My parents are longtime art and antique collectors. I can remember many of the pieces that dotted the different houses we lived in throughout my childhood – there was an ornate carved sideboard, Italian, I think, some good tables, lots of good art – but the idea of value never really sunk in until I was in about fifth grade.
At an auction one night somewhere in Dallas, on a whim and never believing she would get it, my mother bid on a Sebastian Erard grand piano. It was a magnificent beast of a thing badly in need of some restoration, but clearly a beauty. For some unbelievably low sum the gavel came down and the piano was ours.
It wasn’t until after it came home that my folks realized what it could possibly be, and its potential value. For my part, it was a revelation. I understood, clearly, that this thing had gravitas, had been played, had traveled across the world to end up in Texas on a Friday night, and that it carried with it the energy of almost two centuries. This journey was exactly what made it so potentially valuable.
What happened to it? I can’t remember. Like most antiques, it ended up being re-sold and now is who knows where. I hope whoever has it is enjoying it as much as I did all those days when I sat and plunked about, figuring out the melodies from the latest early 1980s pop songs.
What Trader wanted to know last week was this: What is your earliest memory of antiques, and of what?
You can let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org, or go online to www.antiquetrader.com and sign-up for our weekly e-newsletter to join the dialogue.
I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s in a ranch style house in northern Wisconsin furnished mostly in brown and green and very bland 1940s and 1950s style furniture, with no good pictures at all. However, my grandmother lived with us, and on her wall – since I could first remember about 1952 – was her framed 1878 baptismal certificate. It was purple and gold, very ornate with cherubs and garlands, and printed in Norwegian. It always intrigued me, as it was different than anything I had ever seen.
My grandma died in 1962 and it vanished to the attic but, about 2004, my mom gave it to me. It is on the vitrine in my antiques-only filled apartment in Minneapolis. It has very little or no monetary value, I realize, but it is one of my greatest treasures.
Back in the 1970s I had the romantic notion of owning a big brass bed. Maybe this came from Dylan’s song, or the movies. It had to be an old brass bed, not perfect and new, as that’s what was in my imagination. I started to explore antique stores to find it. Eventually I found the perfect bed, which I still have. I could only picture it with a vintage quilt or two. Of course an Eastlake dresser looked great along side it, especially with a lovely celluloid box on its marble top. A washstand was nice, and of course embroidered linens to hang on the towel bar behind the pitcher and bowl, and so on, and so on.
In the process of the hunt, I discovered so many other fascinating items. I was hooked for life. To this day I get that excited feeling walking through the gate at a large flea market. Ahhh, there is no sight like depression glass sparkling in the sun!
Lake Villa, Ill.
When I was a boy, my family owned a tavern in Colverdale, Ill. Behind the bar was our cash register. Over the cash register hung a fine Civil War percussion rifle. It was a beauty!
Many years have passed by since then, but I can still see that fine old rifle. I hope that whoever owns it now appreciates it as much as I did when I was a boy.
Editor’s Note: Two weeks ago Trader asked its readers to sound off on whether or not good antiques can still be found dirt cheap. The answers are still coming, and it’s still, mostly, with some mixed results, yes!
Dirt cheap antiques? Maybe not, but then again it depends on geography. I just finished reading all the editorials about the “Roadshow” effect, so this ties in directly.
No one noted the difference in prices found regionally, and it still exists – with or without eBay, the Internet, and a “price guide” for every item imaginable. As a dealer and a mall owner, I have to help sellers realize that here in the Midwest we’re not likely to recognize “Roadshow” or price guide prices. Buyers know you can buy cheaper here than on the East or West coasts, Chicago, or Texas. So a seller in the Midwest is going to find a Midwestern price. I roughly figure our sales prices (unless it’s really “hot”) to run about 60 percent of “book” values. So, if a seller wants to sell in this part of the country, they might reasonably expect 30 percent of book for wholesale to dealer value.
I guess that means we still buy at dirt cheap prices here just north of Kansas City (or maybe it means other resources have greatly overestimated values to the general public). And we sell at what’s dirt cheap pricing if the buyer comes from the perimeter of the country. Roughly one-third of our sales go to other dealers.
