middle market is NOT disparaged.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Hooray for the Internet!

Andrew here...just made a great find at an auction in rural Illinois thanks to the Internet. That's right, I found, "examined", and arranged for bidding all online. Clearly, I'm a HUGE fan of the Internet within the antiques business. In fact, as we've been talking about getting "green," I'm thinking more and more that we may need to do away with auction catalogs. They're pretty and, frankly, very satisfying to put together, but they're becoming increasingly unnecessary. It's a lot of paper to print and a lot of energy to ship. And in the majority of auctions that have a print catalog, you can find every bit of information on that house's website, and in many cases, more information. At work (at 2 different houses), I have long maintained that we don't print the catalogs to sell the stuff (the marketing machine is far larger than the printed catalog), but rather to sell our services to potential consignors. Personally, I have bid in numerous auctions around the country, but only regularly received 2 auctions catalogs. Sure, there are times I'd love to get the big glossy NY catalogs at home, but really, they'd just end up in the recycling bin in 2 weeks anyway, so why get them?

What do you think?

BTW...the blanket chest I purchased at Fricker Auctions is below. Made in northern Indiana, likely in a Mennonite community and by a maker who has some connection to Soap Hollow, Pennsylvania.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Whew, what a week!

We've been absent for a while, but we have a good excuse: many road trips and auction week at Garth's.

Two of our road trips took us to Cincinnati. Last Friday, we headed there to the Queen City Club for the season finale dinner/lecture of the Decorative Arts Society of Cincinnati. We've been members of that group for years, but now that we don't live in Cincy, we don't get there very often. But the speaker was our good friend Sumpter Priddy, so we simply couldn't miss this one. As is usually the case, Sumpter talked of Southern furniture. And he wowed them. It's always fun to be at a lecture when the folks in the chairs have little exposure to the topic at hand--there are often audible gasps, ooohs, and aaaahs. Sumpter's talk was no different when he threw images of great Southern things on the screen, such as the Martin Pfeninger bookcase viewable here. In our minds, this rivals the Newport desk-and-bookcases in terms of design and execution.

Our second trip to Cincinnati started as a trip to Kentucky, but was cut short. Be sure to read our next column for more about our morning spent at Main Auction Galleries, Ohio's oldest auction house.

Then, this past week was auction week at Garth's...the 3rd annual Ohio Valley Auction. Some of the surprises included a segration-era, cast-iron drinking fountain sign that sold for over $7,000, and a blown and cut glass compote that brought over $5,000 (catalogued as Anglo-Irish, but some thought early Bakewell of Pittsburgh). Keep an eye out for Don Johnson's review in an upcoming issue of Maine Antique Digest.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Hooray for versatile furniture forms! Yesterday, we decided that we just haven't had enough to do lately what with trips all over the state and an auction preview, so we thought we'd reorganize the house. With new furniture from a big box store, there's no way you'd be able to move many pieces of furniture out of your bedroom and into your living room. Perhaps it's partly that with antiques, it just seems more acceptable - after all, if you're going to collect pre-1850 furniture, you're going to have a hard time finding a coffee table and people are kind of expecting you to come up with an alternative, but antique pieces also lend themselves willingly to wearing all sorts of different hats.

Empty the stepback cupboard in the dining room, unloading china, candlesticks, and tapers, and haul it upstairs to the bedroom, where it suddenly becomes a bookshelf/linen cupboard. Shift a piesafe into the same position, fill the lower shelves with china and stuff the upper shelves full of towels. Take the linens out of the linen press and - ta da! - you can fit a Cuisinart, griddle, stand mixer and all sorts of kitchen paraphenalia into it.

Perhaps because we have such a small space, we're very appreciative of this. We've often looked around our little house and wondered how non-antique people could live here. We're constantly emptying yarn and knitting needles out of a blanket chest only to move it over by the stove and fill it with stove pellets or sticking a quilt on the back of an extra windsor from the dining room and poking it into a living room corner to serve as a seat for visitors. It's nice to be freed from constraints about what forms go where and how they can be used. Case pieces are essentially big wooden boxes and there are no rules about where they can go or what you can put in them, and many antique chairs are just that - chairs - and you can put them wherever someone needs to sit.

Okay, around our house, there are a few rules, because taking things upstairs means hauling them up a ladder into a loft. This morning, we're going to get a chestnut cupboard up the ladder (mercifully, it's two pieces), but if we don't post by Wednesday or Thursday, someone should probably come looking for us....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Green it up with FSC-certified paper!

