We think of antiquing as being all about old stuff. Mostly it is but there is also a process of evolution. Everything new becomes old. A trip to any antique mall will show you artifacts of our culture over a large span of time. Some dealers resist this, others give themselves up to it eagerly.
I used to have a stand at Meadowview Antiques on route 322 in Campbelltown, Pennsylvania. At the time they had two buildings full of dealer’s I was in the old milking barn. It had a lot of rustic charm and an interesting group of characters making some portion of their living dealing in a wide variety of antiques and collectibles. The sales approaches and marketing niches varied widely. Once you leave behind the old notion of “antiques” as museum pieces for the home you open up a lot of possibilities. The “collectibles” dealer doesn’t mind reselling items that are virtually new as long as the demand is there in the market place. It seemed like the younger dealers often had a more open attitude to what they would sell.
Joe Plebani was one of the younger dealers in the barn. He was very laid back, a skateboarder and aficionado of the Plymouth Barracuda. His stand was an eclectic mix of items that at first blush might seem out of place in anything styling itself as an antiques market. Among the comic books, postsers, action figures and assorted elements of popular culture you could usually find furniture items far removed from the worlds of Chippendale and Sheraton. Much of it was Online Pokies rescued from the garbage man or hunted down at garage sales and lower end auction houses.
A regular feature of his inventory was old lamps usually from the fifties, sixties, and seventies. He would have everything from wierd abstract art floor lamps, and elegant plug in chandeliers to ceramic panthers with the avocado green shade that graced many a middle class living room one upon a time. Joe had an eye for retro when retro was just becoming cool. He was riding the wave and enjoying every moment. I admired his courage. To sell things that are patently unlovely takes guts or incredible good luck.
Joe’s furniture items were unlikely to include mahogany china cabinets and buffets. A more likely item would be the time-honored icon of American decorative arts – the coffee table. And, not just the standard round coffee table but also the classic kidney shaped “Judy Jetson” bleached mahogany model. I’ve known people to fight pretty hard for these at auction. For those who are not enamored of wood he was likely to have a glass top dining table just for a change of pace.
In the beginning my own stand ran more to walnut china cabinets and the like. The furniture was definitely more pricey. That began to change as I learned what the tourists were taking back to New jersey with them. In business being a little hungry is educational. I learned as much from young Joe as I did from some of the old-timers. Know your niche markets from the inside out and don’t underestimate the value of popular culture.