How to Win at Antiquing

With antiquing season upon us, we wanted to know what the experts behind some of our go-to local shops set aside for themselves. From 19th-century nautical dioramas to expressive vintage oil portraits, here are a few of their favorite things, along with their tips on launching your own collection.

How to Win at Antiquing
By Sarah Stebbins & Virginia M. Wright
From the Summer 2023 issue of Maine Homes by Down East
Erin Kiley and Nathaniel Baldwin, of Portland Flea-For-All
Photo by Dave Waddell

Old Friends
Erin Kiley and Nathaniel Baldwin, Portland Flea-For-All

Collection

Erin Kiley and Nathaniel Baldwin share their Falmouth home with 11 portraits of folks they’ve never met. Still, they feel familiar. The rumpled mid-century fellow with his hand in his hair reminds Kiley of a Hemingway character. The 1920s-era woman in the purple dress conjures The Great Gatsby socialite Daisy Buchanan. While her contemporary in the fur collar evokes wealthy recluse Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. “Every portrait has so much personality,” says Kiley, who favors early-to-mid-20th-century oil paintings. “These people had experiences that were so different from anything I know, and that comes through in the portraits.”

Catalyst

Shortly before the couple opened Portland Flea-For-All, in 2010, Baldwin’s mom gave them a circa 1930s portrait titled Truant Boy that had belonged to his great-aunt. “There’s a hollowness in the boy’s face that gives him a menacing air, like there’s a plan stewing in his head,” Kiley says. “Our collection grew from there.” Now, they hunt for portraits for their home and shop at auctions and estate sales. “Sometimes, if I really love something, I’ll put it outside the main traffic area in the store,” Kiley says. “Then it’s like, oh well, he didn’t sell so I should buy him.”

Tip

“Don’t get hung up on things that are replaceable,” like a frame or cracked or missing glass, Kiley says. “It’s the feeling you get from a piece that should make you decide whether to invest in it.”

Cost

From $50 to $600 depending on condition, size, and artist skill.

Lyndsey Lachance, of Needstalgia
Photo by Tara Rice

Funky Bunch
Lyndsey Lachance, Needstalgia

Collection

1971 orange-and-tan Arches Pyrex bowls
Photo by Tara Rice

A set of 1970s polka-dot mixing bowls in rainbow colors launched the palette of Lyndsey Lachance’s vintage Pyrex display. She’d already acquired 1980s dark-blue casserole dishes and mixing bowls in the company’s Colonial Mist pattern. Then came 1971 orange-and-tan Arches bowls; 1960s gilded chafing dishes; hard-to-find black-patterned Mod Kitchen (1958) and green-and-gold Zodiac (1961) casserole dishes; and mid-century mismatched yellow bowls arranged in size order — what Pyrex enthusiasts call a “Frankenstack.” Lachance displays “Pyrex adjacent” pieces on her shelves too, like 1970s Sears Merry Mushroom canisters and Anchor Hocking floral chip-and-dip sets.

Catalyst

When Lachance and her husband purchased their Brunswick place in 2020, she threw herself into thrifting; last year, she launched her Needstalgia line of retro wares, sold at Waterville’s Old Soul Collective. “My business name came from that feeling you get when you see a piece of Pyrex: it’s nostalgic and you need to have it,” Lachance says. Her Holy Grails: a 1967 cornflower-blue casserole dish with a Tree of Life pattern and a tapered-leg cradle to go with her Zodiac dish. “That alone can go for $100 because it’s so hard to find,” she says.

Tip

Hold Pyrex up to the light to check for flaws. Minor scratches are ok, but avoid pieces with chips, cracks, or dull paint — a condition collectors call “DWD” for “dishwasher damage.”

Cost

From a few dollars to $1,000 or more, depending on age, rarity, and condition; many sets fall in the $30–$200 range. Patterns that were only produced for one year are most sought after.

Nicole Stanford, of Freckle Salvage Co. and The Vault
Photo by Tara Rice

A Flurry of Landscapes
Nicole Stanford, Freckle Salvage Co. and The Vault

Collection

Nicole Stanford assembles groupings of snowy New England landscapes, around which she places other vintage objects, such as a child’s leather-strap skis and a handcrafted wooden toboggan. The artworks are a sentimental homage to a simpler past and a present-day refuge from a hyper-busy world, like the Stanford family’s own hillside perch in rural North Jay. A combination of freehand paintings, paint-by-numbers, and needlepoints, most of Stanford’s three dozen landscapes were created in the mid-20th century by hobbyists. “I love the ones that are amateur,” she says. “I have no artistic ability myself, so I appreciate anyone who tries.”

snowy New England landscape paintings
Photo by Tara Rice

Catalyst

Raised in Tennessee and Georgia, Stanford experienced her first Maine winter 13 years ago when her husband, Jesse, was transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard Station South Portland. Now, the two run Winthrop vintage shop Freckle Salvage Co., along with a monthly vintage market, The Vault. “It was pure magic,” Stanford recalls, “and I haven’t tired of winter yet.” One of her first acquisitions, an undated painting of a country village blanketed in freshly fallen snow, still bears its Goodwill tag: $3.99. Today, it would fetch $30–$40, but Stanford won’t part with it.