Whether printing business cards, auction catalogs, or promotional materials, many printers offer paper that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Obviously, using 100% recycled paper is best, but that is not always an option, and FSC-certified paper is a very good, and very green, way to go. Paper that is certified by the FSC has been manufactured utilizing trees that were grown using responsible and sustainable methods. Additionally, the FSC-certified paper your printer uses can be tracked back to the source, so that you can know where your paper comes from! For more information, visit the Forest Stewardship Council. (http://www.fscus.org/faqs/what_is_certification.php)

We noted in our current column that Andrew’s employer, Garth’s Auctions, not only uses FSC-certified paper, but also moved to a slightly smaller catalog format that allows them to use considerably less paper. Andrew just learned that Garth’s has taken another small step by moving to paper that is 50% recycled (25% post-consumer content). This “small” step will, over the course of a year, save:

238 trees

56,000,000 BTUs of engery

7,400 pounds of CO2 emissions

38,000 gallons of water

3,605 pounds of solid waste

We don’t put this out there to brag about one of the companies who helps us pay our mortgage, but merely to show that it really isn’t that hard to make a difference. Something as simple as choosing paper can really help the antiques industry “walk the walk” when it comes to being green!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Power of Positive Rethinking

Let's face it, the antiques business is generally not one of rapid change. And we suppose that makes sense as it is an industry based on the buying and selling of "traditional" things. But it does appear that the current economy is forcing some folks to rethink how they do business. Recently, in the New York Times ("Shrinking the Art of Selling Fine Art", May 1, by Carol Vogel), it was revealed how Christie's and Sotheby's were looking to retool their catalogues as a way to save money (Sotheby's is even mailing thumb drives containing digital versions of their catalogs!). Auction catalogues have been getting larger, "sexier," and more expensive over past ten years and reducing the size and pushing e-catalogues is certainly a good place to start saving money (and it's greener, as you'll find out in our upcoming column in Maine Antique Digest).

But we like to think that this recent move is representative of a larger industry trend: change. Change is good, folks, and it's necessary to maintain a healthy business. The antiques industry has been doing business the same way for a very long time, and as a result, has seen its collector base age and dwindle, putting its long-term viability in real question.

We need to rethink how we do things, from the ways we evaluate and price objects, to the methods we use to market them, and even how we present ourselves to the non-antique-buying public. We hope that we have put some good ideas out there in the pages of MAD over the past twenty or so issues (see our full archive here), and over the next few months, we'll be talking more about how we, as an industry, can do things a little differently. Meanwhile, let us hear from you - do you have ideas for change or have you seen changes at work and making a difference?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Furniture Forum and the Philly Shows

Unfortunately, Hollie was unable to join me for this trip, so instead, I was accompanied by Jeff Jeffers, the fearless leader (well, 1 of 2) of Garth's Auctions.

Because of the landmark exhibition Harbor and Home (see previous post), the annual Furniture Forum at the Winterthur Museum was moved from its usual early March to mid-April, so that the exhibition could be open. And conveniently enough, it also corresponded with the Philadelphia and the Armory Antique Shows. What a week!

Forum is only two days long, but is chockablock full of intellectual stimulation. Many great lectures by some of the leading furniture experts in the country. This year, appropriately enough, FF was focused on coastal New England furniture. Lecturers included Brock Jobe, Derin Brey, Jack O'Brien, and Gary Sullivan, all from the H&H team, as well as other experts, such as Kemble Widmer, Dennis Carr, Tom Kugelman, and others. Frankly...wow. My brain was full. And the exhibition....was fantastic. If you can get to Winterthur or the Nantucket Historical Association during its run, then you should go.

We managed to squeeze in some good food, a trip through the Winterthur collections, and a visit to my favorite museum space, the Brandywine Museum in Chadds Ford, PA.

Then, it was north to the Navy Yard for the opening preview of the Big Show. Perhaps a smaller crowd than previous years, but I saw some red stickers. I also saw some reasonable prices...something you don't usually see at the Philly Show. Seems that some dealers are really working hard to make some sales...and that's good for everyone.

At FF, Jeff and I enjoyed spending some time with our fellow auction house reps, Steve Fletcher and LaGina Austin from Skinner in Boston. LaGina worked for Garth's a while back, so it was good to reconnect. And at the Philly Show, Jeff and I met up with our newest team member, Kelly Seltzer, formerly of Pook and Pook in Downingtown, PA (Kelly does our catalog and ad design, as well as some marketing work). So, after the Big Show, Jeff, Steve, LaGina, Kelly, and I went for dinner at a little restaurant on Walnut Street (and, interestingly enough, on the street outside the restaurant, we ran into Ron Bourgeault (Northeast Auctions) and Bill Stahl (Sotheby's)...small world). Here is a photo of us...just goes to show that despite the fact that we compete for the same collections, we are colleagues who respect each other and are friendly. Just one of the great things about this business!!

