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A Funny Thing Happened When I Opened An Antique Shop!

by Laura Collum (05/04/10).

When I first started my antique business, I opened in a mall where each shop was gated and manned by the individual owner. It was fun because all 13 of us were there and we could talk “shop” or just shoot the breeze. We could also have our own hours of operation and sell our own things. I learned a lot in that first year.

I learned that professional thieves could keep me busy in one 15 by 15 foot room so I didn’t notice them steal a bracket clock (in winter wearing heavy coats). I learned that even a cop is not above palming money when paying for a leather fireman’s helmet. And I learned, although the antiques business can be very cutthroat, antique dealers can be the nicest most generous people around. What I didn’t expect was how amusing running an antique business could be and that every day offered the possibility of facing the unexpected:

• One day my mother and I were in the shop and an older fellow was telling us about his fine collection. He bragged to us how he always got the upper hand in a deal and how he regularly duped people in the pursuit of the deal. Now, my mother was a tall, attractive southern lady, where “lady” indicates more than just gender. And this twit proceeded to look her in the eye and tell her he never bought in shops “because all antique dealers are liars!”

• When I shared a building with another dealer, she and I had an interesting customer. He was looking for a gun for protection. I told him I only sold antique and collectible guns. He said that was OK and ending up buying a small starter pistol. He then proceeded to tell us all about the evil Mercurians who were constantly bothering him. They were from another planet and were all over his neighborhood. He was surprised the two of us were comfortable being in the shop alone without protection from the evil Mercurians. Well, by that time we were getting a little uncomfortable, but it had little to do with the evil Mercurians!

• Dad and I were once participating in a Civil War show and had, among the guns and swords and other weapons of “past destruction,” a nice display of bowie knives and dirks with silver “cutlery” handles. A man stopped to look at them and asked Dad, “What were these knives used for?” Dad was quiet for a beat then said, “They were for killing people.”

• Then there was the doctor who accused us of incorrectly dating an octant because the label in the keystone-shaped box had a New York address on it and we dated the octant to 1760. She said the country wasn’t started until 1776 so the octant couldn’t be that old! Apparently, New York and the rest of the country rose spontaneously out of the ground in that incredible year.

• To say the least, antiques draw the unusual. A neighboring antique dealer told me when she was still young and attractive (she is not so bad now, by the way) a man came in her shop saying he wanted something for his wife for their anniversary. When he asked her about a chandelier, she climbed on a step stool to get it down. The next thing she knew he threw his arms around her and wouldn’t let go. There she was, caught on a step stool with an unknown man hugging her around the knees! She didn’t know what to do but stayed calm. She said, “now sir, I thought you were looking for something for your wife?” Then there was the lady who told her she wanted to start collecting Quimper because she had heard he was dead! She also had a browser who was convinced he was Jesus Christ. I can’t imagine what he was looking to buy!

• My favorite story of all was the customer who remarked she wished the show promoters would pay the dealers more to do the shows and therefore get better dealers! Wow! Wouldn’t that be wonderful? The customer was shocked that dealers have to pay to do the shows.

I have enjoyed these 25 years in the business, and what is truly extraordinary is that I am only 29 years old. Antiques keep you young. Enjoy.

Laura Collum is a Worthologist who specializes in decoys, nautical and scientific instruments.

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5 Responses to “A Funny Thing Happened When I Opened An Antique Shop!”

  1. Bill Castle says:

    Yeah. I like the folks that are trying to impress their friends. I was recently at a show, and I had an Audubon print from 1964 hanging up. It was clearly labeled as what it was.

    I notice a young man looking at it with his friends and comment “That’s a nice print isn’t it?”, to which he replied with a sneer “Yeah, too bad it isn’t real.”.

    I wanted to tell him “Yeah. If it was an older print, it’d be worth 100 times as much, and let’s not even talk about an actual first folio copy.”, but I didn’t.

    I prefer the ones where you overhear people talking about “Mom had one of those” or “That’s just like Grandma’s”. Those make it worth it.

  2. Molly Silcox says:

    In my antique collective in Napa CA, I recently had a elderly gentleman that was curious to know how I knew so many pieces in my store originated in California. I was very confused by his inquiry and walked the store with him. He showed me several pieces marked ca 1860 and ca 1890.
    After the giggle, the circa was clarified. He bought a book for 3 bucks, ca 1950.
    Loved your story, so many personalities good or bad, huh?
    Molly Silcox

  3. Miranda Ronning says:

    I can agree antiquing brings out many characters….
    My mother Val Kaznowski was in the antique busines for over 75 years … Yes I did say 75 years….She started at age 10 in England during the great depression period & continued till her death at age 87 a couple of years ago.
    She had some amazing tales.
    The one I remember best was from my childhood when I was helping in the shop one day & customer asked if we had any silver teaspoons, I showed her a selection of very nice 18th century hallmarked spoons only to have her say “These aren’t sterling. I want real silver”. after the non customer left I told my mother about it & we had quite a good laugh.

  4. Kim Bordner says:

    One of the funniest couples I had in my antique mall were the couple from Colorado looking at a very nice oak seaman’s chest that the dealer had dated to the 1790′s. They looked it over really well and for a very long time. Sure of a sale, I walked over and asked them if they needed any assistance. They stated they were dealers and that the chest’s date was incorrect because EVERYONE knows that furniture was not made from oak until the 1880′s! I was so flabbergasted that all I could say was “Oh!” and walk away before I completely lost control of my laughter.

    Once doing the Tri Kappa Show in Auburn, IN, I heard a young man exclaim that he’d really like antiques if they weren’t so darn old! Sure he was making a joke, I looked up to see the most serious expression I’ve every seen (outside of a teacher).

  5. JoAnne Snook says:

    I have a customer that periodically comes into my shop and invariably wants huge, as in more than 50%, ofF whatever she’s interested in. When I decline she ALWAYS states that she could go to a yard sale and it that cheap. This person is working on a doctorate yet can’t grasp the difference between a 1600sq. foot single owner shop and a yard sale.

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