Sunday, August 29, 2010

"I really shouldn't be accumulating too many things."

This entry's titular quotation was muttered by an older woman walking the New Castle Antiques Show grounds. Indeed, her sentiment was the theme of the day.

On my way to the Show, I discovered that one of Delaware Street's residents was arranging items for sale on the sidewalk and in the backyard. I learned from a customer sitting in the backyard that the house's owner is some German baron and that he instructed his caretaker to start emptying the house in an effort to liquidate the home's contents. Nothing was marked with a price, and most of the furniture was falling apart, covered in grime, or re-finished within an inch of its life. Not very tempting, but there is something enchanting about a black horsehair-covered Victorian sofa bursting with its stuffing until you remember that you do no know how to reupholster furniture. What more would one expect from a house whose windows' paint is chipping and falling onto the sidewalk? I really just wanted to take a walk through the house tag sale style, but that didn't seem to be an option.

The customer I met struck up a conversation with me. After learning that I graduated from Winterthur, etc., and that I'm into history, he asked me whether I could "authenticate" the set of rococo (Chippendale) side chairs in the front of the house. He said the caretaker wanted $400, and he explained that if I thought they were worth more, he would put up the money, and we could split the resale profit. Who knew all I had to do was walk down the street to find a business partner? The fact is that I don't know the value of an average, refinished mid c18 side chair that lacks provenance (without doing research), and, as I noted yesterday, I do not buy to sell (which is why the blog is titled "Picking for pleasure..."). A nice thought, but not a hobby for a Ph.D. student. I looked around a bit more, never meeting the house's caretaker (who obviously needed some coaching in selling), and continued on to my destination.

There was a line outside the Show. A few people budged in line in front of me. A local dressed in colonial garb was serenading us with his fife and soliciting customers for his wife's local business. Despite the fact that I applied bug repellent prior to leaving my apartment, I had a bug bite within five minutes. After standing in the blazing sun for about ten minutes, I finally reached the entrance, paid the entry fee, and started searching for my next conquest.

The booths and tents were crowded. It was hot. I had no water with me. I powered-on, though, and saw a few things I could not afford but really admired, yet another box like the one I mentioned yesterday (this example larger, in better condition, and more expensive), and a few items within my budget that tempted my pocketbook.

One dealer was peddling a "courting" sleigh. The exterior was red, if I recall correctly, and it was upholstered with faded woven fabric decorated with an embossed stylized floral motif. The sleigh dates to the late nineteenth century and was priced at over $1,000. Some of the upholstery springs were visible, but, with some conservation work, I think the sleigh would make an interesting piece of seating furniture.

Another dealer had a framed mid nineteenth-century collage made with a lithographed woman's or child's face. The neck and upper-chest area was "dressed" with a red silk fabric and some sort of lace. One of my Winterthur classmates recently completed a thesis on "dressed" miniatures (focusing on miniaturist Mary Way), so I was aware of this craft's history. Priced at $135, it was out of my price range, but its visual appeal played to my "need" for wall decorations. As I walked through the show, I kept it in mind but ultimately decided that it was striking but out of my price range.

Finally, the dealer from whom I purchased my single find of the day was also selling a small black tin box that contained a set of mid-late nineteenth-century stencils. Each stencil was about 1.5"-2" high. The set was missing the letter "N" and the number "8" but was otherwise complete. It also came with what appeared to be a paint or ink well. The price was right--only $36, but it was black and had no provenance...and it lacks my first initial.

Ultimately, I followed the rules I set yesterday, preventing myself from "accumulating too many things." Not only did I buy a house for $15 (a fair price for a small piece of unsigned piece of mid c19 needlework), but I bought something colorful that I can hang on my wall. It's a small Berlin needlework fragment depicting a house on blue perforated cardboard. I will discuss it within the next month or so after I give a talk on my Berlin work thesis for a textile seminar at the University of Delaware. In the mean time, it will serve as my metaphorical house, filled with imaginary courting sleighs and stencil boxes.

I am happy with my acquisition, but I only witnessed a handful of other transactions. I overheard several people mention that there were fewer dealers here this year than there were last year. Many dealers were lamenting that no one was buying. Based on my own observations, the market hit a low in the winter of 2008-2009, rebounded a bit in between then and now (thanks to "the stimulus," perhaps), and has started to decline again. "I really shouldn't be accumulating too many things."

More for me!

At any rate, by the time I finished trolling the Show, I was dehydrated and ravenous. I purchased a pulled pork sandwich and a Diet Coke from a vendor on site and started walking back to my apartment, bypassing the house liquidation and being punished for resisting "accumulating too many things" by slipping and falling onto the sidewalk and onto my right side in front of a lot of people who paid no attention.

The fall aside, I am happy to report that the adventure was less traumatic than the nightmare I had last night in which nothing was for sale at the Show except for school and airport furniture (in bad condition!) from the third quarter of the twentieth century.


  1. Should we expect a blog entry on the house? When do you think it dates to?

  2. I'll include the house in the entry(ies) about the textile seminar. The house probably dates to the 1850s.