Those stories of Antiques Roadshow have never happened to me. The internet has a tremendous power of democratizing information, regardless high-end or bargins for the masses. But the journey of antiquing does not lose its charm from the booming internet platforms or social networking tools. There are just something special about riding in the car on the country road and talking to the local people. Not always it ends up purchasing, but when it comes, it always comes at surprise.
Once such surprise came from a trip in Lancaster County, a village named Churchtown on Route 23. That early morning, we picked up a painting from Pook & Pook in Downingtown, PA, where Geo was so intrigued by a Quervelle dressing table at Philip Bradley’s antiques store. No sooner had we hit the Pa turnpike than we heard on the radio that heavy traffic delay was 20 miles ahead of us. So we got off the highway and began to drive based on a road map from Target. It was almost dark when we were in the Amish county. The winter sunset had a peculiar atmosphere in those small towns where Christmas decorations under golden light looked more than just signs of a holiday, but an integral part of the town.
We passed a few carriages along the local road and was anxious to find out how much further we needed to go before we could get back onto the turnpike. After miles of boredom of farms in Easter Pennsylvania, a well-kept old stone farm house flanked by trees caught our eyes. The red and blue “Antiques” flag was like a cup of espresso and we jumped into the store before it closed at 5 p.m.
The store – Churchtown Antiques, owned by Daniel & Jolyn, was not cluttered like other stores we had gone early that day. It was furnished with period furniture, mostly from the region. The conversation started with how we ended up in the town. Eric spotted a Regency mahogany sofa circa 1810. But apparently my Ford Escort was not suitable for carrying a sofa, not to mention we didn’t have room for another. Jolyn told us about the town and the Amish living. We were told there were Amish lodging that the guests could dine with the host. “The food is just delicious,” she said. Then we extended our talk about our trip of the day to the regional interests. They mentioned the wonderful Dr. Shelley’s collection. If I had been smart enough to do some research and had sensed the rising market for Eastern Pennsylvania dower chests, I would have bought a few and resold them the next year to reap couple thousands dollars profit. But Americana, especially Pennsylvania German, was too remote for someone who came to know US culture after 911. Just barely one year later, I saw a painted chest at Armory Show for $285,000 and even Philip Bradley whose stores were filled with tall case clocks and federal furniture bought a few chests from Pook & Pook. Most of all, Dr. Shelly was the driving force to bring something so regional with so antique functionality to the public attention. But Geo and I were both hooked by the idea of Amish Bed&Breakfast vacation. Plus the store did have a great collection.
Then came the real surprise: a pair of caned painted chairs. The chairs were black. On the crest was painted and gilded a basket of fruit. The gold paint was also applied on the turned legs. Dan said it was from a Quaker family, that possibly explained the pristine condition of the chairs. Not long before the trip, we were at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and saw some classical chairs. They were painted with grandeur scheme (griffins and trophies) and better skills. But the contrast between black and gold with a touch of red was reinvented here in a more primitive style. Perhaps because of that, they looked unpretentious and inviting. I was obsessed by the harmony between a sombre solidity of black and gold with a lightness suggested by cabriole rear legs and most of all, aged caning. Caned chairs were popular in China, especially for those summer rocking chairs that breathes the cool night air into skin. It was something that I related to and have always admired because of the simplified geometric beauty out of the hands of craftsmen. So when Geo told me that he liked the pair of chairs, I backed him up without condition. Did we need another pair? Not really. But we were not thinking of where to place them when we were in the store. The buyer’s remorse came later in this case.
When we stepped out of the store with Dan helping put chairs in the backseat, we found out that closing time had long passed. But they didn’t push us at any time and gave us much information about the surroundings.
Today, we still haven’t made our Amish retreat, but the trip, if it happens, would be permanently associated with those straight roads with carriages, the stone farm house and those two chairs.
Visit Churchtown Antiques website.
Read “The Journey of Antiquing – 1“