March Blog-Becoming An Antique Dealer

Date: March 15

Article Details:

“How Do You Become An Antiques Dealer?”


      A question I have been asked frequently in my 24 years of doing this. If you are like me you can obtain a Master’s Degree, then decide that whatever you studied isn’t your first love and move on. However I wouldn’t advise that path. As in many businesses, things have changed dramatically in the 24 years I have been doing this. I started out very young with parents who loved antiques and vintage things and toted myself and my two sisters around to auctions on weekends. I hated it. It was boring and I had far more important things to do, like play with my friends and not be seen in a car that resembled Jed Clampets.

     At some point, my dad, who is a smart man, (and who I now realize was a shop owners dream), realized that he had to do something to make these ventures more interesting to us or lose his sanity. He made a brilliant move and had the three of us start collecting something. For me it was bottles, my sisters were salt dips and butter pats. This was brilliant in more than one way because the things he had us collect were very inexpensive back in those days so he could afford to support our habits and, gosh, tell any girl they can go shopping and see what they say. All of a sudden the auctions were fraught with excitement and allure. (Come to think of it, they are still fraught with excitement and allure but my dad won’t pay for anything so….)

     We each had our little collections and things smoothed out. My father was very good at buying things that needed work and then fixing them and taking them to shops to sell them. He was talented and it relaxed him to do this as a hobby. For his “real” job he sold office supplies to large companies. I remember going with him to a shop on the Main Street in Canandaigua, NY. He would take candle stands, tables, chairs etc. after he had worked his magic on them and they would try not to salivate and then strike a bargain for this piece that they didn’t even have to drive around and find. It arrived at their door! That shop owner has long since passed away and my dad just turned 88 years old in February. I own two successful shops now and I know the value of what we call “Pickers” who show up and sell you things out of their vehicles. Yes, I know, you think American Pickers drive around in a nice Mercedes van and buy things, but of course they sell them too. That’s what pays for the nice van.

Blog_Storage_Unit_Pic.jpg     I do a bit of that as well. Travel across the New England region and NY, PA, OH, and on and on. It’s a very enjoyable part of this business. It isn’t all rosy however. The bench seat is uncomfortable (well, ok the driver’s seat is fine but the passenger bench is a killer!) We can’t agree on directions all the time and I prefer my Magellan and my friend Audrey prefers her phone. As we’ve gotten older my business partner of 23 years can’t hear very well and that has resulted in some interesting situations, but that’s another story… Sometimes you find a lot and other times, (and these have become more frequent), you travel to an area where you filled the truck in one trip 15 years ago and you’re lucky if you can find 3 things. Gas is expensive and we all need to get out and move around a lot more than we did when we started and I was in my early 30’s. It’s tough getting old. Oh! And everyone has something “great” they want to sell you. “It’s really old and exactly like the one I saw on Antiques Roadshow…. Except it’s smaller, has been refinished and has a broken wheel…” (Story of my life.)You find yourself loading a huge cupboard into the van in the dark by the side of the road. I’ve rolled my window down on the NYS Thruway and bought a cupboard from the back of a guy’s truck while going 65 miles an hour. I’ve forced Wayne to pull over to someone’s yard and grab a huge ladder in old green paint that they are throwing away, while he mutters about being seen doing this and ducks his head while I swat him with the local trade paper and tell him to get that thing in the van! I have a familiarity with storage units I never anticipated. I love it. I can’t remember why I hated it when I was 10?

     Somewhere along the way I realized I know what a butter pat is, what a salt dip is, what a firkin is…what flo blue is. (Scarier still is the fact that somehow my husband knows what a theorem painting is!) I’ll explain something to someone who likes antiques or vintage but isn’t a dealer and they’ll say “How do you know that?” Honestly, I have no idea. Osmosis of some sort. When you like a subject you pick up things about it and it sticks. Of course there are volumes written about every collectible known to man and experience helps but…I have always called myself a jack of all trades, master of none. That’s what my dad called himself and now I know what he meant. I like a lot of everything and don’t really love studying. I do know how to research things and I have done this long enough to source out folks who know more about certain items than I do. I have a knack for buying things I can sell for more than I paid for them. Nobody taught me that…trial and error my friends. That can be an expensive education. Not as expensive as the Master’s degree but I digress…

     I love the design part of the antique world and I find some great and unusual things. My business partner Wayne is a very talented and creative force. I can see what you should do with something, he can see how to do it. I talk to the customers, he wants to be left to work on the furniture and decorative items. It’s worked for us for 24 years this August. I do recall one tax meeting when my accountant banged her head on the desk and wept, (In the interest of full disclosure I did have a shoebox full of receipts in my hands!) She was a nervous wreck and quoted some adage about partnerships and sinking ships….No matter. It has worked and we love what we do and I work with a wonderful group of creative and feisty individuals. I wouldn’t trade a day of it. I think the way you “become” anything is to love what you do and immerse yourself in it. My husband is a chemical engineer and has no interest what so ever in antiques but he supports me in my quest and he flies his plane for relaxation. We’ve been married 27 years in October. We still go out for a drive and he drives right by garage or barn or yard sales and honestly has no idea what I’m talking about when I scream “Wait! Turn around, quick!” He’s still saying “What?” I’m still marveling at his selective blindness. He is sweet and thinks it’s cool to tell people he married an American picker. I’m so over that comparison it’s not funny (although I do drive that van :). I hope 20 years from now I’m still figuring out a way to make this business work. Albeit minus the huge cupboards but……

Many of my dealers will participate in writing posts for the blog this year. You will be exposed to humor, history and interesting stories. As usual, we couldn’t do this without you, our customers and we are grateful to have that opportunity. We’ll see you at the market!