AT Inbox: Handling antiques makes an educated collector


For some years I ran a small business here in Janesville, Wis., restoring Victorian residences and had a hand in some 103 houses from Miserable Point to Racine. I am a fan of “Antiques Roadshow,” but I feel they over-do the gospel of “don’t touch that antique.” My experience indicates that as people work with old pieces, they make better and better decisions about what to do with them. Two examples:

 When I was in college in the early 1950s (yes, I’m way over the hill!) My roommate’s wealthy collector mother gave us some stuff out of her attic to furnish our digs. At graduation, she gave me two pieces. The first was a walnut hall bench in Rococo-Revival style.

My understanding was that she had bought it as one of five such that graced an arcaded loggia or ambulatory in a famous Florida mansion scheduled for the developer’s wrecking ball. As it sat, for contemporary living it was an orphan – too short for a library table and too high for a furniture-sided display.

Rather than hide it in a corner, I opted to take two inches off its height at a logical place and display it prominently as a coffee table where its beauty would be featured. I was careful to preserve the 1947 Sotheby’s auction ticket on its underside. For preservation, I had to lightly re-coat it; 60 years later I have no regrets.

The second piece was an 18th century ship captain’s chest of pine with generously splayed legs to give it stability aboard ship. Its top, from a single piece measuring 23 inches by 23 inches, had split and while the lock was clearly authentic, its escutcheon had long been gone. In the past 60 years it has seen nothing but some “dusting aids.” I have no regrets.

Paul Power
Janesville, Wis.

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