Monday, August 14, 2017

How to waste money at the Antiques mall

     I want to start this post with a confession of bias,  I am not a fan of the Antiques mega mall, you know those places that are huge warehouses turned multi dealer extravaganza.   These places in many cases are where sub standard merchandise goes to die.   I don't know why I keep going to these places, but inevitably when I'm in a new area I seek out these mega malls and then set out to spend 3 hours cruising the aisles.
     In this Internet age when so many traditional mom and pop antiques businesses have gone away it seems that with exceptions, malls, and very high end stand alone dealers are all that is left, gone are the days of the mid range generalist dealer, specialize, move up market or move into a mall.  If you want to sell in a live setting these are your options other than shows.
     So back to the mall, If you know that 90% of everything inside the antique mall will be either way overpriced, or sub standard, or both, then that's fine. That still leaves 10% and 10% of one of these places is still a lot. Now Is there a chance of turning up a "diamond in the rough"....?  Yes absolutely,  if of course you are an employee of the mall, or a dealer who can frequent the place every few days. As a casual visitor I'd say your chances are exceedingly slim.
      With eyes wide open lets visit one of the largest antiques malls in America.   Springfield Ohio plays host to The Heart of Ohio Antiques center  this is a 160000 square foot behemoth, consider that a Wal-Mart super center is 125000 SF this place is 1/3 bigger than that!  Here's a pic of their ad in Maine antiques digest.
      I stopped at this mall for the first time driving through Ohio, it's about 1/2 way between Dayton and Columbus just off I-70  It's an easy day trip from anywhere in Ohio, and an easy overnight from Chicago, or Indianapolis.   I was hunting globes, advertising, maps, furniture, etc.  I naturally zerod in on the globes seeing as this is the market that I have the best grasp of. I want to show an example of a globe that I would have purchased 5-6 years ago that would have been a mistake.
Mid 30's Crams silver Ocean globe
     This is at first glance a not so bad Cram's silver ocean globe from the 1930's.  This is a globe that belongs in any serious collection of American globes, they are uncommon, not rare ( there is a difference)  and they are generally attractive. Probably one of the most desirable globes Cram's ever made.  If you blow up the picture you'll see that it's got some wrinkles, and scrapes and general wear, it's in average condition,  priced at $139.  I was told that getting $15 off the price would be no problem,  "just ask at checkout", the floor attendant said.  So is this globe worth $120... or $110...or $100...... it's not.   As a collector it's just not worth your trouble, you are far better off buying one in nicer condition at $160, or $200.  This is a great example of how your collection will be long suffering if you buy at this level.  It's better to spend up and acquire a better example of this globe than settle for this.  Look at the base, it's rusty!
     Next I want to show you another item, a Trippensee planetarium, a really nice example from 1958
 This particular item was in very nice condition, I would be hard pressed to find a better example  of a mid century planetarium.  Here's the problem, it's listed at   $1800..!!!  How was that price arrived at.....??  That's a price I've seen for older wooden planetariums, but these Bakelite/ plastic ones seem to top out right around $700-$800.  The top line pricing usually include the original box, and the handbook, both were missing here.  I wanted this planetarium but I could not even begin to negotiate on this item.  This piece will sit in this mall gathering dust until doomsday the way it's priced.
     I see this a lot at antiques malls, a great item woefully overpriced.  It's like someone did an Internet search, keyed in on the highest price ever advertised, you know..... the high end Manhattan Wall street price, and THEN.... decided that  price would be appropriate in Springfield Ohio, at an antique mall.......  What am I missing here?
     Malls are designed for that casual buyer, I get that.  I'm not necessarily the target of a mall's allure, I get that too.  I do believe in life and especially in the hunt for antiques that quality should reign supreme over quantity.  Think about the great collections you've observed in your personal life weather they be seashells, stamps, baseball cards, or vintage automobiles.  What is all cases that rare, pristine, original , authentic thing is what you remember most, it's what sticks with you.  When I hunt for something to add to my collection I want the best that I can afford, and you should too.  A finely curated collection of say 5 items will always be more desirable and therefore more valuable than a mediocre gathering of a dozen items.

