Thursday, December 18, 2008

Blunders and Absurdities

At last it can be told: the new edition of Cochran's Collector's Guide has been uploaded and is ready for your perusal. The paper version was distributed about six weeks ago, and can now be found in any of our advertisers' stores, from Washington State to Arizona.

The new cover is pictured here on our home page, at upper left. Please keep in mind that the cover is green this year; it's important that you make this distinction because the previous edition, with a cinnamon brown cover, has the same year imprinted on it. Yes, we made a big mistake, and will be living with it for the next year. Endless phone calls and emails: "Um, did you know the new book has the same date on it as last years?" One shop in Washington actually dumped all their new books at the Palmer-Wirfs Show, thinking they were the old edition. (sigh...)

I've taken to reading this quote every so often just to remember that life goes on, even after the most egregious of errors. And will get better, if we don't dwell on the past.
"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
So take a look at the Guide's online version by clicking on the Contents button above. We still have a little tweaking to do, and the links have not yet been activated, but I'll have them done before the New Year. And may your holiday season be serene and joyful, and take you into the New Year in high spirits.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Window Shopping

With Thanksgiving only a couple of weeks away, antique stores are decorating for Christmas and planning big open house festivities for that weekend. Windows are being dressed in their holiday finery, and while it's too early to bring on live Christmas trees, the artificial trees are turning up everywhere.

Niles Antiques on Niles Blvd. in Fremont, CA has one of the most beautiful window displays I've ever seen: uncluttered, dramatic and with penguins and a polar bear instead of the usual reindeer and elves. Well done, Ron and Madeline!

By the way, Thanksgiving weekend marks the Niles Merchants' Open House, followed by their Christmas Tea and Tour the first Saturday in December, both sponsored by the Niles Merchants' Association. And on December 12, Niles Main Street is planning a Holiday Home Tour.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

It's a Wrap!

...well, just about, anyway. The 20th Annual Cochran's Collector's Guide is going to press, and within a couple of weeks it'll be available in all the stores listed, as well as the shows in our 24-page Events section. Here's the cover, so you'll know what you're looking for.
All my favorite colors. Inside are some new towns that haven't appeared in the Guide before, such as Coburg, OR and Templeton, CA. A large number of individual dealers in malls decided this year to strut their stuff with Associate Listings, so not only do you get an overview of a store's merchandise, you get an idea of some of the specialties you'll find there. Many stores submitted photos, so when you're driving around looking for them, you already know what they look like, saving yourself time and gas.

By January 1, our webmaster Jim will have the entire edition uploaded on this website, so it can be viewed by anyone with Internet access.

It's a big job, but after 20 years, we think we've got a handle on it.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Rumors of My Demise are Greatly Exaggerated

It's been two weeks plus since I posted here last, and everyone may be thinking I'm dead, and they're not far wrong: it's deadline for our 20th annual Cochran's Collector's Guide. This means 18-hour days on the computer and the telephone, leaving little time for luxuries like blogging. But I've printed out our first draft, we go to press early next week and there's a bright and steady light at the end of the tunnel that is NOT an oncoming train.

I've been in phone contact with hundreds of people from Washington to Arizona, helping them update their information, welcoming dozens of new stores and a couple of new shows. I've also been hearing sad stories about people I've gotten to know over the years who have retired, lost their lease, lost dear family members. Some antique shops that have been in business for decades have closed their doors. "The economy" was cited as the reason many stores are closing, although in some areas I'm hearing that business is better than ever.

One of the best responses I've seen to lagging business is the shop that decided to send out cards to everyone on their mailing list and host a tea party. Special events require some planning and enthusiasm, demand a fresh look at one's surroundings and how they might be presented at their best.

The warm, inviting Victoria Rose tea room in Clovis was the scene for a recent very successful auction dinner

Speaking of tea, the Victoria Rose Tea Room in Clovis, CA, which also has antiques, just put on its first Auction Dinner, which was such a success it's going to be a regular event. Items in the auction came from many of the stores in Clovis's very active antique row, so everyone was pleased with its success.