Saturday was the Armory Show, a small show with an even smaller crowd. Didn't see that many red stickers there, but plenty of great stuff at reasonable prices. Folks...seriously...it's a great time to buy. Get out there. Go to auctions. Go to shows.

I sought out younger folks at the Forum and the shows....FF had plenty, many of whom were students at one of Winterthur's two graduate programs, but there were other young scholars. Saw a few at the shows, but not as many as I'd like. So, next time you go to a show or auction, invite a younger person. Get them interested in the stuff!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Reading, Writing and Researching

We've been awfully quiet for the past week or so. Sorry for the long silence, but Andrew is about to stagger over the finish line for a catalogue deadline, and then he promises to tell you all about his trip east for Winterthur's Furniture Forum and the Philadelphia shows.

Meanwhile, I've been working a little on our transcription project. Joshua Shipman was one of the early settlers in Marietta, Ohio, and his name kept popping up during Andrew's thesis research. We were so disappointed to discover that although the Washington County Public Library had a Shipman document, it was just what appeared to be the front page of his daybook. But, while combing through a box of miscellaneous papers related to early Marietta history, Andrew came across a daybook and thought, "Hmm. This seems to be about the same size as that Shipman page." A comparison immediately revealed that he was right and in one of those magic research moments, this daybook transformed into an important resource.

Shipman's daybook, which covers the years of 1796 to 1803, shows what a booming town Marietta was. In the first three years or so, he produced over 70 pieces of furniture, some of them very specific forms. It also shows what diversity was necessary to earn a living - a talented cabinetmaker, Shipman also records entries for fence-building, pulleys for the ship industry, and renting out oxen. We're hoping that a complete transcription and study of the daybook will offer some insight into the life of the average frontier cabinetmaker as well as shed some light on how hard settlers worked to create a sense of civilization through stylish homes.

Every time we start a project, I discover all over again how fascinating it is to rummage around in the documentary record and try to construct lives for people. Especially with research centering around an early small town, it seems that you often start to feel as though you know the people. Their names certainly become familiar, and somehow, I find myself able to recite the names of more people living in Marietta in 1790 than living in Sunbury in 2009. You start to build hopes for them, these people that you can never truly know and, more importantly, these people whose fates have long been sealed, to feel sad when you see an entry in Shipman's daybook for a child's coffin or to feel a kinship when you see inventories with more books than chairs.

Research is one of the most life-affirming things I've ever done - seeing the continuity of human hopes and experiences, the way we all struggle to carve out a space for ourselves or to feather our nests a little more comfortably. With the nation struggling in such a fashion, I find it comforting to look back, to remember the terrible shape America was in immediately after the Revolution, with debts and political rifts and uncertainty, and to know that in the microcosm of a little muddy Ohio River town, people were still going about the business of living: treasuring books, fixing up their homes, working hard to support their families. Life does, in fact, go on.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Movin' on up...

We were very pleased to notice that our column has been given a rather nice spot on the Maine Antique Digest website. You can read ALL of our past columns here. Read there, comment here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Saga of Scooter and Hammie

So, a couple years ago, Garth's had this little stuffed toy dog for sale. He's pug-like, with a smooshed little face, shoe-button eyes, a nose that bears a resemblance to a piece of electrical tape, and a little curled tail. He was part of a lot of three small toys, but Andrew noticed him immediately. He's hard not to notice, since he's very well-made, neatly pieced - and he has chair casters whip-stitched to his feet. Every catalogue or so, something comes along that delights the staff, and this little brown dog spent a lot of time in the cataloguing room. They named him Scooter.

Of course, we wanted Scooter to come live with us and were hoping frantically that we could work out something with the person who would buy him. We can't bid at Garth's, part of a long-standing company policy, but fortunately, on the day of the sale, the lot was picked up by a dealer for $125. Andrew was taking a break from the auction block at the time and had a moment to run over and ask if we could buy him from her. She did some quick math and said we could have him for the reasonable price of $81. To this day, she tells Andrew that if she'd actually gone back to pick Scooter up before he asked, she'd never have sold him for that price - he's just that cute.

So, Scooter came to live with us in the schoolhouse. We took a picture of him and sent it off to Andrew's Winterthur classmates, because they'd heard so much about him. Almost immediately, we got a message back from Sarah Woodman, who is working at the Kern County Museum in Bakersfield, California. Turns out Scooter has an identical brother living in California! Not much is known about him, except that he was donated by Mrs. Hillman Arms and won a dog show in San Francisco in 1888 when entered by a Mr. Lechner who was unable to get there with a "real" dog. Who knows - early days for San Francisco, so maybe they didn't have many dogs to choose from? As you can see, he's virtually identical to Scooter - same casters, same tail, even the same ears with one tacked down and one loose. (Photo below appears courtesy of the Kern County Museum.)