     I suspect that is where my bias against the antique mall really lies, this is a place where it is so easy to succumb to the pull of the mediocre.   This post and this blog aim to break those habits, habits I too have trouble with.  Lets see a few more things and evaluate the pros and cons.
      These next few photos i'm attempting to show a few examples of the type of dross so common to the antique mall, the type of item that will just kill a collection.  These are inexpensive, common, not that old, and none of these items are in that great of shape.  Firstly buying a tin globe is not bad, but never, and I mean never buy a dented example.  There are just too many clean examples to be had, don't settle.  Secondly this solar system model is priced at a bit over $100 seems like a bargain compared to the Trippensee tellurion above?  Well it's not it's worth like $40 on a good day, and it's just not that old.  I mean if you love the look and can find one for that lower price then fine....I guess.  Finally we stumble onto something that at first blush is promising, a Replogle, illuminated globe 10 inch diameter.  So what fault do I have with an item like this. Well condition wise its sketchy,  you don't want to turn on an illuminated globe and see seams, and missing map glaring at you, it's unappealing, this is a death from a thousand cuts type of purchase.  it's just below mediocre, it is just not worth having, it's nothing you can build on as a collector it's a $50 dust collector.
      By now some of you reading this must think,  my goodness he's so there nothing that he saw that was worthy in his mind...?  Perhaps you think I'm being too picky.  Well I've saved the best for last. I did not buy these but they are great items:

These are school maps from the turn of the 20th century, they are over 100 years old, and they are self framed by the manufacturer.  They are large wall maps published by the Atlas Relief Map company of Chicago.  These were in very nice original condition, especially the North America map, very little wear, crisp and easy to read.  I wanted them but they were just too big. They are hanging at the Heart of Ohio Antique mall as we speak.  Priced at $395 each I'm sure a deal could be had in the $325-$350 range.  That my friends would be a satisfying buy.  These maps in auction/ retail settings are often priced substantially higher.   So there you go I found a worthy item,  and I've left it behind for you.......
      Let me close with a few more thoughts.  The antiques market at least the low and mid level is now primarily an online affair.  That makes it dificult in some ways to attract new people to any form of antiques hobby.  Malls counteract that by exposing people to a wide variety of goods all in one place.  You certainly need physical exposure to old stuff in order to appreciate it.   Currently I'm in Bouckville NY for the annual    Madison Bouckville antiques week   It's a " Brimfield lite" type of event, same format, but merchandice at these shows tends to be 2 steps above your usual Antique mall fare.  I'll be highlighting this experience in my next blog post .
     As always please feel free to disagree, comment, and most importantly, join this blog or subscribe via email at the top of the page!!


