Thursday, April 26, 2012

Mushroom Picking and Antiques

We are getting to the time of spring in the Midwest when morel mushrooms come into season.  These super mushrooms are little niblets of golden brown that grow in secret woodland places--and I guess would be the Midwestern equivalent of french truffles.  People who pick mushrooms--both here and in Europe, treat the locations like state secrets.  The rest of us--if we are lucky to see them on offer--have to pay huge prices for them in restaurant recipes--and I have never seen morels at a standard farmer's market.

Bohemians are great mushroom pickers and lovers.  This autumn on our trip to Bohemia and Moravia we were touring an incredible library and country house near Brno.  After meeting with an academic and  conservation staff we sat a few minutes in their offices.  Smack dab on the middle of the work table was this "houby basket".

Yes--this is a vintage basket, lined with leaves--used to wander in the woods and pick mushrooms.  Something about this seemed so timeless and charming to me.  Everyone loves mushrooms in Bohemia--and foraging for them was a lunch hour pastime.  Soooo Hansel and Gretel!!!

French markets have cepes mushrooms this time of year.  I remember traveling in the south of France and seeing cepes offered in recipes from omlettes to bread.  The flavor is remarkable and you just smell and taste the woods while eating them. They are one of those foods that you have to eat in season--right now-not later.  They do not transport well.  French strawberries are like that--you buy your fruit and must eat  it that day. The water content is so high and the taste is so delicate that they deteriorate in the fridge or even overnight. 

That is a crystal clear memory from my childhood.  In addition to the clear Midwestern seasons that would mark ones life years, fresh fruits and vegetables that were not available year round were like that.  Mushrooms-strawberries-peaches-tomatoes-figs---the march of time just like winter/spring/summer/autumn.

What do mushrooms have to do with antiques?  Last year at the Elkhorn Antique Flea Market in May--some dealer was selling morels for $20.00 a pound.  I balked at the price and passed them up. 

Please come back to Elkhorn this year Mr. Antique and Houby Man. 


Friday, April 20, 2012

No More Estate Sales

Years ago when I first started out in this business, estate sales were the best way to find inventory to sell at our shops and shows.

When we lived in a Chicago hi-rise--I would get up early--and make the reverse commute to a news stand in the near western suburbs and get the local papers and scope out the estate sales.  This was before the internet--so the only way to find out what sales were happening was to check out the classifieds.  I would spend a happy morning  doodling around Oak Park and environs and get treasure to sell.  There was some competition--but not much--and I never came home empty handed.

Nothing stays the same.  Fast forward to my life way west of the city now twenty years later.  Sales are published on special websites,  in online papers and on craig's list.  Thrifting and repurposing in are in vogue now--and competition for the treasure has increased many fold.  More hands and feet are mining for gold.  The gold is still out there--just not at estate and garage sales for me.

Oh sure.  We all have seen the tv shows where the person has found a $50,000 widget that they bought for a buck at an estate sale.  I have a few incredible stories I think I have shared on this site.  Like John Wayne's high school yearbook that I found at a local estate sale for $30 bucks and I sold for four figures.  Really.

But no more.  Maybe this realization comes because it is my birthday today and I am becoming more profound in my old age.  No more estate and garage sales for me. 

The antiques trade is truly a food chain-garage sales on one end and high end auctions or antiques shows on the other.  Over time--Dear Husbola and I have purchased at these two venues and all in between and found items that we can sell onward. A dealer has to buy right.  If we buy items at retail and try to sell onward--our inventory will get old and stale and not move on.  Savvy shoppers know these days what items are worth.  It just boils down to how much time I want to spend  looking for things.  I get no pleasure anymore from stopping at 15 garage sales or estate sales and finding little of interest.  In this case I do not enjoy the journey because the rewards have become more scarce.

So what am I saying?  I would rather pay a bit more and buy my inventory a little higher up on the food chain than at a garage or estate sale.  I will let someone else stop at those 15 sales, find it, clean it up, repair it, futz with it--and I will buy it room ready and sell it on.  I will just be more selective--so there is a fair profit in what I buy--certainly not as large a profit--but my time is worth something, right?

So--my fellow Way West of Chicago Antique Dealer Competitors can breathe a big sigh of relief.  We will not run into each other in front of a house at 5am for an 8am sale.  I will not be sitting in a cold car waiting for a sale to open.  I will no longer show up at a sale that is advertised to open at one time with no early birds and then has opened early to a few pushy dealers.

  But let's keep in touch--I'll come visit your shop or show and become one of your better customers.

Monday, April 9, 2012

I'll Never Be Able To Talk the Talk

The spring show and selling season is upon us--and with gusto.  If sales so far are any indication--this could be a very good selling year.  Let's hope so--in spite of my inability to Talk the Talk.

I read some antiques journal and magazines--and have added some flea market styling type magazines to make a decent attempt at figuring out what people are buying in the vintage and antique markets these days.  Is it all white or chippy shabby white?  Is is sort of Belgian browns and creams and chocolates?  Is it big pops and snaps of color?  Or lots of bright discordant hues as a hodge podge?

I am not sure there is a consensus this year-- nor am I sure there are any real "style mavens" anymore.  I remember somebody named Martha was able to get half the country to buy yellow ware one year and green jadite the next simply by publishing photos in a magazine.  Or "The Woman Who Used to Live in Chicago and Her Name Starts with an O" who could get people to buy a particular type of brownie made in Geneva or get people to make a book an instant best seller.

I do know that sometimes I hear other dealers use language that just makes me smile when I hear it--or even chuckle under my breath.

"This has just  FABULOUS detailing!"
"What KILLER hardware there is on the piece."
"Isn't this a DELICIOUS color of yellow"
"AWESOME AWESOME original surface!"
"What a PRECIOUS frame on a SCRUMPTIOUS print."

Oh my.  I've tried--I really have tried.  Dear Husbola has tried too.  Can't do it.
I hope that our inventory speaks for itself.   I hope that taking care with display and attractive pricing can make our goods for sale all those things--fabulous-killer-delicious and awesome.
Ok Ok--really--the layers of original paint on the cabinet doors IS killer--and the assortment of enamelware--filled with fresh flowers will be precious--and the old painters bucket and brushes ARE awesome!

Come see these and other treasure at the Blumen Gardens Show in Sycamore IL April 27-28.

Sad Farewell Beautiful Lady of Paris

Adieu Belle Dame.... View from the beautiful blooming park behind the cathedral.