Needless to say, we were delighted. What are the odds that someone we know would be working in a facility with Hammie and recognize him? Plus, Scooter has family! And we were puzzled. According to the textiles folks we know, Scooter and Hammie are too early to have come from a pattern for a child's toy, as they weren't being published in magazines at the time. But they're so much alike, it would seem they were made by the same person. And how did Hammie end up all the way out in California while Scooter stayed here in the Midwest?

Questions aside, Scooter settled in and we promised to take him to visit his brother the next time we go to California. Then, this winter, a friend came to visit and was only too pleased to show us her copy of The All-American Dog: Man's Best Friend in Folk Art, a catalogue from a 1978 exhibition at the Museum of American Folk Art. And who did we see? Scooter! He's so modest, he never even let on, but it's definitely him right down to the tiny little separation at the seam on his nose. So, not only did Hammie travel to California, win a dog show, and end up in a museum, but Scooter apparently was in New York, exhibited in a museum and wandered west to Ohio. Apparently, you can really get around on chair casters!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Reliability of Information...

We've decided to take this discussion from the comments section of our "More on the Middle Market" post to the top because we feel it's important. Thanks James!!

James suggested that perhaps young folks are not getting involved in antiques because they don't want to buy at auction for fear of the auction house giving them incorrect or misleading information. This is a complex issue, but we'll start by stating that having been in this business for years, we believe the vast majority of auction houses, auctioneers, and dealers to be as honest as the day is long. That being said, there certainly is loads of bad information out there. Most of this bad information, such as a southern "huntboard" being dragged outside during a hunt and dead game being flopped onto it, is the result of a lack of knowledge--some folks just don't read the sources and do the research. And yes, sometimes that information is perpetuated dishonestly...to make something sell for more money being the principal reason.

With regards to James's specific issue about an attribution being made by an auction house based on flimsy evidence, Andrew can speak from first-hand experience. He regularly catalogs objects that come to him with some sort of attribution. If he believes that the attribution is just plain wrong, he doesn't include it. But if it's possibly correct, then he includes it. If questioned about that attribution, he'll be honest and say that the information came from the consignor and he thought it possible but couldn't find anything to substantiate it further. This does 2 things. Firstly, it keeps potentially important information with that object. Maybe that attribution is weak now, but more research down the road may help firm it up. If you delete that attribution, then it's gone. Secondly, it's a service and liability issue. As an auctioneer, Andrew has a fiscal and legal obligation to his consignor. And he wants to give them good service. To ignore a consignor's opinion about their antiques, unless you can absolutely refute it, isn't good service (provided you are honest with potential bidders about the evidence, or lack thereof). More importantly, let's say Andrew drops an attribution on a decorated chest. If that chest sells for a few hundred dollars and then a year later is determined to be by the decorator it had been attributed to, and it sells for thousands, then in some jurisdictions (auction law varies by state), there may be some liability. James--we'd be the rather vague answer to your question about that chest's attribution was that auction house's way of saying, "We couldn't discount that maker, but we really can't support it either." Yes, this puts the burden on you, the buyer, and I'm sure that is daunting to a neophyte. That's why Andrew always encourages folks to ask quesions, engage him in dialogue about anything in an upcoming auction. He will give you bluntly honest answers so that you are happy with your purchase and so that you'll come back. If you don't like the answers you got to your question, press them. If you are bidding from a distance, you should expect any auctioneer to be willing to be your eyes and ears about what your are bidding on. And if you have any doubts, don't bid!

We should point out that these issues don't just apply to traditional brick-and-mortar auction houses. Andrew buys alot on eBay and he knows the questions to ask. Most folks who have incorrectly identified something made an honest mistake and are happy to have it corrected. And we see it at shows, even the big ones. Andrew once sold a GREAT folksy footstool from a southern Indiana collector who bought local stuff and never travelled far afield. So, that footstool was almost certainly from southern Indiana. When we saw it at a show later, however, it was identified as Lancaster Co., PA. Because of our research into Midwestern-German furniture (see www.midwesterngermanfurniture.org), our antennae are up for the stuff, and we regularly see it miscatalogued as PA. An even worse instance (of flimsy evidence and of service) was in NY a couple of years ago. Andrew encountered an interesting decorated blanket chest attributed to Ohio. When he questioned the dealer, the response was a luke-warm, "Oh, they made them out there like that sometimes." Excuse me?? I'm suppose to pay 75K for the thing and that's all you can give me??!!!!

At the end of the day, whether you are a new, 30-something collector, or a veteran collector in your 90s, you should always do your homework, read the books, go to shows and auctions and handle the stuff. And you should buddy up with some dealers and auctioneers that you trust so that when you do encounter something that makes you scratch your head, you have someone from whom you can get a second opinion. And let us volunteer ourselves...if you are a young collector who has a question about something you are considering purchasing, just ask! We'll give you an honest assessment based on the information/photos you can provide.