Another shop owner reports that every time she gets, dusting, unpacking or doing research on her computer, customers wander in.

I'm hoping many of the store owners who participate in the Collector's Guide will take their digital cameras to work and spend an hour or two taking photos for the free web pages we offer. When the hardcopy Guide has gone to press, I plan to spend a lot of time building new web pages, which offer dealers a chance to display their merchandise on the Internet, even if they don't own a computer or do email (yes, I can scan photos, too). Want to see what I'm talking about? Click on Store Pages to go to the Index, listed by locations. I'm no webmaster, but I'm hoping the photos speak for themselves.

Stores that have active web pages can inject a little excitement into their presentations with new photos, too. I can't tell you how many people I've talked to who say, "Well, yes, we have a website but we haven't done anything with it in a looooong time." Meanwhile, they're paying for a service they're not getting full use of, to be ungrammatical about it.

I love colorful kitchenalia that's also useful. So this hutchfull of goodies photographed at Antique Legacy in Sacramento's 57th St. Antique Row really grabbed my attention.

Blogs are a stupendous way to show the world what you have to offer, and I'm always adding blogs from dealers to my bloglist (hoping, of course, that they'll reciprocate). My latest addition, Antique Legacy at the 57th Street Antique Row in Sacramento. Monica, the blogger, really knows how to beguile with photos of her latest acquisitions. Like me, she blogs at Blogspot, a free service. If you're going to have internet access, why not make the most of it?

Kovels Komments addressed the issue of collectors and the economy this week, with an optimistic view backed by some sound reasons, that "Collectors should be able to survive a bad economy better than most." Read it for if you're looking for a little attitude adjustment.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Cochran's Choice #2

I'm sure you have been waiting out there with bated breath for the next Cochran's Choice Blog Award, so let's proceed, shall we? Everybody take a deep breath. Hear the drumroll? The cymbal? The envelope, please...

And the second Cochran's Choice Blog Award for 2008 goes to...Rare Victorian.

Here's a blog that's part of a website by John Werry, a young, savvy antique dealer and rehabilitator who knows his Victorian furniture. John says in his bio that he only caught the bug in 2005, but he's already developed an informative blog on the subject which manages at the same time to be entertaining. Read his posts on "Manly Man's Antiques" for an example. He's not stinting on the "how-to's" either; check out his video on restoring a Merklen table that had been "shabby-chic'ed" thus obliterating its initial value.

The page has a lot of information on it, but it's well-organized, with no cutesy animations, and the typography and color choice is orderly and easy on the eye. He supports his habit with Google ads, but they don't dominate the page. A professional job.

John began by collecting Victorian furniture for his 1887 home, and delved into research "so I wouldn't get 'had' when I went shopping," as good a reason as any for beginning what some would consider a boring enterprise. I confess to an impulse to reward a young man deeply involved in a field that sometimes seems to be so heavily represented by the older generation. There's yet hope for the future of the antiques world.

Rare Victorian is interactive in three ways: You can comment on a blog post, join his forum or email him. I like that, too.

I selected Rare Victorian after reading the current post, about a "once magnificent rosewood roccoco parlor table" that had been thoughtlessly amputated to make a coffee table. The result looks a little like a graceful horse whose legs have been cut off at the knee. A sad tale, but I hope it has a happy ending, and we get to hear about it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Belated RIP for Ralph Kovel

I've been out of the loop lately and only today discovered that Ralph Kovel died on August 28 in Cleveland.

I've long considered Ralph and Terry Kovel to be my long-distance mentors on the subject of antiques and collectibles. I've referred to their website often to research various subjects, and used their antique price guides when I wrote articles back when I published an antique newspaper.

Terry wrote a farewell for Ralph on that showed more of the personal side of Ralph. He would answer collectors' questions anytime, she said. Once he took a call from Alaska at 2am.

