I'd Rather Be Lucky Than Good...

Late in September Cindy and I drove down to Georgia to visit our dear friend Berenice Wilson.  We call her house "The Wilson Gallery" and love to see her wonderful displays of folk art throughout the house.  The trip was timed to coincide with the annual "When Pottery Comes To Town" show in Cleveland, Georgia. Cleveland is the home of the Maeder family, potters since the 1880's and most famous for their face jugs.

Friday afternoon we all drove up to Clayton, Georgia to poke through the antique shops to see if we could find some treasures to bring back to Pennsylvania.  Pickings were slim but on the drive home Cindy spotted an auction sign for the following day.  We checked it out on line and found they had 75 lots of collectable tools that would be selling first up in the auction.

The 5 o'clock start fit our schedule so off we went.  The tools had come out of a local collection of mostly Stanley, metal woodworking tools.  There was a good crowd and the first few lots confirmed there were enough tool collectors there to keep the pricing honest.  I had hoped otherwise.

Early on I ended up with a few lots of tools, nothing really special, and then the Stanley #1 came up.  For those of you who are not into tools, the Stanley #1 is the holy grail of Stanley's line of bench planes. Manufactured from 1869 to 1943 it is the smallest plane in the line and the most sought after by collectors. And this one was extra special because it came with a receipt from Roger K. Smith who had sold it to the Georgia collector in 1980.  Roger is the dean of woodworking tool collectors and the foremost authority on transitional metal planes, having written the two volume bible on the subject.  You just can't beat that kind of provenance.



Well, the short story is I bought that plane.  Now I can be considered one of the "serious" collectors, as opposed to the "all other" category.

So, what are the chances that we would be 750 miles from home, on a personal trip, fall into an auction, that fits our schedule, that just happens to have a tool collection, that just happens to include a Stanley #1? Hence, the title of this blog, I would rather be lucky than good, any day.  But, then again, luck can be defined as being prepared for opportunity,  And I was.



A Day in the Life...

In June my sister, Betty, visited us for a week that included the Saturday, June 14th Festival of Antiques at the Fairgrounds in Mullica Hill, New Jersey.  This was a special time for her because she was raised in nearby Woodstown, New Jersey and she wanted a first hand view of the life of a couple of aging antiques dealers.

Earlier in the week Betty got her first look at a real, live auction at the Conestoga Auction gallery.  We didn't unearth any undiscovered treasures but Betty got to see a bit of the buying side of the antiques equation.  And she picked up a few fun things for herself.

We had spared Betty the preamble to an antiques show- traveling out to our two shops to gather just the right merchandise for the upcoming show.  We had done this before her arrival.  What she did get to see was a nearly complete show set-up in our garage.  We do this to stage all the merchandise and make sure it looks right before packing the trailer.  For shows without walls we set two display boards to hold all our hangable antiques- artwork, wall boxes, trade signs, etc.  After we get the arrangement right I photograph the items in place so we have a visual reference when setting up.

On the Friday before the show Betty helped us pack all the smalls and load the U-Haul.  The display boards go in first, then the furniture and plastic bins of smalls.  The more delicate items and things that can't be boxed go in the back of the SUV.  By dinner time the trailer was packed and the car pointed out the driveway for an early start.

The 4:30 AM alarm on Saturday announced the start of a long day.  We headed out at 5:00 AM for the 45 minute drive to Mullica Hill (This is the closest show we do).  This put us near the front of the line for the 6:00 AM set-up.  It took the three of us about two and a half hours to complete the set-up and put us in good shape for the 9:00 AM opening time.

The show itself is the fun part.  Betty thoroughly enjoyed the usual banter with all our dealer friends and meeting old and new customers.  The most fun is seeing wonderful antiques with untold stories find new homes.  We had a good show with the highlight being the sale of a painted Maine blanket chest, ca. 1820 to 1840, to Nancy Rose of northern New Jersey.  It is fun to see great pieces go to nice people.

Then at 4:00 PM we put the process in reverse- everything gets re-packed and re-loaded for the trip home.  The photo is of Cindy and me next to the packed U-Haul.  At 5:30 we set out for home with just one stop along the way.  By divine providence we pass right by a Carvel Ice Cream store and our New York roots demanded we stop for a taste of our youth.  And after a thirteen hour day we needed the stop and the sugar surge.  Then it was off for home.

The last task of the day was to empty the trailer with all the merchandise going back in the empty garage bay and the trailer returned to U-Haul.  Finally, around eight o-clock we collapsed in the living room.

Sister Betty flew home the next day and missed the final fun of an antiques show which is getting all the unsold merchandise back to one of our shops or stowed away in the garage or basement.  Then the cycle is complete.  We often quip that when we were working we were "movers and shakers" but since getting into the antiques business we are just plain movers.

It was especially nice to share the day with Betty and just as nice for her to understand the work that goes into our new career.


The Yellow Garage

This Wednesday we moved into a spot at the Yellow Garage, a wonderful group shop in Mullica Hill, New Jersey.  We had been waiting for quite some time and were very pleased that a spot opened up.