James, and everyone, as we've said before, we believe that this is a service business. So if you have a question about an antique, about its attribution, or about its condition, ask. And don't let anyone get off with dismissive answer. If we're to attract new folks into the world of antiques, we have to prove to them that it's an honest place to be, and one in which you can really learn. And if you're reading this and you're an auctioneer or dealer, then do your very best to continue to be honest and to give top-notch service.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Please comment! Continue the dialogue!

Folks--we're sorry. Blogger's default setting is to require folks to be registered users in order to post comments. We have corrected this--now ANYONE can comment, even anonymously. We'll still be moderating, but I can't imagine what you would say that we wouldn't post!

So....let's get discussing!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Get Involved!!!

In our upcoming column we talk about the dire straits many museums and libraries find themselves in due to the current recession. And Congress came very close to specifically excluding museums from receiving any of the moneys doled out as part of the recent economic stimulus package. Public institutions like museums and libraries are the repository of our shared culture and we, as collectors, dealers, and auctioneers, need to make it known that we value them. How can you help? Contact your representatives and urge them to help ensure adequate funding! Check out the following sites to find the various elected officials that represent you:

U.S. House of Representatives: https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml

U.S. Senate: http://www.senate.gov

State Governors: http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Governors.shtml

Various other state officials: http://www.votesmart.org/

Sunday, March 22, 2009

February Means Nashville

When we first started in the antiques business, each February there was a veritable Lalapalooza of antiques in Nashville. Heart of Country, Tailgate, and Music Valley...three great shows, in essentially one location, consisting of hundreds of dealers and loads of great stuff. And it always involved a couple of nights at the Opryland Resort, which is, frankly, a real hoot. Now, however, the Nashville shows take place over two weekends and now on opposite sides of town. So, is the magic gone?

Well, certainly Nashville in February isn't quite the "experience" that it use to be. The bright lights of Heart and the bedroom dealing (literally) of Tailgate are still there, but it's a very different set of shows.

First up were the original Jenkins shows, Tailgate and Music Valley, now both at the state fairgrounds. Present were a strong group of dealers, including a number of dealers who had immigrated from the Heart show, and they did bring lots of good stuff. And the good news...many dealers were making sales. Fellow Ohioans David and Carol Swope reported the sale of not one, but three drop-leaf tables (if you've been to an auction recently, you've probably noticed that drop-leaf tables are hard to give away). The healthy number of red stickers proved a happy reminder that things are NOT as bad as the 24/7 barage of doom-and-gloom news would have you believe.

Two weeks later, it was time for Heart of Country, as well as Fiddlers, a new show attempting to take the place of Tailgate (formerly held at the Fiddlers Inn). Honestly, we weren't expecting much...Heart had about 50 dealers and Fiddlers not too many more. Though much smaller, the quality of Heart was as good as any other year, and it included many new faces, as well as some old friends. One long-time Heart dealer reported more sales than ever before. Granted, he brought different and less expensive antiques than he is known for, but you can't argue with sales! He seemed to prove once again that the dealers who are adaptive and economy friendly are still selling (in other words, if you are trying to cling to your 1998 business model, you are probably not enjoying life in the trade these days).

Probably the highlight was our discovery of a rare eastern Ohio watercolor fraktur in the booth of a couple of Virginia collectors. When we spied it from across the floor, it had no price. The booth was staffed by show promoter Pat Garthoeffner, who was busy with her own booth. When we finally connected, it was discovered that we had forgotten our checkbook! However, despite a few additional setbacks, Pat worked did what it took to make the sale. Thanks! We appreciate it!

Hollie's highlight was probably taking this photograph of Andrew on Delta Island in Opryland.

Yes, we miss the old Nashville weekend with all three shows at the same time and place, but the new version, I'm sure, will grow on us. Today's market is about doing adapting...doing what it takes to get the attention of the collectors even when the economy, and other factors, are not cooperative.

Next up....Ohio Country in early April, followed by Fairhaven and Richmond in June.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

More on the "Middle Market"

We're sorry for our recent reticence...work deadlines and trips to 2 sets of Nashville shows (full report coming soon) have kept us very busy.

But as promised in our current column, here is the small-medium-large clip from the movie Role Models. We're not the only ones who think this trend is ridiculous!

If you have a comment or thought on the middle market, let us know via "comment"! We're convinced that the lack of young collectors and the demise of the middle market are inextricably linked. If we want to solve one problem, we're going to have to solve them both, so let's hear your thoughts!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Buy what you like!

It's such a simple statement, but it pretty much sums our collecting philosophy. Just buy what you like...what makes you smile. It's YOUR money and YOU have to live with it, so don't let anyone tell you what you should collect.

