California’s Old Town Clovis Antiques Fair livens downtown with antiques dealers

CLOVIS, Calif. — Beneath the shade of tall Chinese elm trees along Pollasky Street in the heart of Old Town Clovis, Calif., 80 vendors set up shop Sept. 25 for autumn’s Antique and Collectibles Fair. The event is organized by BOOT (Business Organization of Old Town) and has run for 17 years. It’s held the last Sundays of April and September.

With the sunny skies typical of the San Joaquin Valley and a cool breeze blowing down from the Sierra Nevadas, the weather was perfect for the estimated 7,000 visitors.

“Some people arrived at 5 a.m. while I was trying to set up,” said Shirley Dorn of Fulton’s Follies Antique Mall in Fresno’s acclaimed Tower District. “They were poking around with a flashlight, trying to get the best items. I couldn’t even see the stuff they were asking about.”

Table top displays held Mid-centry pottery, figurines and assorted collectibles.

This early-bird enthusiasm was reported by several other dealers, as well. Items from World War I and II, especially the foreign stuff — medals, enemy flags and helmets — were highly sought.

The consensus of vendors: Quality made, useful items in excellent condition will always have a market in Clovis.

Items of local interest were also commanding high prices. Lowell Hart examined all of Mike Scherer’s vintage bottles, caps and openers from the Fresno Brewing Company. The openers came in several shapes, including a baseball player, die-cut and stamped into the metal, offered for $125. That was too high for Lowell, but he had clearly thought about owning it.

The Fresno Brewing Company was founded in 1900 by Ernst Eiler, who learned his craft in Germany and honed it in Wisconsin. The company grew under the leadership of his son, William, providing beer to communities from Modesto to Bakersfield. With the onset of prohibition in 1919, the company switched to soft drinks. In 1933, it began producing beer once again and did so under various owners until the brewery was demolished in 1955.

The architecture of the company’s office in Fresno has warranted it a place on the National Register of Historical Places. Many residents have lasting memories of its products, and as a result, company signs, bottles and paraphernalia have high value. Advice from several shopkeepers: don’t underestimate local interest. Look for items with names and places on them. The Fresno Brewing Company, for instance, won’t mean much in Brattleboro, Vt. but it has great value in the San Joaquin Valley.

California antiques, The Clovis antiques show features an array of collectibles. Here’s a terrific solution on how to display them well at a street fair.

The Clovis fair offers sellers two lot sizes. For $125, they could have a 15-by-18-foot space, for $165, a lot measuring 20 feet by 18 feet. Guidelines include that no more than 10 percent of items can be new, and that collectibles must be at least 20 years old and comprise half of what’s on sale. Discounts are available to sellers who sign up for multiple shows, and site preferences are granted by advance payment.

Knickknacks are a staple at most antiques fairs. Good-quality porcelain figurines featuring subjects such as girls and dogs remain popular with buyers and attracted their share at this event.

But the pottery market appeared to be more of a hit-or-miss affair. A mint-condition pair of  Roseville candlesticks ($195 for the pair), ewer ($195) and large bowl ($235) in the blue with white freesia design didn’t have many lookers.

California antiques, downtown antiques showVendor Mike Scherer shows off his baseball player bottle opener from the Fresno Brewing Company.

“If you’re interested, total it up and make me an offer,” shouted one dealer.
“How about $10 for the lot?” came the response.
“How about, ‘No’,” giggled the dealer, end of discussion.

Great vintage pieces had a place at the Clovis show, too: a crank telephone for $165, an old-school desk with vintage graffiti for $85, a cast-iron hat rack for $150, a steamship trunk for $350, and a parking meter of more recent vintage for $235.

Bolts of vintage fabric in great condition were on sale for a reasonable $6 per yard. Usually only a bundle of scraps can be had. Many people have inherited half-finished quilts from their parents or grandparents. Using modern material to complete them would ruin the look. But these classic fabrics will blend beautifully and offer hope that such a meaningful memento will finally get completed. A half-finished vintage quilt, by the way, means it was NEVER used and should be in first-rate condition. Once assembled, the combination vintage and new quilt should be worth more than a completely new quilt, all else being equal.

