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. (

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?