Tip

Familiarize yourself with framing techniques to help determine whether an undated artwork is genuinely old. Newer framing is often sealed with Kraft paper on the back; antique and vintage works tend to have an open back, with the nails at the top of the frame or canvas exposed.

Cost

From $30 to more than $100, depending on condition, size, and artist skill. Lower prices may be found at standalone nonprofit thrift shops, such as those run by churches.

Heidi Beaudry, of This Attic Vintage
Photo by Dave Waddell

Best in Brass
Heidi Beaudry, This Attic Vintage

Collection

Heidi Beaudry’s inventory of vintage brass goods is vast, but she plucks only decorative pieces — animal figurines, vases, curvy candlesticks — for the gleaming, ever-changing collection she displays in her Ellsworth office. “Most of them are listed in my shop, but they’ll stay with me for a few months, which is nice because I don’t think I could justify buying all these things just to have them sit here.” Her keepers include the piggy bank that her grandmother won as a door prize at a real-estate-brokers’ convention in the 1970s and the elephant bookends that were her first acquisition as a vintage seller.

vintage brass goods
Photo by Dave Waddell

Catalyst

Beaudry’s father, the owner of an estate clean-out service, allowed her to select pieces from his scrap pile when she started her This Attic Vintage Etsy shop as a high schooler in 2011. Today, she shops Maine flea markets and estate sales and favors objects that are at least 40 years old.

Tip

“Go antiquing just to see and handle the stuff, so you can get a feel for it before you start your collection,” Beaudry advises newbies. Antique and vintage brass is heavy and thick and may bear an embossed manufacturer logo. Newer items tend to be thin and lightweight, with no embossing — signs that they were mass-produced.

Cost

From $20 for paperweight-size objects to $40 for larger ones. Common figurines, like swans and dolphins, are less expensive than specific dog breeds and exotic animals, like zebras.

Vicki Landman, of Country Store Antiques
Photo by Dave Waddell

Bountiful Baskets
Vicki Landman, Country Store Antiques

Collection

Wabanaki baskets in Vicki Landman’s Trenton home
Photo by Dave Waddell

The 60 Wabanaki baskets in Vicki Landman’s Trenton home include a circa 1850s etched birch-bark container with a lid; utilitarian late-19th- to mid-20th-century vessels, such as a striped potato basket, a gathering basket with a faded vine motif, a green berry basket, and tall feather-gathering baskets; decorative Victorian-era examples adorned with “porcupine curls”; and fine contemporary pieces, including a red-and-green lidded basket by Jane Zumbrunnen and a strawberry by Molly Neptune Parker. “I started out buying any of the old baskets,” Landman says. “Then I started thinking, you’ve gotta have a feather basket, and paying more attention to the styles and uses.”

Catalyst

Growing up in Bangor in the 1960s, Landman kept her embroidery yarn in a Penobscot ash sewing basket. “Everyone in Maine had a pack basket, a sewing basket,” she says. While attending college in Maryland, “I started wanting them around me because they reminded me of home.” She discovered that works by western Native American makers, woven with elaborate geometric designs, were more highly prized by collectors than eastern vessels. By amassing the latter, “I feel like I’m defending their value,” says Landman, who owns Trenton’s Country Store Antiques.

Tip

Learn about Wabanaki basket styles and weaving techniques at the University of Maine’s Hudson Museum, Bar Harbor’s Abbe Museum, and the Abbe Museum Indian Market before starting a collection.

Cost

From $10 for a utilitarian basket to $800 or more for an intricate contemporary one. Landman’s vessels are currently valued in the $50–$800 range.

Dennis Raleigh and Phyllis Sommer, of Dennis Raleigh Antiques and Pumpkin Patch Antiques
Photo by Tara Rice

Folk-Art Fusion
Dennis Raleigh and Phyllis Sommer, Dennis Raleigh Antiques and Pumpkin Patch Antiques

Collection

Nautical dioramas and strawberry pincushions are distinctly different folk-art forms, yet they’re complementary companions in Dennis Raleigh and Phyllis Sommer’s Searsport home. Both crafts are products of 19th-century reuse practicality: Sailors made the shadow boxes by carving and painting wood scraps. Homemakers sewed the pincushions from fabric remnants and set them on oil-lamp bases whose globes had broken. “We live in a 19th-century sea-captain’s house in a seafaring town, so it feels appropriate to have these objects displayed near each other,” says Sommer, whose Searsport shop is conjoined with Raleigh’s. “There was no rhyme or reason to the arrangement. It’s a purely visual experience.”

Catalyst

antique strawberry pincushions
Photo by Tara Rice

Sommer has long been fascinated by nautical dioramas. “I love ships and I’ve always gravitated towards them,” she says. She and Raleigh developed their fondness for pincushions over decades of buying and selling antiques. “They come in many forms; we think the strawberries are most interesting,” Raleigh says. “They’re quite rare, and it’s taken years to accumulate the 10 that we have.”

Tip

Beware of new shadow boxes made to look old. “If you don’t know how to look at wood, paint, and form, you might want an expert’s help,” Sommer says.

Cost

From $700 to $3,000 for a nautical diorama, depending on provenance (a piece with a documented ownership history tends to fetch a higher price than one whose lineage is unknown) and complexity; from $75 for a simple round antique pincushion to as much as $600 for a strawberry one.

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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