Looking for a dresser made with real wood instead of meatloaf and glue? One with drawers that roll smoothly and gently? Or a table that speaks of its maker's pride of craftsmanship with carved legs and beautiful grain? How about a bookcase of real mahogany, perhaps with glassed-in shelves, or a new bed frame, graceful, with elegant lines?
Discover the skill of yesterday's craftsmen and the beauty of the distinctive furniture, jewelry and other durable goods they made from the raw, and improved with fine carvings and functional embellishments. The Skylands region burgeons with antiques and collectible shops. A sampling is represented here.
For the uninitiated, one dealer says that "antique" is over 100 years old; "vintage" is more than 50; and "collectible" is a series. "Primitive" is a word that creates confusion. A primitive is an item that someone usually made at home out of necessity. A popular fantasy seems to be that the woman of the family had to bug the man to go make her a cupboard or table. Eventually he did, using wood from around the farm. He often used more than one kind of wood to make a piece cherry and pine were a common combination. "A guy made it to do the horse-shoeing and he uses it for 80 years. It's left in the barn and when the house is sold, it's found. Each one is different because they made it for their purpose," says Kerry Konopka, owner of Hartmann Antiques in Lafayette. One sign of an older piece with quality craftsmanship is "dovetailing," a technique to interlock two boards. The dovetails on one board were cut to fit into cut-outs on the second board. It was all done by hand.
In Hope, C&C Collectible Antique Barn carries many local and New Jersey-made items among its variety. A vintage Edison Victrola made in the Oranges plays background music as visitors check out the 1800s heavy evidence table released from the Patterson courthouse in 1910. A corner cupboard stands close by, with its original intact critter hole. Owner Chris Beatty says it came from the Reid Farm in Mansfield, where Mrs. Reid pestered her husband until he finally went out back and made it for her. He used cherry and pine and whatever else he had on the farm. One of Beatty's favorite things is a Hope metal-worker's handwritten ledger with entries from 1839 to 1864. It's part of her passion...and it's not for sale.
Another Jersey treasure is a two-volume set of books called "Soldiers of the Great War," with names of those from New Jersey who died during World War I. She's got local Indian arrowheads and memorabilia from the Land of Make Believe, plus two Victrola Victor Talking Machines made in Camden in 1908 and they both work. "There aren't that many left around," she says. "World Wars I and II just had bad memories." Beatty surmises that many were destroyed because people didn't want to remember the times.
How do you tell the difference between a true primitive and a reproduction? Beatty says to look for dovetailing, square nails versus round (no Phillips-head screws!), chips, cracks... "If it was around for 100 years and there isn't something wrong, it probably wasn't around for 100 years." Some reproductions were made in the 1920s. "You can tell by the feel of the wood." She closes her eyes and reaches under a dry sink with a gallery and feels the wood. She determines it's probably 1880s hand-made in Pennsylvania where they "grain paint." Beatty's specialty is mostly American, a lot of local, some French. She also carries Roseville Pottery and reupholsters. C&C Collectibles: 908-459-4122
Allen's Antiques spill out onto the porch of his Milford (Hunterdon County) shop and into the alley, steadily spreading into his rear courtyard. After 24 years in corporate human resources, Allen Hughes has spilled--totally immersed--himself in his own business. "One day I was at an auction across the river in Upper Black Eddy and I came over here to have lunch at the Ship Inn. There was a for-rent sign on this building, and that was it. I decided to make the jump."
While doing his corporate gig, Hughes had dealer space at antique centers in Somerville and Springfield. He still does, but probably not for long. "This is completely different. I have total control of my inventory and total interaction with my customers. Nobody sells like I do!" Allen has noticed some differences in the customer base patronizing his shop in this Delaware River village. "In Somerville I needed a niche and I deal lots of French Country and jewelry. In Springfield it's all high-end period pieces. Some of my clients here still look for those things, but most want primitives, farm oriented things." Allen's inventory is also sprinkled with lots of things for children: dollhouse furniture, teddy bears, vintage toys, kid's books. This spring the courtyard will be filled with wrought iron and garden accessories. He plans on buying the entire building on Milford's Main Street to continue his expansion.
Hughes spends about one-third of his time buying at auctions, estate sales, and on trips to Western PA, Maryland, Delaware and New England. "There's nothing like working for yourself," says Allen. "I used to do sixty hours a week in my corporate job and I thought it was nuts. Now a hundred hours a week is not unusual. But they're one hundred happy hours!"
Take a drive to Chester and go see Ken Urban of Pegasus Antiques. He's a happy man, for all day, every day, he tends his passion. It began with clocks in '68. Now it's all things old and small. He sold at the defunct Chester fleamarket, moved to a shop, then sold his perish the thought clock collection to buy his building in '86. The 200 year-old building was also a tavern, finishing school, and hotel. "I own the building but I don't own the clocks."