Today, I found 523 comments on the Kovels Komments blog.

Here's a photo of Ralph and Terry, from

Looking for a Good Used Car?

We recently came across a new line of toy cars by Jada that, if nothing else, is good for a laugh, especially if the whole concept of treasured collectible toy cars strikes you as slightly absurd. Just the thing for your Trailer Trash Barbie! Which is probably not destined to be collectible, but who knows? They were discontinued after Mattel won the lawsuit. But that's another blog...

But many collectors take their toy cars very seriously. Daryl Lambert posted on his blog about "a toy VW Bus that sold for over $18,000," and added, "I looked on eBay and found a toy car that sold for $7,200, as well as many others that brought in over $4,000."

At a website called Old Classic Car an article devoted to toy cars describes what collectors seek:
Most collectors search for unrestored toy cars, as a car that still wears its original paint, tyres and so on, really has a feel of a proper old toy, something that no restored example can hope to achieve.

A few honest scars, scuffs, dings and signs of wear are signs that a toy has been played with and appreciated, or as the antique trade would call it, 'patina'.
Then there are those who prize the mint-condition, still-in-the-box examples...indeed, the presence of a mint-condition box can double a toy's value. But beware! There's even an industry involved in making reproduction toy packaging, to go with restored toys that will then be offered as "mint." Dinky and Corgi toy cars, in particular, are showing up with reproduction boxes.

There's a viable market, however, for the honestly restored toy car. I remember visiting a restoration shop in the basement of Petaluma Collective a decade ago, where funky old toy roadsters were being rehabilitated into gleaming like-new condition. These were no longer toys. They deserved a place of honor on a car enthusiast's shelf or a CEO's desk. (The restorer was using vile toxic paints and solvents, and he had developed serious respiratory problems. Quite a sacrifice for his passion.)

The website eHow suggests if you're starting a toy car collection you might hit garage sales, search eBay (which I'd be leery of doing) and studying price guides. Toymart, an online price guide, is an example.

Another article about diecast metal cars on a blog called Linked in to Cars included this great photo of a Corgi toy ambulance, with box.

A car collection can range from a pocketful of Matchbox cars to a pristinely displayed wall-full of very pricey little vehicles, each protected by its own plastic dome. Remember when Corgi came out with the Batmobile in the sixties? If you'd invested in one, put it away with its box and saved it until now, you could get $800 for it.

Chevron is apparently betting that their anthromorphized toy cars like Rudy Ragtop here, starring in their own commercials, touted at gas stations and boosted with their own website, might someday be considered valuable. Maybe not in our lifetime... Just in case, if you buy one, keep the box. Another gas company, Hess, sells toy trucks every year at Thanksgiving (obviously aimed at the Christmas market) and they're gone in a few days according to a collector whose first purchase was a Hess truck.

The earliest toy cars came from Germany and were made of the same tinplate used in making oilcans. Next came cast iron, and briefly in the 1930s, rubber, followed by plastic and metal alloy ("the white metal composed of zinc and aluminum") in the sixties. Here's an article that explains how to date a toy car, IF you still have that all-important box it came in.
If your collectible toy car just happens to still be in a box you can use ZIP Codes to determine the date it was made. 5 digit ZIP codes were first implemented by the US Post Office in 1963. In 1983 the Post Office implemented ZIP + 4. So if your collectible toy cars have a ZIP code of 5 digits, it dates between 1963 and 1983. If it has a 5 digit code followed by a 4 digit code, it dates from 1983 or later. New abbreviations for states also became prominent around 1963. Between 1943 and 1963, the largest U.S. cities used "postal zones." If your collectible toy cars have a postal zone number following the state in the address, it dates between 1943 and 1963.
Did you know that:
• Made in 1901, the first toy automobile was a sheet-steel copy of an Oldsmobile.
• A line of toy cars with working headlights was produced in the 1930s, and these are highly valued collectibles.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Put on Your Walking Shoes, It's Showtime

You can count on beautiful weather just about anywhere in the West in September, and organizers of some of the most popular outdoor and indoor antique events take advantage of these lovely days...

