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American Material Culture

Antiques Shows are Dead and We Killed them; Chapter 1: EARLY PACKING

John Chaski

One of the many ways in which dealers have been complicit in helping to murder antiques shows is packing up their booth early.  Before I get to ranting, one important distinction:  at Brimfield, a flea market, or similar affair, I have absolutely no problem with it.  But a show that has advertised a closing time and charged admission is a different story.

Packing early is inconsiderate of customers present and future, a point I'll circle back around to.  It's a slap in the face to the management of the show.  It's often in violation of the show contract, many of which stipulate "NO EARLY PACKING" as it has become more and more common even in the relatively short time I've been doing shows.  It's rude to other dealers who honor their commitment to be open for business until the show is closed.

As a young dealer, I take particular offense to early packing.  The message it sends to customers requires little interpretation: "You are not worth my time."  We love to pitch shows as museums without barriers.  Educational opportunities.  Come look even if you can't afford to buy.  Unless you show up on Sunday afternoon. 

Speaking of Sunday afternoon, who does stuff then?  I don't know, millennials?  Normal people?  People who may not be hardcore collectors (yet) but showed enough interest to commit a little bit of time and money to an antiques show?  Hey, those are the people who might buy something from us young dealers someday!  When a veteran dealer is packing early and telling those people they're worthless, it pisses me off.  Maybe there's a 0% chance of them buying something from that dealer.  If they leave disgusted and never visit a show again, so what.  But for me, hoping for a few more decades in the business, those people do matter.  Every. single. one. of. them.

If a dealer can't honor their commitment, they should quit the show, period.  Antiques shows are dying, and early-packing dealers are helping to kill them.

New Hampshire is coming!

John Chaski
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New Hampshire is coming, ring the bell!!!  The NHADA show is a little more than two months away, and we're starting to get our ad together.  Check out the first of our teaser photos below, and stay tuned for more.

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The Loockerman Experience

John Chaski

Did you ever go down the research wormhole of some 18th Century figure and feel like your life was somehow intertwined with theirs?  That's how I've felt about Vincent Loockerman for the last couple months while I've been working on an appraisal.  Learning about his life and legacy has given me a much greater appreciation for the early history of Dover, Delaware.  Loockerman made it his headquarters for trade that would enable him to acquire some of the greatest pieces of Philadelphia Rococo furniture ever made, many of which remained in his home until the 20th century.

  The Loockerman House , 419 South State Street, Dover, Delaware

The Loockerman House, 419 South State Street, Dover, Delaware

That's all well and good but he patronized local craftsmen too, and that's what interests me most of all.  You can see a lot of the extant Loockerman furniture at the Biggs Museum in Dover.  The Loockerman Gallery just off the elevator and stairwell on the second floor does a great job of putting the man and his objects in context.

After that you can walk a couple blocks down State Street and visit the house it was all made for at 419 South, and finally cross Water Street to Christ Church where Vincent and many other significant Delawareans are buried.  It's a pretty unique and immersive experience in the world of decorative arts.  Oh, and have lunch at 33 West Ale House on Loockerman Street.  Feel free to get in touch with me for further reading on the Loockerman family, I would particularly recommend Kate LaPrad's fabulous 2010 thesis on the subject. 

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Holiday Gift Guide: Trinketology

John Chaski

The right trinkets can transform the sink in your powder room from a sink in your powder room to a window into the soul.  Here are a half-dozen must-have trinkets for the 2017 season, all from young antiques dealers.  That's right there are six of us, not counting me.

First up is a really pretty piece of ironstone from Old Beautiful, the Connecticut shop of David Perrelli, for $45!!!  At about 7 1/2" wide I would use this for business cards today, and Werther's Original candies 50 years from now.  It could also hold keys near the door.  Once one of the seven people who read my blog buy this, check out his other ironstone.  It goes with anything.

I don't have anything original to say about this.  It's an 18th Century bronze mortar and pestle from Gabe Ficht.  You can use it as a mortar and pestle.  I don't know how that works but it extracts flavors?  Or does it make meth?  I don't know.  I see them in people's houses now.  If the recipient doesn't know what it's for either, just act appalled to put them in their place.

This one writes itself!  From Margaret Whitman, something for the gardener who has everything.  Seriously, that is a beautiful watering can that will last forever.

From Old as Adam, a cool little dish in the form of a spiderweb.  The perfect spooky soap dish.  You knew there was going to be a soap dish.  You can use "it'll make an awesome soap dish" as an excuse to buy almost anything.

This is a bargain.  Available at Country Cupboard Antiques (Brendan Edgerton) for $125.  I love using these for remote controls or as a catchall.  When this one sells you'll have to look for another.  It probably won't be quite as nice for the money, but they are out there.