Take, for example, the thing pictured here. It's, um, a huge bracket fungus that someone 100 years or so ago decided was not only worth keeping, but was worth decorating! And whoever painted this was pretty darn good.

We've seen lots of decorated odds and ends--butter paddles, bowls, bottles, and even other fungi--but this one is the best we've seen and absolutely our favorite. It sits on the top of a cupboard in our dining room, and every day as we descend the stairs, we look at it and smile.

What'd we pay? $225. So it was cheap too!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Harbor and Home

Okay, so we plugged Brock Jobe's new book a few days ago, but we finally got our grubby little paws on a copy and holy cow! This is a book you really need on your shelf. It's a great combination of an object-focused catalog AND an object-driven history. That is, Jobe, along with co-authors Gary Sullivan and Jack O'Brien, as well as a slew of contributors, have put forth over 100 objects with detailed information related to form, decoration, construction, provenance, etc. Many have never been seen before by the public in any meaningful way. And the essays for each catalog entry not only discuss each object, but also their makers and users, and then draw connections between the various shops, families, and communities in which these objects played a role. But more than that, the authors also fill in the historical context of this understudied region and are thus able to tell the story of southeastern Massachusetts using these objects not just as props or decoration, but as characters. Bravo!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Starting Small

In our recent column (viewable here), we discussed some of the ways young folks can start collecting without spending a fortune or filling a mansion. It’s all about thinking small! Here are some of our favorite “small” collections:

Silver spoons: Andrew has a strong interest in early Ohio silver, but early (pre-1840) or significant (e.g. larger hollow ware pieces) are rare and expensive. So to satisfy his thirst, Andrew collects spoons. Silver spoons are plentiful and generally very affordable (sometimes under $5, rarely over $100). Additionally, it’s allowing Andrew to build a kind of “encyclopedic” collection of early Ohio silversmith marks (currently nearly 60 and counting).

One of the most interesting (and rarest) is the spoon pictured above. Circa 1795, this spoon is marked “LM.” Though iron-clad proof remains to be found, it is believed that LM stands for Lydia Moulton. Her father, William III, was a member of the Moulton family of silversmiths in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and he, along with his family (including Lydia), were among the earliest settlers in Marietta, Ohio in 1788. If we can document that Lydia was, indeed, the maker of the handful of spoons bearing the “LM” mark, then they would be true rarities—pieces of American silver made by a woman in the 18th century.

Our recent column also mentioned a great collecting idea for those short on funds and space—reference books! The great thing about collecting reference books is that you get to learn, so when you are in a position to start buying the antiques illustrated and discussed in those books, you’ll be a knowledgeable collector. It’s a win-win! Pictured below is a photo of part of our reference library (please note: on the upper shelf, the right-most 12-15” is about all that has been published on early Ohio decorative arts!)

And if you like the idea of collecting reference books, be sure to pick up Harbor and Home: Furniture of Southeastern Massachusetts, 1710-1850 by Brock Jobe, Gary Sullivan, and Jack O’Brien. We’re confident that the exhibition will soon be dubbed “landmark” and that the catalog will become a standard and necessary part of any antiques reference library. The exhibition will be at Winterthur from March 21 through May 25, and then it will be at the Nantucket Historical Association through the summer. The profusely illustrated catalog is available at bookstores everywhere, including at Russack and Loto Books, specialists in antiques reference books.

So an antique dealer and a bear walk into a bar...

-Two antique dealers are stranded on an island....business was brisk.

-How do you make a small fortune in the antiques business? Start with a large fortune.

Know any antiques- or collecting-related jokes? Post them in the comments!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

It’s Time to Don Your Tricorn Hat!

Each February we make the pilgrimage to Colonial Williamsburg for the annual Antiques Forum (thanks, of course, to Garth’s for paying Andrew’s way). For four days, our minds get filled by some of the foremost experts on American decorative arts. And for us, it’s also a kind of “old home” week where we get to reconnect with friends and colleagues, many of whom we met while Andrew was at Winterthur.

This year the topic as “Origins of American Style,” and, as usual, Williamsburg VP Ron Hurst and his crew put together a great itinerary that included talks on everything from 17th-century Dutch interiors to early 19th-century American miniature portraits. Young scholar Nick Vincent (of the Met) gave a great presentation on American pier tables, Brock Jobe gave us a sneak peek at his upcoming book and exhibition Harbor and Home: Furniture of Southeastern Massachusetts, 1710–1850, and the ever-astute Sumpter Priddy discussed the Federal furniture of Washington, Georgetown, and Alexandria (in a lecture sponsored by p4A.com).

