Behind the Spine: It’s True: Fifty Never Looked So Good

By Paul Kennedy

Noah Fleisher, PR Director for Heritage Auction Galleries, serves as current editor of Warman's Antiques & Collectibles  (Photo by Eric Bradley)

Noah Fleisher, PR Director for Heritage Auction Galleries, serves as current editor of Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles (Photo by Eric Bradley)

We are reminded almost daily that we don’t truly own anything. We can appreciate and we can fawn over things, but we might as well try to hold smoke as to claim ownership of the objects around us.

In the end, we are simply caretakers, preserving what we value for future generations. Conversely, anything you and I accomplish – humble or bold – is because of those who came before us. It is no small thing to stand on the shoulders of giants.

Noah Fleisher understands this better than most. Fleisher is the editor of Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles, the longest-running reference to the field we so passionately enjoy. This year marks the 50th edition of Warman’s, a golden anniversary we will celebrate with you throughout the year.

I’ve known Noah for many years, first as the magazine editor of Antique Trader and then as Public Relations Director of Heritage Auctions. He is supremely knowledgeable about his profession, thoughtful, humble, a gifted storyteller, maintains broad interests – he’s working on a Beatles memorabilia book for us – and an all-around great guy.
Noah’s only weakness, as far as I can tell, is a passion for Texas Rangers baseball, a team that consistently finds new ways to crush his hopes and dreams. And yet, somehow, he’s back for more suffering the next season. When I went looking for a new Warman’s editor several years ago, I didn’t have to look long. Noah was a natural. He had the suffering part down.

Fleisher’s lofty position and clear view of the antiques and collectibles world – and ours as well – is made possible by true giants in the field.

“The people who have sat in the editor’s chair at Warman’s know their stuff like no other – I believe that they all forgot more in a day than I will ever know about the business,” Fleisher says.

“Fortunately, they have given greatly of their skills in assembling Warman’s over the years and making it what it is today; they’ve established an evolving template that has withstood the test of time and influenced tens of thousands of people.

“It’s humbling to follow them, and I strive each year to measure up to the high standards that were established before I arrived.”

Edwin G. (E.G.) Warman, an entrepreneur in Uniontown, Penn., was an avid antiques collector who published in 1948 his first modest price guide, Warman’s Antiques and Their Prices. If you think acquisitions and mergers are complicated today, well, they are. But they have been for a long time,

Warman's 2017

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and Warman’s circuitous trip to the present illustrates that.

E.G. Warman died in 1979. His widow, Pat Warman, continued the work and completed the 15th edition after his death. The estate sold the E.G. Warman Publishing Co. to Stanley and Katherine Greene of Elkins Park, Penn., in 1981. Chilton Books bought the Warman Publishing Co. in the fall of 1989. With the 24th edition, Warman’s was published under the Wallace-Homestead imprint. Krause Publications (that’s us) purchased both the Warman’s and Wallace-Homestead imprints in 1997. And that’s when I came to the party, as an acquisitions editor, a mere 50 years after Mr. Warman lit the first candle.

Throughout its lifetime, Warman’s has been blessed with outstanding editors. The esteemed Harry Rinker steered the ship from the 16th edition in 1982 through the 30th edition. Ellen Schroy, who started as an associate editor on that 16th edition, took the reins of the 32nd edition in 1998. She retired in 2009 after putting the 42nd edition to bed. Both Rinker and Schroy broadened the scope of not only Warman’s, but of publishing in the field. Rinker greatly expanded the Warman’s line while the antiques and collectibles market grew at a frenzied pace. Schroy’s seminal Warman’s Depression Glass (now in it’s sixth edition) remains an impressive example of how to create a great reference book.

Former colleague Mark Moran, a prolific author in his own right, followed Schroy as Warman’s editor until the 2012 edition. Moran, who served as an appraiser for PBS’s highly acclaimed Antiques Roadshow, ushered in what I would call Warman’s “modern era.” The book became far more visual and stylized, reflecting the world around us, and far less driven by line listings.

When E. G. Warman launched his guide there was nothing else like it. Sharing information 70 years ago was arduous. Information now is a click away. Google didn’t exist for Mr. Warman. Today it’s both a noun and a verb.

Yet even in a wired world, print not only matters, it’s a part of our collector DNA, says Fleisher, practically waxing philosophic on the subject.

“Antiques are material artifacts of the past and the process of physically interacting with them is what makes them so intriguing – these things shine with their history and radiate the energy of everyone that has touched them and admired them over the years,” Fleisher says. “I know that may sound hokey, but it’s true and it’s what I and so many others love about the thrill of the hunt and the acquisition.

sample page WAC50

Sample page from Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles 2017.

“The relationship we have to books is much the same. Just as a beautiful piece of pottery or furniture can stimulate the brain, so too does a book and in a much different way than anything digital ever can. Warman’s is the bible of the hobby, defined by its very physicality and presence.”

Even through evolution and unimaginable change, the little book that E.G. Warman started in the late 1940s and what we celebrate today with the 50th edition is not all that different.

“Antiques and collectibles anchor us in the saga of history, from the most iconic items to the meanest little piece you ever saw, all of it is important in some sense and we’re privileged to be able to reflect history through their preservation,” Fleisher says. “I’m proud to be some small part of this wonderful process and that is through Warman’s.”

Someday, but not too soon, someone will climb on Fleisher’s shoulders and view our world anew. Until then, let’s enjoy the things around us, and appreciate those wise enough to care for them.

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