Finally, from Josh and Mary Steenburgh, a Victorian iron music stand that I would use for all the swanky status symbol magazines I don't subscribe to.  Note:  it is maryandjoshua.com, not maryandjosh.com.  If you do the wrong one you'll end up down the worm hole learning all about a couple who got married in Chicago and 2010.  They met at Ball State University.  Cute, but also creepy that I know that now.  Will I ever get them out of my head?

I'm thinking there will be ONE MORE HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE.  Something along the lines of outrageously expensive objects for the person who has everything and would probably rather you donate that money to a charity.

Holiday Gift Guide: Jewelry-Palooza

John Chaski

You know what people everywhere will be saying in 2027?  "Buying all your gifts on Amazon is so 2017."  Get ahead of the trend.  Follow my simple, non-self-promoting instructions.  Don't be on the wrong side of history.

First, jewelry.  Most people like jewelry.  It's small and can easily be thrown in a drawer and forgotten, yet it can be expensive enough to demonstrate commitment, love, and a total lack of financial responsibility.  Or if you follow my tips, just the first two.  Fun fact: I don't know how to wear cufflinks but I think a single one would work great as a belly-button piercing.

Jewelry auctions can be tricky.  Buy from one you trust.  Jewelry dealers...ditto.  But hey, that's why I'm here.

 Photo courtesy of Wilson's Estate Jewelry.

Photo courtesy of Wilson's Estate Jewelry.

Ermahgerd.  I hate snakes so much yet I still love this.  You probably weren't expecting the first thing to be expensive, but how amazing is this thing.  And the dealer gets the strongest recommendation I could give for anyone who does anything.  Most of Jen's jewelry came from here, or on their advice.

 Photo courtesy of Cowan's via Bidsquare.

Photo courtesy of Cowan's via Bidsquare.

 Photo courtesy of Cowan's via Bidsquare.

Photo courtesy of Cowan's via Bidsquare.

A couple lots of pearl jewelry at Cowan's caught my eye.  This little set retailed by Black, Starr & Frost is my favorite.  Simple but elegant; old and real.  A bargain at the estimated price, this will probably bring quite a bit more and would still be good value if you think you can use it.

 Photo courtesy of Leslie Hindman via Bidsquare.

Photo courtesy of Leslie Hindman via Bidsquare.

Leslie Hindman has a great two-day sale with a wonderfully diverse selection from bargains to six-figure investment grade material.  Let's start with a couple bargains.  Above, a Victorian ring, estimated at 300-500.

 Photo courtesy of Leslie Hindman via Bidsquare.

Photo courtesy of Leslie Hindman via Bidsquare.

Are brooches cool again?  This one is.  Made by Gorham and in for 400-600.  Unique pieces like this are worth buying.  Deco filigree rings are fun and all, but once you've seen one you've kind of seen most.

 Photo courtesy of Leslie Hindman via Bidsquare.

Photo courtesy of Leslie Hindman via Bidsquare.

You knew there would be cat jewelry.  Frankly, you should be thanking me that it's not all cat jewelry. 

 

 Photo courtesy of Skinner, Inc.

Photo courtesy of Skinner, Inc.

Hey, remember what I said about Deco filigree rings?  Okay, but this one is nice with the pink topaz, and affordable.  We've switched to a new auction, at Skinner.

 Photo courtesy of Skinner, Inc.

Photo courtesy of Skinner, Inc.

I'll be honest, this Tiffany retailed timepiece is not my taste.  But if you need a gift for the man or woman who wants to own a pocket watch but doesn't care what time it is because the world exists to serve them, here it is.

 Photo courtesy of Wilson's Estate Jewelry.

Photo courtesy of Wilson's Estate Jewelry.

One last piece that's available immediately.  J.E. Caldwell handled some of the nicest stuff.  Check back for more holiday gift guides!

So-called "Mochaware"

John Chaski

One of my favorite things to buy and sell is a type of British ceramics referred to by many collectors and dealers as "mochaware".  It's hard to believe I've never written a blog about it.  The term itself is a real one but it is typically used to describe a large group of wares, of which mocha is a small subset.

 This is an example of mochaware.

This is an example of mochaware.

 This is not.

This is not.

 Mochaware.

Mochaware.

 Not.

Not.

The decoration referred to as "dendritic", "seaweed", "tree", or "tasty part of the broccoli" is what sets mochaware apart.  More accurate terms for examples within the larger category but outside of mocha might include adjectives like slip-decorated, slip-banded and dipped.  The bodies are creamware or pearlware.  Do I include "mocha" as a search term when I'm trying to sell a slip-decorated pot online?  Yes.  But I usually qualify it with "so-called".  That's right - I'm outing myself as the "So-called mochaware" guy.

All the photos above and below show pieces I've owned or still own.  Enjoy!