Of course, the lectures are only half the reason to attend Antiques Forum, the other half being the fellowship. We got to reconnect with friends from Forums passed and make some new friends, particularly among the young scholars. One of the social events not to be missed is the annual barbeque at Shield’s Tavern on Duke of Gloucester Street sponsored by Ron Bourgeault of Northeast Auctions. Here we dined with Williamsburg furniture curator Tara Chicirda and then had a chance to catch up with Brock Jobe and his wife Barbara (seen here tolerantly posing for a photo with us).

If, by chance, you can’t make it to Forum, you should still make the trip to Williamsburg. Some folks think it’s a bit too “Disney,” but we love it. The houses, the shops, the museums (particularly the fabulous new home of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Collection), and definitely the food. For you carnivores definitely make a reservation or two at the historic taverns of Williamsburg; and for your veggies, like us, try Food for Thought on Richmond Road, the Blue Talon Bistro in the Market Square area of Williamsburg, and Sal’s by Victor for great pizza and Italian. And if you like breakfast, then don’t pass up Williamsburg’s many pancake houses, including Mama Steve’s, which is the favorite of longtime Winterthur curator Charlie Hummel (who also turned us on to Sal’s - thanks, Charlie!).


The Collyer Brothers

As mentioned in our most recent column (but perhaps more relevant to our "A Field Guide to Collectors" column), the Collyer Brothers are fascinating. They just are. It's one of those tabloid stories that you feel guilty for being intrigued by, but you just can't look away! Homer (1881 to 1947) and Langley Collyer (1885 to 1947) have become synonymous with complusive hoarding, and their Harlem brownstone set a benchmark for filth and disarray that would seem impossible to surpass. Sons of a prominent Manhattan doctor, the boys were both educated at Columbia University and were well-known for their eccentricities early in life. Their father abandoned the family in the late 1910s, and both their father and mother had passed away by 1929.

This is the point at which things really seem to venture off the beaten path. The Collyers moved their inherited possessions into their Harlem home and retreated even further into their odd and reclusive lifestyle. Of course, the attention their behavior drew only created more problems for them, providing fodder for their blossoming paranoia. Rumors about the house and its contents abounded, so of course, it became a target for burglars, thugs and teenage boys trying to prove their bravery. The Collyer brothers responded with the full force of their mental illness, boarding up the house, laying booby traps for potential invaders, and severing virtually all ties with the outside world.

By the end of the 1930s, all utilities to the house had been shut off due to lack of payment, and Homer Collyer had gone blind from health complications. Langley continued to venture all over the city, dragging home junk, often under cover of darkness. Little was seen or heard from them until the local police received an anonymous tip on March 21, 1947 that there was a dead body in the house. The sheer mass of the Collyers' junk stymied the initial efforts of the police to investigate, but eventually, they were able to gain access to a room on the second floor. After two hours of searching, Homer Collyer's body was discovered, but he was clearly not the source of the stench of decomposition, being dead only a few hours.

As impossible as it seems, it took police more than two weeks to locate the body of Langley Collyer in the house, a mere ten feet away from where his brother's body had been discovered. Tragically, Langley had fallen victim to one of his own booby traps, leaving Homer to starve, too blind and incapacitated to escape.

Among the items removed from the Collyer house, aside from mountains of newspapers and books, were fourteen pianos, a Model T chassis, pickled human organs, and the folding top of a horse-drawn carriage. This photograph, from the collection of the New York Public Library via Wikipedia, offers a sense of the sheer volume of "stuff" that had to be cleared away.

For more information, check out Wikipedia's article on the Collyer Brothers and Franz Lidz's New York Times article, "The Paper Chase," from Oct. 26, 2003.

Monday, January 26, 2009

NY in January: Carnival for Americana Collectors

Unfortunately this year, Hollie couldn't make it to New York (Andrew was accompanied by his boss, Garth's CEO Jeff Jeffers), so here is Andrew's journal of Americana Week 2009:


Arrived in NY after an uneventful flight and cab ride to the hotel (in the 50s at Lexington….good central location). Started my day previewing at Christie’s, which, admittedly, had somewhat of a thin offering—decent quality, but not their usual phonebook-sized catalog. Spent a good deal of time going over my favorite piece of furniture in any of the auctions—a funky sideboard by John Shearer of Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia). See John J. Snyder Jr., "John Shearer, Joiner of Martinsburgh," Journal of Early Southern Decorative Arts, vol. 5, no. 1 (May 1979), pp. 1-25 for info on this quirky cabinetmaker (and yes, the brasses on this sideboard were originally put on at an angle).

I also had a fabulous experience with one of the Christie’s staffers who was working the silver preview. She gave me the nickel tour of their offerings (including the Revere silver) and even showed me the display for Lincoln’s 1864 victory speech that they’ll be selling in February. Between this kind lady and Gil, the best doorman in NY, service at Christie’s was top notch!