Sure the business has changed in the last 10-15 years. Now the non-dealer is likely to have a truly overinflated idea of what their treasure is worth. Yes, it’s damaging the business because it’s more and more difficult to buy “right” to be able to resell. On the other hand, the average person has no clue as to where to sell that treasure to get top dollar or to whom. A true collector needing a final item or two for that dearly-beloved collection, will always pay the highest price. Certainly they’ll pay higher prices than any dealer can afford. “How and where do you find that collector?” Now that’s the question any good dealer should be able to research and find out. That’s where all the new resources pay off for us.
Surely the Internet is the finest research tool we’ve ever had available. Now we have access to collectors all over the world. With a computer, some marketing know-how, a gift for description and some photography skill – well, we can market to most of the world. What an asset! Yes, it takes more work than it did in early 1990s, but is the business dead? Not by a long shot. Is it different? Absolutely!
I have to add one note about the lack of young collectors. There aren’t many collectors until they have disposable income to spend. When does that happen for people today? With young people being somewhat older be established, to marry and have families, in all likelihood those young people are in their 40s and 50s before they can afford to collect much – after their chicks have flown the nest. Here in the Midwest there’s no lack of collectors in that age group. As to younger folks, don’t you think they are (or will be) wise enough to realize the quality of materials and workmanship of previous generations? There’s no question in my mind, American workmanship and materials of days gone by was fantastic, and it beats the stuff on the retail market that was made in China all to heck. After all, most of the import stuff gets pitched in the dump in a few years. We ain’t dead yet and I don’t think we will be anytime soon.
Enchanted Frog Enterprises Inc.
P.S. If you believe “book” is a legitimate price, come on to the Midwest! Stop to see us at Enchanted Frog and we’ll draw you a map to all the best shops in Greater Kansas City.
Simply love both the paper and electronic version of Antique Trader, especially your ‘Letters to the Editor’ questions and answers – what a great addition. I am lucky enough to live near Chicago’s prestigious suburban North Shore and opportunities to find good antiques dirt-cheap abound at the nearby estate sales. Since retiring five years ago, it is my mission in life to attend every one I can, selectively buy, and then sometimes re-sell these items on eBay – More fun than I’ve ever had in my life.
One of my acquisitions is pictured in the attachments. This is an Art Deco enamel on glass vase, an early work signed by French artist Robert Barriot (deceased in 1970) in his ‘learning’ period (1924-32) when he studied with artists in Montparnasse. He went on to become a French Master Enameler and the maker of the world’s largest repousse enamels. I have been in email contact with his daughter. I have also written to Kyle (Husfloen) at Trader twice and about seven galleries that advertise in Trader, trying to get an idea of value. To my disappointment, no one ever responds. I am nonetheless convinced that this vase, if not valuable today, will be valuable some day, perhaps when the artist becomes more well-known. Any insights you could offer would be ever so appreciated!
Keep up the good work!
(Editor response: Thanks Aline! I don’t know much about Barriot, but perhaps some of our readers do. If anybody does, feel free to drop me a line at email@example.com. It’s pictured on page 26. Also, I hear from readers often about the delay in getting a response from Kyle, and would just like to offer that Kyle is one of the nicest and busiest men you’ll ever meet. The waiting list for his ‘Kyle on Antiques’ column, however, is quite long. If you’re patient you will eventually be rewarded. Besides being nice, he’s also democratic and takes the questions in the order he receives them.)
More from “The Roadshow Effect,” the question that keeps on giving. – Ed.
As an antique dealer for many years, mostly in the antique tool business, I do not think television shows like the Antique Roadshow have been a good thing at all. They only illustrate the high end and the exceptional. They give people a false impression that all antiques have high values. They do not indicate that even a valuable antique is worth much less when less than perfect. Shows are entertaining and it is nice to see good/interesting items but real market value is not emphasized. Appraisal fairs may help the public but the appraiser needs to tell people what the item will sell for in a real market and they will get that amount only if they do the selling. I have not been helped much by either. Don’t mean to sound negative but just trying to offer my opinion on your subject.