‘Mantiques’ Book Brings Manly Collecting out of the Mancave and into the Mainstream

Eric Bradley’s new book, “Mantiques: A Manly Guide to Cool Stuff, offers a primer on what might qualify as a mantique and introduces a lot of stuff that you didn’t know you wanted yet.

The term “antiques” used to elicit images of silver tea sets and Edwardian sideboards and even that “priceless Ming vaaase.” But if you say the word now, it’s just as likely to bring to mind thoughts of rusty two-handed saws and old snow shoes and surf boards. While the former are “antiques,” the latter are increasingly becoming known as “mantiques.”

And Eric Bradley, the author of the newly release book “Mantiques: A Manly Guide to Cool Stuff,” sets out to prove that mantiques are an actual, legitimate collectibles category, although getting a true definition of the term is a little complicated.

“I didn’t have a working definition of mantiques when I started writing the book,” said Bradley, who is a public relations associate at Heritage Auctions, the world’s third largest auction house, and the editor of the annual “Antique Trader Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide.” “The best way to describe it would be if you brought something home and your wife gives you the ‘what is that and what do you expect to do with it?’ look while your 13-year-old son is staring with his mouth open thinking ‘that’s the coolest thing in the world,’ then you have a mantique.”

In other words, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous line about pornography applies: “I know it when I see it.”

What’s in the Book
Bradley started writing the book with 28 mantique categories in mind, but had to whittle it down to 16 for the final version of the 176-page, full-color book, covering topics such as vintage barware, hunting and fishing items, music and entertainment memorabilia, old tools and, of course, automotive and sporting collectibles.

“I could have included 100 chapters and still not have covered all the weird stuff guys collect,” Bradley said.

Bradley opens each chapter by delving into the topic in general terms and then often introduces the reader to a particular collector who specializes in the subject matter. The following pages highlight many items in the category, presenting dozens of photos to purportedly illustrate the collections but, in reality, simply temp and plant the kernels of want and need in the reader. 

The first chapter of the “Mantiques: A Manly Guide to Cool Stuff,” “Bottoms Up,” covers vintage barware and drinking collectibles. There are 16 chapters, but Bradley could have written dozens more.

Generally, the collectors featured in the book are regular guys who have specialized their collections. Among the men you will meet in the chapters are Benny Jack Hinkle III, who has turned his 1,000-square-foot apartment into a hall of curiosities and oddities, Carlos Cardoza’s Mid-Century modern “Mad Men” home and Rob Bradford’s Victorian gothic collection Bradley calls “Whore House Meet’s Grandma’s House.”

“We wanted to create a book that was representative to the people who have really eclectic collections—unique, scattered, diverse,” said Bradley. “A lot of guys have collections like that. If you don’t have a lot of money, you start small and buy odd things. Then you trade, sell off, upgrade. You pick up a little something here and there. These are conversation pieces that remind them of their childhood or their family or children. It’s really fascinating. A lot of the guys who are in the book are like that.”

Once limited in scope to autographed baseballs and old neon beer signs that were relegated to the “mancave,” mantique collecting is gaining in popularity and stature.

Early in the book Bradley lists some 15 different antique shops around the country that employs the “mantiques” term in some fashion in their names and caters their businesses to guys collecting guy stuff. But the term mantiques has been around since the 1970s, even if it wasn’t part of the mainstream antiques world’s lexicon.

“There was a little shop in New York City run by two ladies who’s main business was selling men’s luxury accessories to collectors and to wives and ladies looking for gifts for their men,” said Bradley. “There were a formal type of collectible; smoking accessories, Louis Vuitton luggage, higher-end curiosities.”

Robert Owen (left) & Compton Creel of DFW M’Antiques in Dallas has everything a manly collector could want, from pinball machines to cannons to free draught beer for their customers.

The idea of collecting manly things really caught the public’s imagination when the History Channel’s “American Pickers” began airing six years ago. In the show, antique pickers Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz dig and pick through old barns and junk piles looking for “”rusty gold” that they buy on the cheap and resell at a profit.