The Yellow Garage is a group shop of 35 dealers located in historic Mullica Hill, New Jersey, known for years as an "Antiques" town, boasting a number of group and individual antiques shops.  For those that like to poke around for antique treasures it is a great day trip.  

For us it is a bit like coming home.  In 1966 my parents moved to neighboring Woodstown, New Jersey.  We were living in upstate New York and visited Woodstown often.  We used to leave the kids with Mom and Dad and head out to Mullica Hill for a day of good hunting.  We met a lot of nice dealers and found a few treasures there.  One visit was from Chicago and we still laugh about buying an old book press that must have weighted 50 pounds and trying to figure out how to get that in our luggage for the return flight home.

I have attached a couple of photos of our space at the Yellow Garage.  We still have to tidy it up a bit but you can get some idea of the types of pieces we are showing there.  For my tool collecting and using friends I am displaying an assortment of user quality molding planes and woodworking hand tools on a vintage cabinet maker's bench.

So, if you live nearby or your travels bring you to the area please stop by the Yellow Garage.  Steve Lipman and Tracy Dodge would love to show you around.  Or give us a call and we will meet you there and conduct the tour in person.

For those of you who know us from the group shop Ivy Hall, in Abbottstown, PA, we are still there.  We believe these are the best two group shops in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  And we continue on Ruby Lane ( and our own web site,

Happy hunting. 

Let it Snow

Finding new merchandise is probably the most difficult task antique dealers face.  We have found that auctions represent our best opportunity to acquire quality antiques and folk art.  We are constantly tracking auction activity and are willing to travel far and wide for the right opportunity.  So far we have attended auctions in eleven states and logged more miles than we care to admit.  We travel so much because being there is important;  internet and phone bidding may be popular for many dealers but there is no replacement for first hand evaluation of antiques.

Last week we had just finished digging out from our fourth significant snow storm with yet more sleet, freezing rain and snow on the horizon.  We had found two very inviting auctions in Maine later in the week so we packed a bag and headed north.  Friends and family thought we were crazy.  On the drive to Maine (we planned to get there the night before the auction) we got a text message from our son asking if we were watching the weather (which we weren't) and suggesting getting a motel room for two nights.  That was good advice since the ice storm predicted for Philadelphia was to be a full blown snow storm in Massachusetts and Maine.  During the auction we kept looking out the window and watching 8" or so accumulate.  Interestingly, neither the auctioneer nor the other attendees ever mentioned the storm- we must all be cut from the same cloth.

So we stayed in Maine two nights and made it safely back to the Boston area for a few days with our son and his family.  The second auction was on the weekend so we headed back to Maine on well plowed roads.

We arrived home the following Monday to find our power had been off for two days from the ice storm and the furnace had quit.  Fortunately, the pipes did not freeze but we nearly did, until a part could be located to get the furnace up and running.  It is amazing how cold 43 degrees feels when you have to live in it for a while.  Even a roaring fire in the fireplace didn't seem to help.

Today is Thursday and we woke to 12" of new snow with the promise of sleet and freezing rain through the day and more snow tonight.  At least we are warm (for now).  Our fingers are crossed that we don't lose power again.  After clearing the driveway we will spend the rest of the day getting ready for the Antiques in Long Valley (NJ) show next weekend, our first show of the new year.  

It just seemed appropriate to sit down and capture the (foolish?) things we do in the name of finding new stuff.  But since we are always up for a road trip, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.



A Good Story

Antiques, as objects, are enjoyable for their aesthetics but finding a piece with a story makes it come alive.  But most of the antiques we find don't come with a story so we spend considerable time researching the item.  This is not always fruitful but every once in a while our hard work pays off.

Recently we found a carnival bean bag toss game of a smiling black figure holding a wedge of watermelon.  The back was marked "Pinkerton Amusements" with the date "1907."  It also has the initials "WR" which we presume was the artist.  Believing this to be a piece local to the Philadelphia/Maryland/Delaware area we spent a lot of research time but came up with nothing.  We kept finding reference to the famous Pinkerton Security Agency which we initially disregarded.  

What began to come together was a story tied to an area outside of Pittsburg, PA, informally referred to as Pinkerton, a famous 19th Century labor dispute and a rich tradition of amusement parks in the Pittsburg area.  In 1892 Homestead, PA was the site of a bitter labor strike against the Carnegie Steel Company.  Carnegie brought in a large contingent of Pinkerton men to break the strike which culminated in a pitched battle between the strikers and the Pinkerton men.  The battle remains the second most deadly in U.S. labor history.

During that period the Pittsburg area was rich in amusement parks including Kennywood, first opened in 1898 and still operating today.  Kennywood is one of two amusement parks listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

We believe that as labor relations at Carnegie Steel normalized, the Pinkerton force was reduced, then eliminated, and many stayed in the area and settled what was originally referred to as Pinkerton, PA.  It is likely the Pinkerton Amusement Company came from this area and supplied arcade materials to the local amusement parks.

It is gratifying when we can tie an item to a particular historical time or event.  This elevates an antique from simply an object to a link to our past.  And we all love a good story.