At the Chicago Antiques Market last month, I asked a dealer a question about an Eames DSR chair. He told me what he knew and then was surprised that he directed me to another dealer for more information. Just about everyone I spoke to was friendly and helpful.
The monthly Chicago Antique Market at the Randolph Street Market’s first weekend of the summer/fall season had a wet but cheery opening May 28-29, as vendors, collectors and a wide range of antiques enthusiasts braved rain for the chance to hunt down and buy that missing piece for their collections.
Outside, booths to the east were separated from the larger, furniture-heavy vendor set-ups to the west by a central hub with snacks and a live band. Vendors and buyers alike were energetic, despite the weather, as everyone was trying to cram in as much browsing and buying as possible before the rain came again.
Worthologist Harry Rinker also recently attended the Chicago Antique Market at the Randolph Street Market: A Study in Contrasts: Old vs. New Antiques Markets
A community atmosphere was clear from the outset. Seeing an Eames DSR chair directly opposite the entrance, I asked the vendor, John Smith, about the base. He talked about the differences between the office base—the chair he was selling once belonged to an IBM office somewhere—and the “Eiffel Tower” base. “But,” he added, “I’m just a novice here. You should go talk to Don over past the hot dog stand.” And just like that, the path around the market began.
Don Colclough, of Mr. Modern Estate Liquidation Services (Oak Park, Ill.), had two DSR chairs with the same office base Smith had, and when I asked him about the value of the office base versus the “Eiffel Tower” base, he referred me to a man named Mark, across the row.
Mark indeed turned out to have quite a perspective on modern furniture. After grabbing my attention by calling Herman Miller the “Slut of furniture building” because they would do whatever a customer asked (“including,” he decired, “painting an entire base white”), he showed me the different feet that Herman Miller put on the various chair bases, and how feet can affect value separately from the actual condition of a piece.
The crowd at the Chicago Antiques Market large and the buyers seemed to be of a younger set who were also actively shopping in the Indie Designer Market and among the vintage booths.
Of course, it’s basically impossible to discuss these things without historical context, and Mark obliged in a long discourse on the Herman Miller molds, Modernica, and the way “continuation” pieces flood the market during trendy upswings. Before I went inside, he showed me a stack of a dozen or so bases that he kept from a customer who only wanted the Eames chair shells. “People want the craziest things,” he shrugged.
Now, armed with more information than when I started, I walked back to Colclough’s space. He had a large collection of wooden Mid Century Modern furniture, including a daybed set up in an imagined living room that looked like it belonged in a high-rise off Waikiki.
I told him I admired the day bed. “Oh, I don’t bring my best stuff here,” Colclough told me. “I keep a lot of it in the warehouse.” He added that he’s careful putting his wares outside—a concern that proved wise, with all the rain—and that he saves his best stuff for other events, like 20th Century Cincinnati.
At first I was disappointed that the Randolph Market was considered inferior in some ways, I realized by the end of the weekend that the lower status of the market may well be to its benefit. The dealers are wholly approachable, and, although the rain may have played a part, the market never felt overcrowded.
In any case, I made another loop outside and noticed that the recent vintage trend of industrial lighting and workspaces was just as, if not more, prominent than Modern and Mid Century Modern items. Many vendors featured steel tables and the kinds of lighting pieces that come from factories—not high-rise offices.
Inside, the crowd was larger and younger, as buyers sought not only cover from the rain, but the clothing spread between the Indie Designer Market and vintage booths.
Two young women told me they were there for the fashion. “I’m very contemporary with my furniture,” one said, “so I didn’t love the stuff outside. But I like the vintage look of some of the clothes in here.”
Her friend was less enthusiastic about the clothes. “I know it’s a little neurotic, but I don’t like to wear clothes that others have worn. I’m here mostly for the art.”
The friends agreed on one thing, though: the accessories. The hall was packed with gold and silver necklaces, bracelets, rings, scarves, bags and more.
That might surprise George Zukowski, of the Gurnee Antique Center, who took me through the various intricacies of his silver collection and bemoaned some of the market’s changes.
Items that fit the recent vintage trend of industrial lighting and workspaces were prominent at the CAM. Many vendors featured steel tables and the kinds of lighting pieces that come from factories—not high-rise offices.
“The market is much different this year,” Zukowski told me. “There’re more clothes and jewelry and less silver and antiques.”
I mentioned there does seem to be a lot of people here for clothes and asked if he thought customers were missing the antique vendors.
“It’s hard to tell,” he said, “because the indoor crowd could be inflated from the rain outside. But nowadays, people want Mid Century, clean lines. They see the vintage stuff as clutter. And now you see things that are rare, timeless pieces that may never return to their actual value.”
Zukowski’s associate Andy, fingering a large Tiffany spoon with the kind of intricate engraving that would be unthinkable on the modern furniture outside, agreed. “These are pieces they just don’t make anymore. The Tiffany molds have worn down, and people are more interested in the brand value than the pieces themselves.”
“And worse,” said Zukowski, “The younger generations don’t see any value in the flatware. If they can’t put it in a dishwasher, they don’t want it.”
Still, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. The indoor vendors were amusingly eclectic, selling treasures like vintage baseball mitts and balls, retro matchbook cases and a surprising number of compelling ice buckets. Just like outside, the vendors were never too busy to answer any question or share stories and memories.
That antiquing community—between vendor and vendor, buyer and buyer, and vendor and buyer—is the presiding feeling at Randolph. Novices and experts overlap and, from affordable Eames chairs to rare Tiffany silver, can find what they’re looking for.
If You Go: The Chicago Antique Market at the Randolph Street Market is open monthly on the following dates: June 25-26; July 30-31; Aug. 27-28; Sept. 24-25; Oct, 22-23 (Modern Vintage Chicago); and Nov. 19-20 (Holiday Market). Admission is $10 and will be refunded after making a purchase.
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