Coming up this weekend is the Coburg Antique Fair in Coburg, OR, near Eugene. Coburg was named after Coburg, Germany, a source of quality horses, after the local blacksmith admired a particularly fine horse from there. Over 350 antique dealers from over six states bring their finest goods to the streets of downtown Coburg. You can spend the entire day, enjoying live music and noshing at the many food booths. Admission and parking are free. Shown: Coburg's name may have been inspired by a horse, but the horseless carriage has a place of honor there, too.

If you're closer to Idaho, another show is going on this weekend that you're sure to enjoy, especially if you love music as well as antiques and primitives at the Vintage Barn in Rathdrum, (near Coeur d'Alene). Saturday's show (9am-4pm) features two bands: the Northern Idaho Hat Band and the Prairie Flyer. And the 40 vendors specialize in everything rustic and primitive: cottage, farmhouse and cabin style, salvaged finds, vintage western and garden items. If all that browsing makes you hungry, there are fresh baked goods and treats.

Vintage Fashion Expo Sept 20-21, Nob Hill Masonic Center in San Francisco. This fair has been beguiling visitors with haute couture and funky wearable finds for 20 years. Concurrent with the Frida Kahlo art exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art through Sept. 28, one exhibitor is going all out with these embellished Mexican jackets, skirts and accessories dating back to the 40s.

Petaluma Antique Fair (now in its 22nd year!) Sun, Sept 28, Kentucky Street in downtown Petaluma. Shown: one of the historic ironfront buildings in downtown Petaluma provides a period backdrop over the many booths of their semi-annual antique street fair.

At Alameda Point in Alameda, the place to go the first Sunday of every month (Sept. 7) is the Antiques By The Bay fair, reportedly the largest in California with 800 booths, where everything for sale is (they promise) 20 years or older. If you're an earlybird you can be admitted here as early as 7:30am. Shown: A vendor of vintage Coca Cola and jukeboxes.

And on the second Sunday of the month (Sept. 14) the Sacramento Antique Fair takes place outdoors on 21st St. between W and X Streets.It's another one that opens early...6:30am... and there's coffee waiting for you. Shown: shoppers look over some vintage brassware.

Cochran's Choice #1

Start the drumrolls, bring on the paté and champagne, as we present our first Award to...TA DA!

This is purely an emotional reaction to one of the most alluring sites I've visited on any subject. It's presented by the owner of the European Antique Market in Louisville, KY, but it's not about sales, more about inspiration. The breathtaking music, the large-scale, light-filled photography... like opening a window into a world I've always dreamed of visiting. Uncluttered, peaceful, romantic. Makes me want to dig up my old French text and book a flight to the South of France tout suite!

I'll be posting on other favorites over the next five weeks.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Dewey Like Dewey? Who Wouldn't?

Downtown Dewey, Oklahoma, where they made the most of their small-town atmosphere

Last week I visited my mother and sister in Oklahoma. My sis and I traditionally tour Dewey's modest cluster of antique shops, where the town fathers of Dewey made the most of their old-style downtown, and the result is easy on the eyes compared to the big-box-store strip-mall look of nearby Bartlesville. I counted six antique stores in Dewey, though there could be a few more. We only had time to stop at three.

At the Linger Longer mall, named after a beloved old local manmade swimming hole that was wiped out in a storm in the 1920s, there's an old fashioned marble-top soda fountain, where Pat, the owner, served up an excellent chocolate ice cream soda. That's my sister Judy about to partake. My favorite find at LL was a display of chintz and transferware, and I bemoaned the need to travel light when I saw a couple of pieces I'd have loved to take home.

I also found some old advertising tins, including one for Lacto-Dextrin, a food supplement that promised to adjust one's intestinal flora.

