Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Well Kept Secret of Old Time Antique Dealers

Years ago there was an antique dealer that lived in the little town of Funkstown, not far from where I live today. He was considered eccentric , because his little shop was filled with what looked like trash. There was a narrow path to get to the door , and once inside you maneuvered through a maze of piles of stuff to get to the counter. To the locals who were not in the antique business, he was eccentric. To antique dealers around here in that era, he was the one you went to for reference and to talk shop. Although I remember the outside of the shop, I was one of those who just looked at the place as a junk dealer's shop. Many years later when he passed on to the sky above, I realized he was a genius. He was even invited a few times to D.C. to lecture about antiques. By this time I was still green as far as knowledge of the antique business. I attended his estate auction because I heard there was antique paper being offered. And there was...not just paper, but the entire old building was lined with stacks of old catalogues and magazines. Not the kind the general public received. Instead, the kind the retail store would receive, wholesale catalogs. Everyone that was in the business was at that auction. The prices went sky high, it was amazing. I was able to buy a few of those catalogs and still have them today. This is the kind of item where condition does not have least in those days, because this type item was very important if you were going to be a success in the antique business. Wholesale catalogs that went to the retailers were the " Bible " for the old timers antique business. For instance, A lady comes into your shop looking to add pieces to her silverware...what is the pattern ? Look it up in your catalog....So many times through the years someone will ask me ( and other dealers in this business ), how do you know so much about this stuff ? This would be before the Internet...and , unlike today where all things are revealed, the answer was just a shrug with a smile or wink. And , those reference books that are written these days, chances are they used the old catalogs and magazines for most of the research...that is why old catalogs are being reprinted today. So, through the years I have sold some of my wonderful catalogs, but my favorites are still here in secret niches of the house to enjoy when all alone. Better than reading a book . Shown are a few of my favorite catalogs to give you an idea of what a store truly was like in those days. As the years go by, I will be listing my treasures on Ruby Lane, so, you might want to keep an eye on my shop there. Treasures can be had today..not reprints, but the true actual items of yesterday's world. They say one cannot go back into time, but, to this I say, you can hold the past in your hands, and cherish it


  1. Don was well known and respected by all the antique dealers. I would love to have the chance to set in front of his business and hear more of his stories. Kovels had nothing on old Don.

  2. Great story RC! There are so many eccentric "junkers" that I wish I had paid more attention to in my younger "green" years!

  3. Nice Article...for years I collected this kind of material, still do when I find it, which isn't very often.

    The best thing about catalogs like these is their ease of reading...

    Take Care


  4. More color.........Don Beckley was a College graduate and furniture design scholar. His best journals, manuscripts, letters and furniture design plans were purchased long ago and sold to me by another Funkstown enigma, Gus King. His cursive notes were dexterous and poigant. Upon careful examination they also reveal his humor and his disdain for the uneducated. A man by the name of Norwood Winders often spoke kindly of Don Beckley but said when he spoke about furniture, he could never understand what he was talking about. The down side of Don's notes is that many of them are on the front covers and that destroys the real investment quality collector's interest. I was fortunate as years ago when museums were not so picky I sold the whole collection to PICA and they have it stored in their vault for future conservation. Regards....

  5. Wonderful story and I sure wish I could have been at the preview of that auction! The ability to just page through some of these catalogs would have been a mini education in itself!

  6. Linda, again, I am amazed. I love to read your stories of learning the trade, the people, the life of a collector. I love cataglogs, old or new, I Will still pick up a reference catalog instead of the computer whenever possible. It must have been a site to see his shop. I'm into prints and old maps, as well as old papers of any kind. I can just imagine. Just a good cup of tea, my catalogs and night to myself, I'm in heaven. Please keep posting I learn both things I'm doing 'wrong' and a few I'm on the "right" path too. Anna Dee (The Feel of a Book)