Massachusetts: Antiques big business in Bay State

While Boston is considered by Americans to be the cradle of democracy, capitalism drives the antiques trade. They go together like Yankee Doodle and 18th-century cabinetmakers John and Thomas Seymour.
“There’s ‘product’ in Massachusetts,” said Michael B. Grogan, president of Grogan & Co., a prominent auction house in Dedham.

“There’s a lot of wealth here — 300 years ago, 200 years ago and 100 years ago. There are old family collections still here. Buyers are important. There are buyers in California, Chicago, Atlanta and everywhere, but you need to have product too and there’s lots of product in this area,” he said.

Grogan is a graduate of Boston College, where he majored in art history. He began his career at Sotheby’s, New York, in 1978 and was a vice president there when he left to found his own company in 1985.

Business has been good for Grogan in the Boston area. “There’s just a lot of money out there and lots of people willing to buy. I still find product so that makes me happy,” he said.

Frank Kaminski, who founded Kaminski Auctions, in Beverly, Mass., in 1987, is also excited about the state of the antiques auction market.

“I use the word exuberant because I’m not sure how long it’s going to last. It’s like the stock market. Couples are coming to auctions again. Our customers are middle and upper class, and at the moment they feel comfortable about spending extra money,” said Kaminski.

Trading in antiques since he was 12 years old, Kaminski, 46, considers Massachusetts prime territory for acquiring antiques. “People are very conservative here and they hang onto their furnishings for several generations. That’s why we have such great antiques and great treasures turn up,” said Kaminski.

Contributing to Kaminski’s growing business is the trend to downsize from large homes to condominiums.
Kaminski believes antique dealers are adjusting to a changing market. “Exposure to the Internet helps a great deal. I think dealers can sell online to other dealers. People aren’t driving like they used to antique shops, ‘doing the route’, as they say. That’s changing to selling on line, ” he said.

For travelers who want a taste of antiquing in Massachusetts, Kaminski recommends a row of 20-25 antiques stores in the historic shipbuilding center of Essex on state Route 133. “It starts with William Taylor Antiques and runs all the way through Essex. It’s a great area,” he said. Grogan suggested an extended tour. “I would certainly start out in the Berkshires, work my way east, stop at Townsend, come up to the North Shore at Essex and then Boston”, he said.

Allen Dodson, a show dealer from Hatfield, Mass., has an informed perspective of the antiques trade in the Bay State. He and his wife, Alisa, last year moved to the Pioneer Valley after being longtime visitors.
“Whenever we came through western Massachusetts, we always said, ‘Wouldn’t this be a nice place to live?’” he said. Not only is it close to Brimfield, where they set up at the New England Motel Antique Market, their home base is located close to the Massachusetts Turnpike and Interstate-91, allowing them easy mobility to all points of the compass.

Dodson sees a distinct difference in retail antiques outlets in Massachusetts compared to the Midwest. “You’re not going to find the malls on the road that have signs beckoning you for 50 miles. Instead, you’ll turn a corner on a country road and there will be a shop that looks interesting,” he Dodson. “When you find a shop that has the kind of things you like, ask if there are other shops in the area. In that sense, it’s really more like antiquing used to be 30 or 40 years ago.”

Glass has a distinct focus in Massachusetts. “Here the market is more toward flint glass than the somewhat later ware we handle,” said Dodson, who recommends travelers visit the Sandwich Glass Museum in Sandwich, Mass., once an important glassmaking center. The museum will sponsor the 19th annual Cape Cod Glass Show on Sept. 16-17.

Another institution originating in Massachusetts is the PBS series “Antiques Roadshow,” produced by WGBH in Boston for the past 10 seasons.

“I think it’s a factor in the in the antiques trade only because we have a better educated consumer”, said Marsha Bemko, executive producer of the series. “Ten or 11 years ago if someone came to your house and offered you $30,000, $40,000 or $50,000 for your chest on chest, you’d probably think that was good money, but that’s not good money for a chest on chest if it’s worth $400,000-$500,000. Most people didn’t often know that furniture could even be worth that much. … If nothing else, we’ve taught people to ask questions,” she said.

Finally, a road trip to Massachusetts is synonymous with Brimfield, the mother of all antiques markets. Three weeks a year, this town’s main street is lined with a series of 20 antiques markets and upwards of 4,000 vendors. Despite the large crowds, Bob Chartier, president of the Tri-Community Chamber of Commerce, says traveling to Brimfield for the antique markets can be a relaxing getaway. “It’s country. You don’t have the hustle and bustle of the city. Hillsides surround the community. It’s just a nice country overview.”

— Tom Hoepf