Terrell Fortner of Terrell’s Tiques is an Old Town Clovis Antique Fair participant since its inception in 1993. Her permanent store is inside one of Clovis’ Antique Malls. (Her telephone number is 559-269-1277.) She and her friend, Pam Andrews, decided the day before to display kitchen items at the fair. An aluminum canning funnel caught my eye among the utensils on display and made me stop to chat. I had made apple butter the week before and couldn’t remember what happened to my mother’s old funnel, so I had to go buy a new one. All I could find was a plastic one, made in You-Know-Where, for a price higher than this one.

antique kitchen implementsA variety of kitchen utensils were offered by Terrell’s Tiques. The Foley funnel in the upper right is now part of the author’s collection.

The kitchen implements Fortner had for sale included a Gilcrest mechanical ice cream scoop ($27), an unusual hand-vice lemon juicer ($3.75) and assorted cake slicers. Her best selling item of the day? Anything Pyrex.

Over at the fair’s Information Desk, Kathy Osterberg Sobleman was doing her part to help out shoppers. Her name and reputation are well known in the area, as her mother, Susie Osterberg, founded Osterberg’s Mercantile Antiques and Collectibles in Clovis in 1971. The family began assisting folks with estate sales and liquidations in 1974 and Kathy took over the business in 1997; she can be reached at 559-298-4291.

Folks lined up with items for Sobleman to examine. An original Sunbeam electric steam iron and its components, all in their original boxes, bought for $12 was appraised by Sobleman at a at $50-60. The best part of the transaction, the buyer later admitted, was that hidden underneath the instruction booklet was an old Social Security Administration envelope containing $2,000 in cash.

Sobleman identified two little girl bisque figurines as Huebach piano babies, valued at $110 each. She advised the owner to do additional research at the local library or on the Internet, write down what she discovers on a piece of paper, and stuff the paper inside the figurine.

Kathy Osterberg SoblemanKathy Osterberg Sobleman, Clovis appraiser, examines the insignia of a German figurine.

“Whoever inherits these needs to know what they are and what they’re worth,” Sobleman said.

A four-inch Dutch pottery “tea pot on a stand” liquor bottle was examined and estimated to be worth $40 to $50. The booze had dried up long ago, but the container was in good shape.

“Clean it up gently with some weak soap and a Q-tip, but don’t get the label wet,” Sobleman advised.

A Soviet-era military cap was presented by a 20-something man wondering if the sized hat had belonged to a pilot. “The Russians put wings on most of their medallions. See. It’s got a wheel in the center,” Sobleman said.

Because most Russian soldiers sold off their uniforms and equipment after the fall of the Soviet Union, there are a lot of similar items out there, she said.

“Make sure you put a cedar block inside the cap because the moths will eat it,” she advised. “Better yet, store it in a box with mothballs.”

California flea marketTim Hagerman of Warehouse Antiques in Merced and customer determine the final price of a granite cooking pot. The chest of drawers with the mirror sold for $600 early in the day.

Sobleman’s check of a tanzanite ring revealed an inclusion — and the need to get a repair on the gold prong holding a diamond.

A fellow brought in a string of pearls and a coral necklace. He’d paid $2 for the coral necklace, which Sobleman identified as real coral, probably made in the ’70s. He bought the pearls for $30. After testing them with her teeth, Sobleman said, “You did a good thing.”

A print of Abe Lincoln in an old frame, Victorian girls in a rose garden, and an oil painting from Oregon of Mount Hood with a hole in it, all got Sobleman’s attention and estimates of value, as did a Chinese worry stone with carved bat, lotus and lucky plum insignias. The piece had been bought by a woman’s 16-year-old son who was too afraid to come to Kathy because he might have gotten taken and he didn’t want to hear the bad news.

“Even with the chip, I’d value it at $45 to $50,” Sobleman said. The mother laughed out loud, as her son only paid $20 for it.

“Keep rubbing it with your hand and the chip will dull in color. It’s made of soapstone,” Sobleman said, touching it to her cheek. “If it was jade, it would feel cold.”

Clovis’ rustic history was brought to life in an informational displays by The Flywheelers Club. A dozen vintage pumps, tractors and corn shellers, all beautifully restored and in working order, were featured. At the other end, volunteers from Fresno Wildlife Rehabilitation brought a red-tailed hawk, an American kestrel, and several owls.

The Old Town Clovis Antiques and Collectibles Fair has established a loyal following in the Central Valley and offers experienced and committed vendors who pay particular attention to establishing long and lasting relationships with their customers.

“We don’t get trends here,” admitted Sobleman, “like they do in San Francisco or New York. Certain items, like signage and real photo photocards, are always valuable.”

Joseph Truskot is a collector and freelance writer based in Salinas, Calif.

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