Next we stopped at Mimi's, another mall near the town square, where we looked for something cat-themed for Mother, an avid feline fan...

I liked the small white-painted furniture, shelving and curios in this booth.

Finally, we stopped at Bar-Dew Antique Mall on our way out of town, where I found... old oak baby chair that could be converted into a stroller, a rocker or a high chair...

a wonderful oak kitchen cupboard full of drawers and bins... elegant old dressing table...

...three Roseville pedestals...

...a genuine trademarked Hoosier...

...a Mission-style rocker and secretary...

...and a white-painted metal cabinet from a doctor's or dentist's office.

Bill, the owner of Bar-Dew, told me he's low on stock (though the place looked packed to me) because he's been doing well in Dewey this summer. Furniture has been moving out the door at a smart pace, and he'll soon have to start looking for more.
This old spatter-patterned porcelain wood cookstove with warming ovens stands outside JandW Antiques on Don Tyler St. in Dewey. How I'd have loved to take it home! Wouldn't it look sweet next to Bar-Dew's Hoosier?

But, of course, we don't have a huge supply of firewood here in the desert.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Railroad Trains and Pretty Porcelain

August has always been the longest month for me, probably because I've had about all the summer heat I can stand and I'm starting to long for a nip of autumn chill in the air. My friend Sue in Oregon is already enjoying fall, with 53-degree mornings, but it doesn't happen here in San Carlos until October 15, when a miraculous annual change takes place (ask anybody if you doubt me). But this August I'm traveling, making one trip to Arizona, another to Oklahoma, and so the time seems to be flying. And blogging time is dwindling, especially when I'm on the road and away from Internet access.

Google map of the Niles District of Fremont, site of the historic train depot and the famous Niles antique row and the 44th Annual Antique Faire and Flea Market

But while we swelter through the month, the last Sunday in August is a date to look forward to in Northern California. The Niles Main Street Association is getting ready for their 44th Annual Antique Faire and Flea Market on the 31st. It's a big attraction for railroad buffs who can see the historic train depot and take a train ride, and antique shoppers who want a big selection in walking distance (200 vendors at the fair, plus more than a dozen shops).

If you go to Niles, you can also see one of the biggest fine porcelain collections outside of a museum, at A Moment in Time Antiques on Niles Blvd. Arlyne Meyer and her daughter Michelle have obtained a huge collection of Meissen, RS Prussia, Limoges and Nippon in complete sets and individual pieces...everything from chocolate pots to collector plates to oyster plates to full dinner sets. More than 2000 items, adorned not only with flower, fruit and berry motifs but the more rare and valuable portrait examples, beautifully handpainted on fine, translucently thin kaolin porcelain. Ornate forms, lavished in gold, signed by the artists and dating from the 1800s. Plus graceful figurines, lady head vases and retired Hummel. While it's been a slow summer at many antique stores, Arlyne reports record sales in June and July, which indicates a lot of people are finding their way to Niles, and that owner-operated antique stores with specialties like high-end porcelain are still doing well in this goofy economy.

Photos: just a few examples of the fabulous collection of RS Prussia, Meissen, Limoges and Nippon porcelain at A Moment in Time on Niles Boulevard, Fremont, CA

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Work of That Turk

I've found and added to my bloglist a new blog on appraising, aimed at not only serious appraisers but anyone interested in learning more about evaluating art and old stuff. Appraiser Workshops had an interesting post today about a novice collector who bought two paintings for $14,000, signed by impressionist Guy Carleton Wiggins (1883-1962), and then took them be authenticated by Wiggins' son, Guy A., who denounced them as fakes. The point of the post is that you're supposed to do it the other way around: authenticate, then buy. Duh.

Apparently they were done by a notorious Turk named Ethem Tune "Adam" Ulge, who's considered "a bad artist, but he has a style," according to Wiggins, Jr. Obviously, not $14K worth of style.

