Antiques in the Valley

By Catherine Saunders-Watson — Antique Trader Editor

OLEY, Pa. – Sixty exhibitors of top-quality Americana, folk art, country furniture and Pennsylvania antiques gathered at Oley Valley High School on June 16-17 for the second annual edition of Antiques in the Valley, a show whose popularity has caught on quickly with collectors, some of whom travel long distances to attend.

Under bright blue skies, a lengthy queue of shoppers waited patiently for the doors to open, and at 11 a.m., dashed inside to seek out exhibitors from whom they had purchased treasures at the 2005 debut. After-show reports indicated the gate had increased by as much as 50 percent over last year’s numbers – a very promising sign at a time when some shows are struggling.

A major strength of Antiques in the Valley is that it is dealer produced by a consortium of 11 members of the trade from the greater Reading, Pa., area. It’s a beautiful show – from the garden-like walk that greets attendees to the spacious, well-lit room settings, each tastefully outfitted and decorated. The great majority of dealers who sell at Antiques in the Valley are local to Berks County, which is home to the picturesque and historic Oley Valley, northwest of Philadelphia. Because of the regional connection, these dealers specialize in 18th and 19th century antiques from southeastern Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic states. Some of the dealers only sell privately; others set up only at Antiques in the Valley and the Greater Reading Antiques Show (promoted by the Antique Dealers Association of Berks County). As a result, much of the merchandise offered at Antiques in the Valley has had very little, if any, public exposure – an enticement that adds to the show’s cachet.

Paintings by Pennsylvania – and especially Berks County – artists are the specialty of Greshville Antiques & Fine Art of Boyertown, Pa. Among the many fine examples of regional art shown by Greshville’s Valerie Malmberg was an 18 inch by 30 inch oil-on-canvas autumn landscape painted by George Bensell (1837-1879), a co-founder of the Philadelphia Sketch Club. In its original frame, the circa-1860 work was priced at $7,900.

The proprietors of Birchland Antiques of Mount Joy, Pa., had set up an entire brick fireplace display featuring 18th century implements. A gooseneck-style tea kettle rested on a tipper that allowed the colonial or post-colonial homemaker to push the kettle back to pour water without risking a scalding. The wrought-iron tipper, priced at $550, is even rarer than the late-18th-century cast-iron kettle, which also was tagged at $550.

Mike Vasilik of Dark Horse Antiques in Bethlehem Township, Pa., was on his own at the show, explaining that his wife, Karen, was busy attending to visitors passing through their home as part of the Governor Wolfe Historical Garden Tour. A visually stunning piece in Vasilik’s booth was a circa 1890, hand-forged cast-iron paperweight of a “heart in hand.” The 6 1/2-inch-tall  piece displayed original paint, and had been found in New England. It was priced $950.

A rainbow of colors festooned the room setting of charter exhibitors The Herrs, of Lancaster, Pa. At the center of attention was a 92-inch-square, circa-1900 pieced cotton quilt in the New York Beauty pattern. A product of Lebanon County, Pa., the red, white and blue textile artwork in fine condition was priced at $4,600. Tricia Herr commented that she was very pleased with the turnout at the show. “It’s advertised well, and it brings in a nice group of people.”

Ron Stayer of Wishing Well Antiques in Lowman, N.Y., prominently displayed an oil on bird’s-eye maple board painting of a “folky” chicken, artist signed J.H. Arno Elmira N.Y. 1912 and tagged $4,950. “I’m from the area where this painting came from,” said Stayer. “I went to the Chamber of Commerce to find out about the painter, but he’s not a known artist. This came right off my kitchen wall, which upset my wife. The painting is unusual, in that the chicken’s eye follows you around the room if you look at it.”

Barry Hurchalla Antiquarian, of Boyertown, Pa., offered many novelties with a distinctly Pennsylvanian flavor, such as an antique tin squirrel cage designed as an edifice with a decorative cupola. “It’s hand made and is the best one of the dozen or so that I’ve had in probably 40 years,” said Hurchalla. Long ago the residence of a pet squirrel, the cage was available for $1,075.

Following a tradition begun at last year’s show, the trophy case in the high school’s front hall held a special exhibit of items from the Oley Valley. This year the theme was Coverlets and Their Makers. Each of the featured textiles was of Oley Valley origin, with some dating to as early as the mid-18th century.

The third edition of Antiques in the Valley will take place next June 16 and 17. As in the past, a portion of the show’s profits will be donated to a college scholarship fund benefiting worthy Oley Valley High School students. For further information, contact John or Peggy Bartley at 610-779-0705.