Kentucky Desk and Bookcase Sells for $498,750

John Chaski
 The John Cowan desk and bookcase, photograph courtesy of Cowan's Auction.

The John Cowan desk and bookcase, photograph courtesy of Cowan's Auction.

The sale of the desk and bookcase pictured above at Cowan's Auctions in Cincinnati this past weekend has caused a considerable amount of confusion for some dealers in traditional Americana.  I counted myself among their ranks in the immediate aftermath of the hammer dropping, but after talking to myself for nine hours on the drive east, I think it makes sense. 

"Who spends $498,750 on a $25,000 desk?  We could get them a first-rate Philadelphia carved high chest for that kind of money!  We don't understand these 'others'...our understanding is superior to theirs because we can recognize that that's a $25,000 desk if it was made in Pennsylvania.  They are crazy."

It doesn't make sense if you think there is only one kind of collecting.  So from the beginning let's acknowledge that this sale highlights the fact that regional collectors and generalist collectors of Americana are two different species.  Someone collecting Kentucky decorative arts exclusively could not care less about what a first-rate Philadelphia carved high chest costs right now.  Its bearing on the conversation is zilch.  They may both be pieces of American furniture, but in terms of the marketplace, you may as well be comparing the desk to a Chinese Ru-ware bowl.

It stands to reason that provenance is more important to regional collectors than it is to generalists.  Collectors of stuff made near them tend to come from a background of appreciating history that was made near them.  Collectors who want to build a group that represents the best of American furniture - or even the best of a larger region, like the Delaware Valley - are probably coming from a background of connoisseurship, evaluating an object on the basis of its aesthetic merit.  Neither of those are absolute rules, maybe they are even bad ones.  But I do know that if I wanted to own one of the best Rhode Island block and shell kneehole desks, I wouldn't really care who it was made for, I would care that it's the best.  If it was a second-rate desk (still a six figure piece of furniture) but it belonged to some early governor of RI, who cares.  Call me when you get a nicer one.

A six-figure desk not good enough?  If that isn't crazy - and it's not - why are the factors that motivate regional collectors?  My dad collects Delaware stuff.  He has thousands of pieces of paper that he bought just because of who wrote on them and what they wrote.  Pieces of paper!  Is that crazy, or the basis of the whole historical manuscripts industry?

When superior form and provenance intersect in a regional marketplace, look out.  Regional collectors have already set themselves up for not finding as much to buy, accepting that the law of supply and demand will not be in their favor as they build their collection.  It will be hard to find, and cost a lot.  If they liked poker, they'd likely adopt a TAG style of play.  They're interested in a Tight range of objects but when they look down at one in that range they pursue it AGgressively. 

Would the Cowan desk be worth a lot less if it was made in Philadelphia, sure, so what.  As Kentucky furniture goes, it is a masterpiece.  As Kentucky history goes, it's about as early and important as it gets.  And the documentation is meticulous.  To use an overused phrase, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity.  It's Caesar Rodney's carved up Rococo desk and bookcase in great condition, signed by the Delaware cabinetmaker.  That doesn't exist that I know of, but if you find it, you know...call me and stuff.

The price of the Cowan desk doesn't change anything but that doesn't mean it's a fluke either; it highlights the passion of a community of collectors who were there all along.  It demonstrates that when an opportunity like this comes along, they are willing to pony up the cash.  Come to think of it, those collectors aren't "other" at all, they're just like us.

Delaware Antiques Show 2017

John Chaski
 Our booth in 2014.

Our booth in 2014.

The 2017 Delaware Antiques Show is four weeks away.  We're busy making our list and checking it twice...things to do, things to take, labels to print, babysitting arrangements.  Is it better to ask someone to watch the kids a month in advance or to beg them to when you need to leave in an hour? 

Check back over the next month and we'll let you know!  We'll even throw in some previews of items we're bringing to the show as part of the deal.

New Hampshire 2017

John Chaski
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It's over, so there's that.  And this great picture of me and the fam.  A dealer friend of mine once said the most remarkable thing about an antiques show is how it happens, and then it's over.  All that stuff assembled under one roof, the collective effort of so many people, and POOF - history.  That's what New Hampshire Antiques Week 2017 is now, history.  Catch me next at York at the end of September or if you're extra ambitious at Brimfield at the beginning of the month.

New Hampshire Antiques Week Preview

John Chaski

It's a TRAP!  This blog isn't about antiques it all, it's about FOOD!  Some of our favorite food in Manchester, NH, home of the week-long antiques extravaganza taking place about this time next month.  If you're not familiar, check out the handy dandy map and schedule by clicking here.  It's great and all that, lots and lots of antiques.  Anyways, it's almost dinner time and I'm hungry and I want to talk about food.  Here's our short-list.  You'll notice it's long on family friendly and a little short on fine dining.  That's life with toddlers, folks.

