Television shows like PBS’s Antiques Roadshow and America’s Lost Treasures on the National Geographic Channel reflect an enduring interest in antiques and the lure of discovering something “big.” Why is antiquing such a perennial activity?
“Antiques are the ultimate in recycling, reusing and repurposing,” declares Annette Couch-Jareb, manager of A&W Collectables, a 60-dealer antique cooperative on Route 250 in Keswick. “Antiques are going to be unique and original, usually better quality, and oftentimes less costly than similar objects that are new.”
Couch-Jareb points out that even if your home has a modern décor, there’s always a place for an antique. “We’ll call your house eclectic,” she says. “An old piece becomes a focal piece and is even more dramatic in a modern setting than in a home filled with antiques. No matter what your style, an antique piece creates history in your home.”
Indeed, antiques lend individuality to the newest of homes and often harken back to our region’s history. One fine piece can become an anchor adding character to a home, whether it is a family heirloom or something old that is new to the family. Those pieces suggest the energy of much less complicated times.
How to Shop
Before you start the hunt, it makes sense to educate yourself. The Federal Trade Commission publishes some standards to guide and protect shoppers. By law, an antique is more than 100 years old. Collectibles are simply what a person chooses to collect; however a vintage collectible is defined as at least 50 years old. A reproduction is created to resemble an antique, but there is no added value. “Repro,” on the other hand, is a term describing a reproduction deliberately created to deceive buyers.
Familiarize yourself with antiques in general by reading books, chatting with dealers, or even taking an online course in antiques. These courses are generally free or inexpensive. As you shop, of course, you’ll gain a mental yardstick for the value of items and what is a fair price.
Decide what you want to collect or what you are looking for. If you’re on the trail of a specific piece for a specific place in your home, have measurements with you and perhaps even a picture of the spot.
Price guide books are filled with information, photos, and average retail prices. Some are general while others deal with specific categories such as pressed glass or dolls. Online guide books show pictures of items with fairly accurate ranges of prices. Values aren’t exact, of course, because they can vary with an item’s condition and even by location because some things become “trendy” in certain regions.
In addition, there are apps for smart phones specifically for antiques. It’s a good plan to keep your phone, guide books, and tape measure handy when you are shopping in case you fall in love with something at an unexpected time or place.
Be sure the object you are buying is something you genuinely like and inspect pieces carefully. Check for broken or missing parts, stains, or other defects. Does the seller know anything about the item’s history?
With more expensive pieces, a provenance (a past history which might include dated purchase receipts, appraisals, historical records, or photographs) should be provided. If it is not available, this should be reflected in a lower price.
Ask about return policies, and always get a written receipt including the seller’s name and contact information, a description of the item—including age, origin, and the price you paid—and a written guarantee. If the seller is not willing to guarantee an item, the price should reflect this uncertainty.
Where Should I Go?
Whether you are a casual shopper, an amateur collector, or someone who takes antiquing very, very seriously, it can be a lovely way to spend an afternoon or even a weekend on the road.
Antique lovers know our region is blessed with a great variety of antique dealers, both large and small, and we wish we could list every single one. A splendid resource is Sunday Driver (sundaydriver.com), which was founded in 1987 for a few Western New York antique shops and has now expanded to a number of regional antique directories listing more than 1,000 antique shops.
The Central Virginia directory lists 98 dealers from Afton to Wirtz, while the I-81 directory lists 96 dealers from Abingdon to Wytheville. Addresses and phone numbers are given as well as websites when available. You can request a free PDF directory or get a hard copy for a modest fee for postage and handling.
The Sunday Driver includes dealers from large malls to individuals. An internet search for “antiques + Central Virginia” can also guide you to many antique businesses. A number of dealers have websites and even for those without websites there are often online reviews to check out.
These venues have many vendors under one roof so they’re a great place to get your feet wet and possibly discover a particular interest. In addition, shoppers will find themselves protected by owners, managers, and vendors alike who have a significant interest in policing their businesses by excluding dishonest dealers. Because antique malls are big, they are often located in rural areas where rents are lower.
The largest in our region is the Ruckersville Gallery with more than 80 dealers and more than 150 consigners. (“Huge place, friendly staff, well worth the drive,” posted one visitor on a review page.) The Wooly Lam, also in Ruckersville, lists about 40 stalls. (One reviewer posted: “This is a fun place to shop. Great variety of vintage, antiques and shabby chic.”)