After Christie’s it was a jaunt uptown to Molly Pitcher’s where there was an informal gathering of younger Winterthur alumni, which included folks working at such institutions as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, and the Chipstone Foundation in Milwaukee (publishers of American Furniture and Ceramics in America).

After a quick bite there, we headed to The American Antiques Show. It’s a great show…quality dealers peddling quality stuff. Like Hollie and I noticed at both the Deerfield and Delaware shows, those dealers that adjusted their prices to make them more economy friendly are the ones that had the red stickers.

Jeff also humored me by snapping the photo of me with Giant Baby (the Giant Baby was available from Carl Hammer Gallery of Chicago).


Most of the day was spent at Bonham’s for their inaugural Americana sale in New York. Decent quality, but the general opinion was that there wasn’t enough quality for January in New York. The sale, however, was rough…just over half of the lots sold, and there were a number of high profile passes. Not a good start to the week, despite the big bucks paid for the Herter Brothers furniture at the end of the sale.

After the Bonham’s sale, it was off to the St. Regis for drinks with business associates. Seriously folks, you need to visit this grand old hotel. You probably can’t afford a room (and maybe not even a drink…ack!), but you’ve got to see the barback. It’s a monumental painting by Maxfield Parrish. Holy smokes what a painting!

Then a late dinner with friends and then to the hotel to rest up for a busy Friday.


Since Maine Antique Digest editor, Clayton Pennington, was in town, we got together for breakfast; and MAD writer Lita Solis-Cohen also joined us. Hollie and I have been writing the “Young Collector” column for well over a year, but this is the first time either of us had met Clayton in person. We had a wonderful chat about the column and the marketplace…and about what was to come over the next few days.

Then, Jeff and I were off to the Antiques at the Armory Show, my first time. Big variety of antiques here…from ancient to modern, but all pretty darn nice. Couldn’t spend too much time there, however, because we had to get to Christie’s for their afternoon session. Frankly, Christie’s is my favorite of the NY houses, though I realize my reasons have nothing to do with their offerings. I know more of the folks at Christie’s and I just love to sit in their auctions…John Hays is a super auctioneer; a raise of his eyebrows at you can get you to stick that paddle up one more time.

The auction went okay. Better than Bonham’s, but still soft prices and a number of high profile passes. A bright spot in that sale was $550,000 paid (plus the buyer’s premium) for a Charles Peale Polk portrait of George Washington by Mount Vernon (where a friend and a fellow Winterthur alum is an assistant curator). Congrats to them on that great acquisition! And thanks to Clayton for posing with me in front of the portrait.

After Christie’s, we headed to The Big Show (aka, the Winter Antiques Show). The nation’s leading dealers were there and there was some killer stuff. Sumpter Priddy, Elliot and Grace Snyder, Olde Hope, Jonathan Trace…the dealers you want to know if you want to build a great collection. Fortunately, a number of the dealers that I talked to had already “made it into profit” for the show, so there was definitely some buying.

Afterwards, we had dinner with a very good client at a great Italian place near Times Square, followed by a drink at the Marriot eight stories above Times Square.


Our last day, but still a full day (evening flight). Started with the Landon collection at Sotheby’s in the morning (only 3 passed lots!) followed by a whirlwind trip to the Ceramics Fair at the National Academy Museum. One of my favorite shows even though I’m not a ceramics or glass collector (yet!). You can learn so much just by walking and looking. And if you ask questions, the dealers will go to town showing you all sorts of things. One of my favorites is glass dealer Ian Simmons, who always insists on showing me the great Midwestern glass he’s offering. When Hollie and I get a cupboard with glass doors, I told him, I’ll be calling him with my want list.

Back to Sotheby’s, then, for their afternoon multi-owner sale, and boy what a difference. In the auction world, most of us doing the selling work with consignors to allow us to use conservative estimates because we feel that lower estimates entice bidders and thus elicit more bids. This strategy was proven undeniably true in NY this week. At Bonham’s and Christie’s, and at Sotheby’s afternoon session, higher estimates (which meant higher reserves) resulted in lackluster bidding and lots of passes. However in the Landon sale at Sotheby’s (Saturday morning), the estimates were lower and there was lots of bidding. In fact, it was like a real auction (sometimes the New York auction model—that is, using aggressive reserves and hoping for just that one bidder to put his/her paddle up—seems a little artificial as auctions go).

Stay tuned to MAD for complete coverage of Americana Week in New York. If the week was any indicator of the antiques market in 2009, then it might be a rough year. But, we’ll get through it. Let’s remember to keep things in perspective. And let’s also remember that we’re in this together—dealers, auctioneers, collectors, and sellers. Get out and support the auctions and shows, perhaps try and make some purchases, especially if you’re young!