Shown: "A Winter Night in New York," by the real Guy Carleton Wiggins, Rehs Gallery

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Some REALLY Old Stuff at Ida Red's

Mike and Debbie Ausec, owners of Ida Red's Antiques in Aurora, OR have acquired a collection that goes beyond antiques or even antiquities, and into prehistoric: a collection of fossils from a prehistoric petrified forest in Florissant, Colorado, part of the estate of one of a close friend, Jack Baker, who died in 1995.

Jack Baker loved old stuff. Here he is with his Chrysler Airflow, purchased in 1936

Jack had turned his Pike Forest Fossil Beds into one of those roadside attractions so beloved of travelers in the mid-20th century. The most famous tourist to drop by was Walt Disney, who was so taken with the fossils, he bought a petrified tree trunk to display at Disneyland.

Disney's visit brought Jack his 15 minutes of fame, but also alerted the U.S. government, which appropriated the forest and turned it into the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in 1969. Jack was able to preserve his own personal collection of small fossils, and after his death Ida Red's purchased the lot. The bits and pieces of shale bear the fossilized remains of everything from a bug's eyelash to an entire fish skeleton, ferns and leaves in all their detail. Some items in the collection have been shellacked, following the custom of collectors in Jack's day, but others are just as he found them.

Fossils of a leaf and an entire fish, from Jack Baker's collection

Debbie Ausec mentioned the Florissant Fossil Beds collection yesterday when I spoke with her on the phone, and I thought for a silly moment she said "flourescent." As in, they glow in the dark? But no, that's just how the name is pronounced.

Because Mike's a mineral collector and old tool enthusiast, Ida Red's is a treasure trove of "guy stuff," with a large selection of old tools, minerals and curiosities such as the fossils.

Of historic and geological interest is Jack Baker's dismantled fireplace which was created from hand-polished, colorful pieces of fossilized wood Jack had collected on various trips through the West. Jack was so proud of the fireplace, once the showpiece of his gift shop, he had a picture postcard made of it, though the photo doesn't do it justice. Here are just a few of the pieces, now all boxed up and awaiting reassembly.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Girls' Night Out

Vintage buttons at the Cottage Jewel in Danville.
What's in your button jar? What can you do with it?

I have a stash of small found objects, bits and pieces that I haven't found a use for yet. I think now and then, "This would make a good necklace," or "Someday I'm going to use these to decorate the top of my jewelry box..." Instead of lamenting a broken china cup, I've begun to speculate how I can re-use pieces that are still beautiful with their hand-painted flowers and designs. I have jars and bowls of shells, sea glass, beads and broken baubles. I admire the frugality and ingeniousness of making something out of items others might consider useless.

Marcia Harmon, owner of the Cottage Jewel in Danville, shares my enthusiasm. In fact, she often holds workshops in her store every Thursday evening until 8pm. A sort of Girls' Night Out where people looking for ideas, tools and a few new skills gather and get creative. In June, for instance, they were introduced to bead embroidery and mosaics.

Other nights are devoted to showings of the work of local artists, such as jewelry maker Karen Rice. You can inspire yourself, adorn yourself... Or both! Sounds like more fun than Ladies' Night at the BoyToy Club, and you might have something to show for it in the morning besides a hangover.

Elegant one-of-a-kind beaded pendant by Karen Rice comes with its own display stand so it can be shown off for the unique work of art it is. See her selection at Cottage Jewel's store or website

Marcia is also the instigator of the new Heartland Danville Antiques & Art Faire, Labor Day Monday, Sept 1 at the Museum of the San Ramon Valley on Railroad Ave. Spaces are still available, she reports, and are going for the best prices around. Call for details, (925) 837-2664.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Three Bloggers from Niles

The homely pickle never looked so good as when enthroned in one of these spectacular ruby glass pickle castors, at Les Belles in Niles, CA

Fellow bloggers in the antique world are starting turn up one at a time, and I'm adding them to my bloglist. Today I hit the jackpot! Three in the same town, Fremont, California where an antique row is situated on Niles Boulevard, a historic railroad center.