Another multi-dealer venue is the Covesville Store between Charlottesville and Lovingston. (“I have been shopping there for many years, and sometimes made a purchase and sometimes not, I really do love looking in the store,” says one online reviewer.)
Its sister shop, the Tuckahoe Antique Mall, is in an old apple-packing shed in Nellysford. (“An excellent antique mall with a broad variety of treasures. Well worth the drive from Richmond!”) reads an online shopper’s review.
There are dozens of individual dealers as well. Here are some regional samples:
Habitat Stores often stock previously owned furniture from antiques to modern. Donated items might include dressers, mirrors, doors, windows, flooring, chairs, and even a piano. There are Habitat ReStores in Charlottesville, Staunton, Buena Vista, Farmville, Lynchburg, Richmond and other cities in our area. Check individual websites for photos of some of their inventory and for weekly specials.
Circa, a Charlottesville institution often drawing people from some distance, stocks its meandering multi-building warehouse with “affordable antiques and quality used furniture.” Their inventory encompasses true antiques to very-early-heirloom pieces in need of some TLC, including drop-leaf desks, china cupboards and secretaries to fit in corners, chairs, tables, artwork, and lots more.
“Our inventory comes from auctions and individuals who are moving or downsizing,” says Circa manager Robin Slaats. “We buy a lot from just people, and we like finding new homes for their things.”
Another example is Kenny Ball Antiques in Ivy Square in Charlottesville. Chloe Ball started working at her father’s shop straight out of college about a dozen years ago. She points out that compared to antique malls, many individual stores typically have a niche. “For example,” she explains, “we specialize in 18th and 19th century French, English and Italian antiques.”
The shop has been in business 30 some years. “We used to go to France every other month,” Ball says, “but now we can buy online at auctions and estates.” She says some shoppers have one special particular thing in mind while other people find things and make them special.
The niche for Oyster House Antiques, open daily on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall, is antique Chinese furniture, purchased in China. They also stock jewelry, scrolls, figurines and other items. A warehouse with additional inventory is nearby on Preston Avenue, however while it is open on weekends, it is open by appointment only during the week.
Gasoline Alley, appropriately located in an old service station on Main Street in Waynesboro, has a niche for “petroliana” (not surprising, given their name) as well as “breweriana,” including many old advertising signs, but also antique and mid-Century furniture, architectural elements, and more. Their website shows much of their merchandise.
Patina Antiques, Etc. is on East High Street in Charlottesville and stocks what they term “a true hodgepodge” of fine antiques and brand new items from furniture to functional accessories. This mix fits well into the eclectic décor many people choose these days.
Again, this is a very small representation of the many reputable antique businesses in our region. These days, the hunt is helped by dealers with websites featuring specific pieces in their inventories.
Other Ways to Use Antiques
Sometimes shoppers find something they weren’t planning on buying. They may love it, but not really have a place for it. That’s the time for thoughtful repurposing.
One family, for example, used an antique pie safe to house their television behind closed doors. An oversized headboard, shutters, or old windows could become a room divider. An armoire might serve as a file cabinet in a home office.
When a large antique piece such as a weather vane or wagon wheel can’t be incorporated into a practical function, consider turning it into a focal point as a piece of art. Could it be mounted over a buffet or mantelpiece? Smaller pieces such as jewelry or thimbles might be mounted in shadow boxes and used in wall arrangement with miniature paintings, small musical instruments or similar items.
“It’s interesting,” says Couch-Jareb of A&W Collectibles. “I think about 90 percent of purchases are impulse items, but you have them in the back of your mind.” She urges people to shop with tape measures and floor plans in case you see the “perfect” item you didn’t even know you were looking for. (For emergency measurements: a dollar bill is very close to 6 inches long.)
Remember, she continues, “When you are antiquing, you are supporting a local small business.” She says dealers typically don’t seem themselves in competition with each other because everyone has different things. “We all try to support one another. If someone is looking for something, and I know it’s likely to be at another place, I’ll send them there and other places do likewise. We have a stack of cards from other businesses and I can gladly send them in that direction. “
The bottom line is that antiquing is an enjoyable way to spend a day finding treasures, gifts, home décor, or simply items that appeal to you.
Marilyn Pribus and her husband especially love their antique dark-wood, curved-glass-fronted secretary desk. The underside of the drawer is marked National Biscuit Company making it clear the craftsman was recycling a cracker crate when the piece was built.