Saturday, August 5, 2017

On the antiques trail in New England 2017

    This past July into August gave me a chance to do something I've always wanted to do.  That is take an antiquing road trip through New England.  We started our journey in Portsmouth NH. We wound our way to Bar Harbor, then across interior Maine to Northern NH then onto Vermont.  I want to share some  observations on the antique market as well as some tips should you go off on a similar journey.
     Firstly let me set the scene for you,  I am primarily interested in antique cartography, especially globes as you might guess but I do love some other categories of things. Most notable are folk art, advertising, and old photographs.  So on the antique trail I've got my eyes wide open for many different things, and my wife is searching for even more!
     Our first day had us traveling from Portsmouth to Bar Harbor, we took the fabled route 1 north instead of  the interstate.  Route 1 is touristy to say the least Kennebunkport has some shops that cater to casual interest, selling mostly overpriced smalls,  things that travel easily.  I had always herd that Wiscasset Maine was an antique paradise of sorts. We planned a long stop in their quaint downtown and were rewarded with a dozen or so independent antique shops to sample.
     Wiscasset had something for everyone some shops were very curated and very high quality, others were just one step above your local flea market.  Most were between these extremes, however with few exceptions most shops concentrated on tchochkeys, smalls that just gather dust,  unless it's a small globe I can't stand buying those things.  To each his own........ so Wiscasset was worthy for its sheer volume,  I would stop again.
Turn of the century medical cabinet
     Our next outing took us from Bar Harbor, across interior Maine.  There is no worthy antiquing in and around Bar Harbor it's a tourist den,  a beautiful place, just not an antiques place. So Bangor was my next stop.  What a great town ,  just starting to get away from the route one tourism I found a fantastic place to shop, a well run group shop,  not a true " mall" but a group shop with about a dozen like minded vendors. Called aptly : Central Maine Antique mall  I recommend you stop if you are in the Bangor region it's even worth a drive for it's quality.   This place was exceptionally well run, not much to look at from the street but inside just quality vendors, no junk or flea market trash like so many other malls.  I found a " wicked good" medical cabinet from the turn of the century in excellent original preservation.  Problem was, no matter how I jockeyed my seating or luggage I couldn't fit this beauty in my car, short by less than 6 inches. I thought for sure the top and base would separate, no such luck.  I hated leaving this piece of furniture behind.  I was already arranging my smaller globes on those shelves in my mind when I discovered that things were not going to work out.  The worst part......the price.......hundreds less than I was expecting...... the knife was twisting.......
     Into and out of so many small towns with small antique barns, sheds, sometimes just a pile of junk suggesting a sale, we stopped at them all. The interior of Maine was full of such places.  None as good as this Bangor shop.  Here's a pic of a typical shop. You just never know what overlooked piece of bounty might be lurking , I swung into 50 such places, empty handed I left

My travels next took me across New Hampshire and into Vermont, here things turned promising again.  In the town of Quechee VT. I stumbled into an exceptional antiques shop.  Antiques collaborative is a decidedly upmarket shop.  3 floors of exceptional 18th through early 20th century antiques, the type of early Americana that the New England area is known for. It was here that I spotted my first globe, an English Smith's globe, an attractive mount. Here are two pictures.  This globe was in exceptional condition, I'm not going to comment on the price, this is a retail environment, haggling is somewhat expected.  I'll let everyone judge on their own.

     As you can see It didn't matter to me weather the shop catered to the 1% or weather you needed a shower after visiting, I stopped at them all.  There's an education to be had at all levels of the antiques trade.
     Further on down the road I stopped into an excellent group shop in Middlebury VT,  The Middlebury antiques center  is a comfortable mid range shop with an eclectic mix of quality dealers, no junk, some higher end offerings, but mostly just good mid range items.  One dealer in particular seemed to specialize in antique cartography:
     The final stop of my 3 state Odyssey was in Shelburne VT .  Here I again found a great multi dealer shop with the type of 18th and 19th century merchandise I like. The Champlain valley antiques center is just south of Burlington VT certainly worth the trip if you are in the area.   I went back and forth over several items in this shop,  an old blanket chest, and a mounted fish decoy,  both items way out of my wheelhouse, but I couldn't shake them!

OK, I know what some of you are thinking,  " Kyle this is a globe blog,  I don't want to read about some Fu#@ed up wooden fish and a crappy trunk"   well suck it up were almost finished.....

     Neither of these items made it home but as I type this I'm thinking I made an error, especially on the decoy.  they wanted less than $100 for the decoy and it is defiantly hand carved not machine carved, I think I really should have grabbed that one,  If you're near Burlington, grab this decoy I think it's a bit of a sleeper!!
    The trunk.......gosh I don't know a damn thing about old paint, I was scared of making a mistake with an item that I liked but knew nothing about.
     Well minor regrets but it was good to be out in the mix seeing antiques on the ground, not on a screen.  One thing I realized is my romanticized view of antiquing in New England is still somewhat available, but the antique selling marketplace has shifted online, and to mega antiques events like the annual New Hampshire antiques week  that it's almost not worth running from shop to shop over 1000 miles.  I'm glad I did if for no other reason than this part of the country is old, and an antique in itself, I saw so many charming things village to village that in itself  was wonderful.