Jen found this place.  Tucked on a side street around the corner from the Radisson, home of the NHADA Show, this is one of our favorites.  Small, family run, friendly and familiar faces every year.  Charlie has toured the kitchen and says it is top notch.  The food is cheap, fresh, and fast.  Jen's recommendation: tostadas.  John's recommendation: carne asada tacos.  Bonus joint recommendation: the guacamole is seriously the best we've ever had. 

  Piccola Italia , 815 Elm St.

Piccola Italia, 815 Elm St.

This is a classic.  On the "how comfortable will you be when your kid dumps a plate of spaghetti on the floor" scale this place rates "ish", so we try to make it once during the week and call it at that.  Great for a more dingbat free kind of night out.  John's recommendation:  Shrimp fra diavolo.  I believe that's a special and not on the menu.  Jen's recommendation:  stop making me go here with the kids or I will hurt you.

  Republic , 1069 Elm St.

Republic, 1069 Elm St.

Question:  Are there hipsters in Manchester?  Answer:  Republic.  It's very European-y, duh.  I believe I recall drinking out of a Mason jar.  John and Jen's recommendation:  go there and like it or you won't be cool.  Good for date night.

  Queen City Cupcakes , 790 Elm St.

Queen City Cupcakes, 790 Elm St.

Go early, go often.  Definitely go early because they sell out every day.  Cupcakes taken to a whole new level.  Make sure you take some home for your friends.  John and Jen's recommendation:  every cupcake we've ever had from here has been amazing.

  Red Arrow Diner , 61 Lowell St.

Red Arrow Diner, 61 Lowell St.

It's a diner.  If you like diner food, you'll love it.  On the "how comfortable will you be when your kid starts putting french fries in his hair" scale, this is a "LOL, that looks fun let Daddy try it".  Open 24 hours, breakfast all day and lots of other good stuff too.  John's recommendation:  Steak Bomb Hash Brown Special.  Jen's recommendation:  Chili Hash Brown Special. 

See you in Manchester!

2017 Connecticut Spring Antiques Show

John Chaski

The entire family made the trek to Hartford for the 2017 Connecticut Spring Antiques Show and a great time was had by all, mostly more or less.  It was great to see an old friend in the form ofa wonderful Connecticut Impressionist landscape, properly framed and looking fresh to death.  Our "best" sale was the pilothouse eagle, but our favorite sale was the Scandinavian paint decorated blanket chest.  It sold to a couple around our age who will use it as a coffee table.  They loved the unusually fine quality of the decoration and were shocked at the price (less than $500).  It's a great feeling to sell somebody something they can use at a bargain price.  Our next show is Philadelphia, at the Navy Yard, April 21-23.

Remembering Pam Boynton

John Chaski

People who knew Pam better will write more insightful things, but these are a couple of my memories of her. 

When I did the NHADA show for the first time on two weeks notice, I was walking the floor and came to Pam's booth on the downstairs level.  I extended the same nod and reserved "Hi" that Chance the rapper probably gives Jay-Z when they run into each other at the Grammy's afterparty.  Pam replied spryly "Hi John!  How are you?  Excited to be doing the show?"  I said I was, but that I was nervous.  Two weeks wasn't a lot of time, but I was happy just to be doing it and didn't have great expectations for selling under the circumstances.  "You'll do fine."  She was right. 

I had met Pam maybe twice before this.  After she said "Hi John!", a thought ran through my brain.  I try to avoid coarse language in my blog, but in this instance I can't.  I remember exactly what I thought, and historical accuracy outranks sugar-coating.  "Holy shit, Pam Boynton knows who I am."

The following spring at Hartford, I had a nice theorem in my booth.  Not a mind-blowing theorem, but a nice one.  On Saturday afternoon Martha Boynton came over to the booth with Bill Samaha.  "At least ask him for the dealer price!"  Bill did.  He hesitated.  "What are you doing!  Just buy the thing!"  Bill did.  He didn't need it.  I'm sure he made money on it, but he didn't need it.  He must have mentioned it to Martha and Pam as one of the things he liked on the floor, and I imagine them simultaneously blurting out "Buy it from the kid!"  Pam's connection to that generation of the antiques business had made a sale for me.  Not for someone else, for me.

I'm sure there were other things Bill liked on the floor.  But Pam cared about the future of the business she excelled at and loved.  It's the only excuse I can think of for why she cared who I was, knew that it was my first year at NHADA, and helped talk someone into buying something from me that he didn't need.  It's easy to wish someone success, a lot harder to help make it happen.  Some would call it Yankee ingenuity.  Pam might not have known that I recognized how kind she had been to me, that I knew she had gone out of her way for me, and I regret that.  I will miss her.