“That program got the idea of collecting the rusty, the unusual, the strange to a much larger audience, but even before the show, there were these mantique shops. Ernie Scarano opened his Mantiques shop in Elmore, Ohio, seven or eight years ago. It’s full of weird and wonderful stuff that he doesn’t make any apologizes for.”

One of the many mantique shops are sprouting up across the country is DFW M’Antiques in Dallas, Texas, where owners Compton Creel and Robert Owen pack their 2,500-square-foot shop with everything a man could want for his den, office or mancave, from pinball machines to cannons. And when you walk in to the shop, you’ll be offered a free draught beer.

Collecting Early
Bradley, the son of a dairy farmer, said that his father always had jars and cigar boxes and shelves full of bits and pieces of hardware and gears that he might someday be able to use. And he says he’s been a mantiques collector—even if he wasn’t aware of the official concept at the time—since he was in high school.

“That’s where a lot of inspiration came from,” he said. “I think that’s where a lot of collectors come from; watching the older guys in their lives who helped develop an appreciation for those things.

Sports memorabilia has always has a place in the mancave. Gary Seidenfrau just does things a little bit bigger, including his collection of autographed boxing gloves.

“I’ve been a collector all my life. Like a lot of kids, I started with coins and comic books. As a high school student, I bought a sword cane for $75 at an antiques store. It was a lot of money for a high school junior, but I had to have it” said Bradley.

Since then, his collection has grown to include a wide variety of manly items, including a set of 30 vintage typewriters. “I’ve lugged those damn things to six different homes across the country. But I love them and they are worth the effort.”

Every mantiques collector has a wish list, and at the top of Bradley’s is an original piece of Gil Elvgren pin-up art.

“They have a sparkling personality that comes out of them,” said Bradley. “They just blow you away with the nuance. I love the era. We had a wonderful piece come through Heritage earlier this year and it sold for $209,000, so it’s on the wish list, but I don’t know… I did have a 1941 Elvgren pin-up calendar in my collection, fully intact, with the mailing envelope, but I sold it. I still regret it.”

Working at Heritage Auction, Bradley says, is “like Christmas every day. There is always great stuff coming through the doors here. The diversity is amazing. It’s not always headline grabbers, there is always something cool.”

The folks at Heritage—which usually has several live and online auctions going each week—have recognized that mantiques is growing in popularity and hosts an annual Gentlemen’s Auction every autumn.

One of the manly men you will meet in the chapters is Benny Jack Hill III, who has turned his 1,000-square-foot apartment into a hall of curiosities and oddities.

Starting Your Own Collection
Bradley says that the best way to start a collection—be it mantiques or otherwise—is to get off the sofa, get outside and look and talk to people.

“eBay doesn’t show you what you didn’t know you wanted,” Bradley said. “You have to search things out, and eBay takes away the social aspect of the hunt. I’ve always been a fan of auction houses, who have experts on hand and who curate, and shop owners who have a knowledge. These are neat guys who are happy to share the story of how the piece was found. It’s a richer experience. Simply searching for ‘novelty’ on eBay and hope to find what I’m looking for isn’t going to work. If you’re trying to collect the whole set or corner the market on something, eBay is great. To find good stuff like this, you need to get out and meet people and shake people’s hand. 

Bradley says that if his book can help introduce the topic of mantiques and its possibilities, mission accomplished.

“It’s meant to be a really enjoyable experience,” he said. “It’s not the final word on the subject, but I hope to open people’s eyes to some of the great stuff that’s out there.”

Eric Bradley

WorthPoint Webinar

Register for our “Mantiques – Manly Collecting Comes Out of the Mancave” online event featuring Eric Bradley on Thursday, June 12, at 2 p.m. EST. Click here to register.

Gregory Watkins is the editor of WorthPoint.com. You can e-mail him at greg.watkins@worthpoint.com.

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