This morning one of the owners of Les Belles called asking me to add her blog address to her listing in the new Collector's Guide we're working on now, and mentioned that two others in town are blogging too: My Friends and I, and Lealind's (one of the "friends" of My Friends).

A selection of pressed glass, milk glass, footed glass bowls, salt and peppers, and a pretty handpainted bowl at My Friends & I, a multi-dealer shop in Niles

Everything you need for an elegant, old-fashioned ice cream social, in Lealind's Gifts, a space at My Friends & I

Another link on each of these blogs takes you to the Niles Main Street Association, which is gearing up for their annual antique bash, the Niles Antique Faire and Flea Market, August 31.

Just to give you a taste of what these stores have to offer, I'm sharing photos from their blogs, but click on over for a better look at their selection. What a great way to preview a store, and see if your tastes coincide!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Leafing Through Online Antique Magazines

What have I done for you lately, dear Reader? Have you taken a look at the prodigious list of periodical links I've created for you?

Some of these links will take you to actual stories in the current edition or archives of certain magazines. Others withhold everything except info on how to subscribe for hardcopies. But I found one that actually gives you the entire magazine in glossy color: "Modernism Magazine." If you're a fan of Art Deco and the other movements that occurred in connection with it, throughout the US and Europe, and want to see how design today has been informed by it all, this is the magazine for you. It's free, beautifully designed and right there at the click of a link button (which says "View Online Edition"). What's not to like?

Kovels also provides page after page of up-to-date information every month, either free or at nominal cost for an upgraded subscription.

Another publication that uploads its entire content online is Cochran's Collector's Guide, accessible at the left of this home page. There you'll find 200 pages of maps, information on stores' specialties, contact info and plenty more, updated annually.

Now, if only other pubs would do the same... Maybe they'd lose a little in hardcopy sales, but they'd gain hugely in worldwide readership, and their advertisers would be very satisfied with the additional exposure. Maybe some trees would be saved, too.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Thrill of the Hunt

Ever meet a world-class collector? I met one the other day over the telephone and I'm still pondering what drives this woman. Must be the thrill of the hunt.

She and her husband reside in a very affluent community on the California coast, so we can assume they have the resources to do what they like. And what they like is to travel and shop for antiques. Ten weeks of the year! They start in California, and after they've done a tour there they hop a plane and fly over to Europe, presumably for the street markets and shops and such. When they get home, they turn on their computers and go shopping on eBay!

They don't have a store, don't sell at shows, don't have space in a mall. Maybe they're furnishing a big, empty 36-room house, who knows? She collects linens and textiles, while he buys antique toys.

"Linens and toys," I commented, "must be fairly easy to transport home. Not breakable, usually. You can pack the toys in the linens. Good choices." But no, he doesn't always go for the little toys. Once he picked up a whole train set, and not the small scale, either. Each car was 36 inches long! Even in the sort of mega-SUV I imagine they drive, it must have been a major challenge to pack it all in.

At the moment they're getting ready for a tour of Southern California and the Mrs. was requesting I mail her a copy of our 2008 Collector's Guide. "We always take the Guide with us on our trips," she insisted. "It's essential for planning ahead where we'll be stopping."

We don't normally mail out individual books for free anymore. At more than $2 a copy in postage, it's become prohibitive. And then we have to find someone headed for the States, since we don't rely on the Mexican mail system (even the electric and water companies don't do that!) Instead, we upload the entire edition on the Internet, so if collectors don't have the hardcopy book, they can go to the Table of Contents, select the region they'll be visiting and print out the desired pages with their maps.

But in this unique case, I decided to make an exception.

You could call it my "Collector of the Year Award."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Worth the Wait

Worth waiting for...The Antiquarian in Duncans Mills is only open Thursday through Monday, like many small-town shops.