But now he sells lots of clocks, cameras, musical instruments, toys and tools, restored old telephones that you can really use, signs, political buttons and weapons, lots of bookends from dancers to dogs, chandeliers and fancy lamps with ladies in pink holding parasol shades, banks, stoneware and busts, and his favorite pre-1920 original pharmaceutical bottles with the original products still corked up inside. "I enjoy them the colors, the shapes..." Urban has crystals from chandeliers that people buy as Christmas ornaments. One room is just kitchenware and the quite extensive collection of glassware is everywhere. If you're looking for Depression glass, Vaseline glass, milk, cut, art, Bohemian or pressed glass or any glass relating to food, he's got it. Some of his customers are new restaurant, club and bar owners looking for fascinating funky things. Crate and Barrel and Tiffany's bought props when they opened in Short Hills Mall.
The proprietor of this cacophony of human artifacts has his own large personal collection of outdoor advertising thermometers and scientific instruments, cameras and clocks. Urban is on the job every day, watching over his charges. Come see him.
After that, zip on down to Somerville and do not pass Crazy Joe's. There, you will find a Howdy Doody cap, Mouseketeer tambourine, Glow Worms, die-cast cars and old tobacco cans among the collectible toys. There are Scout books, original "He Man" and GI Joe, Star Wars and Transformers figurines. And board games Monopoly from the '30s. But what really sells well? "It's like a crap shoot. Like the stock market," says Crazy Joe Potyak, owner.
He's got his own favorite games that are for display only like a 1937 Lone Ranger game. So, what does he do with them then? "Open them up, look at them." At home he has Howdy Doody and Clarabelle marionettes. "I play with them but I won't sell them." He owns two original Schwinn Phantom bikes a red '57 and a green '54, a 1948 coke machine, and four National Cash Registers from the late 1800s to early 1900s that hold business cards and junk. "The only thing I don't put in there is money." And he has over 200 full bottles of coke from 1930 to now. "I collect things that you never see. I have a Girl Scout knife that I keep taking out of the shell and putting it back. I collect something that I like and unique items." He recently sold an original coke bottle die that he now wishes he had.
If Catherine Mary Haynes doesn't greet you by name as you step into Grandma's Attic in Rockaway, she'll be hugging you when you leave. Thirty-five years ago a seed grew in Brooklyn, where Haynes then lived. She couldn't afford to furnish her dining room, so she cleaned up and reupholstered an old set somebody gave her. She shined the chandelier. She got compliments. When she moved to Jersey a few years later, she set up shop in her own house to make money and to be home with her six children. Now her shop is in the front of a Victorian house, owned by her son. It's a one stop shop if you want to get your hair done upstairs by her daughter-in-law, drop off your furniture to be repaired or upholstered by her son, and look for antique jewelry, furniture and glassware.
The goodies at Grandma's come only from people's homes or those brought in on consignment, or from antiquing in the Hamptons. "There are opportunities everywhere," Haynes says. She also dabbles in decorating. "I may not be very rich, but I'm famous. My reputation is a good one and I intend to keep it like that." What does she specialize in? "Just good energy."
Kerry and Jim Konopka, the proud owners of Hartmann Antiques, have been in Lafayette for 20 years, first in the co-op Mill behind them and, for the past ten, on the lower level of the Chocolate Goat. They deal in "early country pine primitive furniture" all American-made pine and cherry antiques from the early to mid 1800s and uphold the tradition of the shop's owners for the first 48 years, Kerry's parents. Kerry's father taught his son-in-law Jim how to refinish furniture. At 91, he still wants to see what's going on. True passion never dies.
"I've grown up with this business so I have the eye for what to buy. I've kept my mom's early country look," Kerry says. "There's a look and a finish to American furniture that Canadian and European don't have." That includes the thickness of the wood and its character.
Inside the shop there are true antiques, like the cherry dresser with a dove-tail top with bread board ends, dovetailed and chanfered drawers and a bracket base a distinctly American piece, and an early two-piece mixed wood cupboard that would span the width of most walls. There's a copper sink once covered in paint that Jim removed. He removes veneer from mirrors to expose their beautiful wood.
"It took 48 years to get this business where it is today. My things are antique. None of my furniture is considered to be collectible or mediocre in age. My tables are original. I don't reproduce tables or anything else. When someone buys it they can take it into their home and love it to death," says Kerry. Hartmann Antiques has repeat customers from the '60s and '70s. The Konopkas buy from auctions, estate sales and "pickers," who know what they like.
Last stop Andover, where Sheri Arnold of Made in the Shade creates haute-couture for things that give light in the night. She buys antique, vintage and reproduction lamps, chandeliers and candelabra from auctions and house sales, then paints and dresses them up with her custom-made lamp shades, crystals prisms and beaded chain. Chandeliers are not just for the dining room anymore, she says. People use the pretty lighting in bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens and even little babies' rooms. Her creativity is hard to quell, as seen in her "standelier," a chandelier-floor lamp hybrid. She'll turn almost anything into a lamp including silver tea pots. Mita Baker, her assistant, gives customers lamp decorating tips. Made in the Shade also has assorted vendors on the second floor. Reba, the mellow yellow lab, relaxes among the glittering light and greets customers as they enter and leave. Bring a treat.