I'm often asked, why do antique stores keep such odd, limited hours? It's not unusual to see small-town stores that are only open weekends, or one weekend a month, or only by appointment. Often stores seem to be keeping bankers' hours, not opening until 11 am.

We're not talking about the big malls and collectives, with plenty of dealers to keep regular hours, but the mom-and-pop shops with only one or two people available to keep the doors open.

Today a fellow blogger at Diary of a Mad Antiquer expressed the reason better than I ever could:
"People often ask why I am only open 4 days a week and my unuttered response is 'you think this stuff just MAGICALLY appears?'"
Store owners are regularly away replenishing stock at estate sales, homes where large antiques are for sale, shows, closeouts of other stores, rummage sales, yard, attic and garage sales... Their stock is one-of-a-kind merchandise, usually vetted personally by the dealer. They don't have the luxury of sitting at their desks ordering by the gross from a catalogue.

Or they're show dealers and it's a big show weekend. Another explanation is that they have day jobs during the week to supplement their income because their shops are more a labor of love than a big money-makers.

Antique store owners live a feast-to-famine life, either having lots of sales (which means they have to scramble to build up their merchandise again), or going days without sales (which starts them wondering how long they'll be in business). Under the circumstances, it's amazing so many stores have been in business for decades.

Some stores enlist the help of antique pickers like Ed Welch, who wrote about his work in the Journal of Antiques and Collectibles. But reliable pickers who know what they're doing are few and far between. (Looks like a fun job, though if you like to travel--and maybe drive a hybrid.)

It's always a good idea, if you're traveling any distance to visit a particular shop, to call first and confirm hours. And if you pass an interesting store during regular business hours and you're disappointed it's not open, cut them some slack. The dealer might just be out there finding that perfect treasure for you.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

An Ephemeral Kind of Day

Drifting from blog to blog today to see what's up lately, I came across a couple on the subject of ephemera, which is my kind of collectible.

Here's the most precious piece of ephemera in my collection: a portrait of my dad, Henry Buys, at age six, taken in Holland just before his family immigrated to Iowa.

Paper is a very practical item to collect, for klutzes who travel a lot and live in small houses. It's usually unbreakable, portable, easy to share images of it over the Internet. Photographs are probably my favorite, though old documents and letters can also stir my emotions. And those vivid old postcards, like the postcard book you can see at the Thrift Shop Romantic's blog today.

At the ephemera blog, the proprietor is celebrating a birthday, which caught my eye because I mine was Friday. Don't ask which one, I don't go there anymore unless I have to. Nothing extraordinary happened, just a lazy kind of day with my mate, running into people I hadn't seen for a while. A serendipitous kind of day.

From there I wandered over to the Ephemera Society blog, where I found an article by Arthur Groten about poster stamps, tiny versions of promotional posters with stickum on the back, just like stamps but a whole different version of philately. I'm not sure they'd be a valuable investment as postage stamps can be, but talk about a portable collectible!

Ken Prag, a San Francisco ephemera dealer whose displays can be found at many antique shows, sent me this postcard of a town that brings back fond memories for me: Point Arena, California. Until two years ago, I lived 15 minutes away from Point Arena and had several friends living there. I'd love to show them this street scene from more than a hundred years ago, when it was a booming logging town, bigger than it is today.

I'm guessing this upbeat Uncle Sam postcard was available for sale to servicemen at the PX during World War II, maybe even WWI! to send back home to their families.

Ken also has an impressive collection of stereopticon views, timetables, passes, old stock certificates and other documents, a few of which are shown on his web page. If you're looking for a particular type of ephemera, he may have it or know how to locate it. Inquire at

Another thing I like about ephemera is the wide range of items you can specialize in, from the goofy to the sublime. Imagine, for instance, collecting air sickness bags from airlines!

Ephemera gets its name from the fact that it wasn't originally intended to be preserved. There's something delightfully perverse about saving something that wasn't meant to be saved, don't you think?