Q & A with Harry Rinker: Chance is a Scarce Commodity in the Antiques World

A seven-piece set of Old Hickory Furniture, like this bed and chairs, is the subject of this week’s Q and A with Harry column. (Photo: Z and A Antiques)

NOTE: While this “Rinker on Collectibles” Questions and Answers column focuses only on one question, the information and principals discussed in the second half of the answer have universal application.

QUESTION: I have seven pieces of Old Hickory furniture that came from a rural Pennsylvania fishing and hunting lodge built in the late 1930s or early 1940s by a prominent judge. The seven pieces are: (1-3) a six-foot picnic table with two benches; (4) a gilder with its period cushions; (5-6) two chairs and (7) a small table. Several pieces have a small, round metal tag with Old Hickory information on it. All the pieces are embossed with the Old Hickory, Martinsville, Indiana logo. I sent pictures of the furniture to a local antiques dealer who offered me $100 without seeing the pieces. The offer seems low. I want to sell the set. What should I ask?

– E.N., Altoona, Pa., via e-mail.

ANSWER: E.N, is a regular listener to WHATCHA GOT?, my syndicated antiques and collectibles call-in radio show that airs on Sunday mornings from 8 to 10 a.m. Eastern Time and is simulcast on the Genesis Communication Network online. After sending me an e-mail with attached pictures, she called the show. I agreed the offer from the dealer was low. If she was willing to invest the time in contacting other sources, she could do better. I recommended contacting several New England auction houses.

Hickory is a hardwood whose diameter does not exceed two to three inches even after 20 to 30 years of growth. By soaking in boiling water (large steam boilers), the tree became malleable. Clamps held the bent Hickory against patterns. When the wood dried, it retained its shape.

Local residents in Monrovia and Morgantown, Ind., began making hickory sapling furniture in the 1880s. Billy Richardson, who moved from North Carolina to Martinsville, Ind., made hickory sapling chairs that he sold at a Saturday market. In 1892, he and others acquired an abandoned church and started producing hickory sapling furniture on a mass scale. The Old Hickory Chair Company, named in honor of President Andrew Jackson, was incorporated in 1898. M. B. Crist of Indianapolis and George Richardson were listed as owners. Company ownership changed hands several times in the years that followed.

A 1901 Old Hickory Chair Company catalog includes hoop chairs, garden furnishings, rockers, settees, tables, and complete log cabins. The company shipped product across the United States. Old Hickory Furniture was used as furnishings at the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park and the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C.

In 1908, the Patton family of Indianapolis acquired the company. By 1914, the line expanded to include bedroom furnishings, desks, dining tables and chairs, gazebos, and other furnishings. In 1921, the company became the Old Hickory Furniture Company and introduced painted furniture. A 1931 catalog pictures corner cupboards, lamps and lighting, porch gliders and furniture featuring spindles. The company introduced a “Rustic Modern” American Provincial line in chestnut and pine in 1939. In 1941, industrial designers Eric Boline, Berman Brueing, Cannis Froy, and Russel Wright designed pieces for the firm.

The Patton family sold the Old Hickory Furniture Company to Ramada Inn Corporation in 1965. In 1978, the company ceased operations. In 1982, Bobby Welsh purchased the company assets and reopened in Shelbyville, Indiana. Craig Campbell, Bill Morrison and Chris Williams bought the company in 1989.

Old Hickory furniture is part of the Adirondack/Cabin/Cottage/Hunting-Fishing/ Lake/Rustic Outdoor Look that experienced a 1990s collecting and decorating renaissance that still continues. Condition is critical to value and, unlike many other colleting categories, age also is a value consideration.

E.N. e-mailed the two auction sources. Neither responded, as I learned later. I should have suggested that she consider doing an Internet search for dealers in antique cottage/rustic furniture but did not—an oversight on my part.

While visiting the Antiques at the Fairgrounds antiques and collectibles show held in Petoskey, Mich., on July 7, I met and talked with Robert A. Markey, owner of Christiby’s in Traverse City, Mich. Christiby’s specializes in the Outdoor Look. I told Robert about E.N. and her collection of Old Hickory furniture. “I might be interested,” Robert said. “Send me her contact information.”

I make it a practice never to pass on to dealers call, letter or e-mail leads from my “Rinker on Collectibles” column or WHATCHA GOT? I also never use these sources to buy objects for my collection. The privacy of my readers and listeners and my personal ethics are paramount. I did promise to e-mail his contact information to E.N. and let her decide if she wished to contact him.

Author’s Aside: As a test, I decided to do an Internet search for dealers in antiques cottage/rustic furniture to determine if E.N. might have found Christiby’s or Markey using this approach. I started with: dealers in rustic furniture. The result was a list of modern manufacturers of rustic furniture.

My next search pattern was: dealer in antique rustic furniture. The first listing was Cherry Gallery, a dealer who specialized in “antique rustic, Adirondack, Old Hickory Furniture.” In addition to several listings for modern manufacturers, I did find a reference to a two-part series of articles by Cheryl York-Cail that appeared in “Unravel the Gavel” in 2000. On the third page, I found a reference to “Maloney’s Antiques & Collectibles Resource Directory,” which contained the names of three rustic furniture dealers. Neither Christiby’s nor Markey was among them.

My third search was: dealer in antique Old Hickory furniture. Once again, Cherry Gallery was the first listing. The second was for Linda Davidson Antiques. Again, I checked several pages and found no listing for Christiby’s or Markey.

Christiby’s and Robert Markey do not have a website. A “Christiby’s” search found several references to the shop in antiques show programs and a LinkedIn site for Robert Markey—useless if a person did not know to search for them. Given the increasing role played by Internet searches for individuals wishing to sell antiques and collectibles, a specialized dealer who does not have a website is at a decided disadvantage in today’s world.

Specializing in a look or a single collecting category is a sound business practice in the 21st century. Specialized dealers rely on auctioneers and other dealers who do not specialize in the same collecting category to provide them with leads. While a dealer’s primary goal in doing shows is to sell, serving old customers and attracting new, he/she also uses the show as a means of generating leads.

I have never written on the role chance plays in the antiques and collectibles business. It is greater than suspected. I have added the topic to my “food for thought” list.

It was pure coincidence that Linda and I returned to the “Antiques at the Fairgrounds” show for the second day, during which I saw the Chistiby’s booth. Linda took ill during our Saturday visit, and we left having visited less than a quarter of the booths. Sunday was a glorious day. Although initially planning to use the day to do some sightseeing in the Petoskey area, we opted to return to the show to take a further look. Had we not returned, the events that followed would not have happened.

I save my “Rinker on Collectibles” and WHATCHA GOT? E-mail. When Linda and I returned to the Inn at Bay Harbor, a quick search produced E.N.’s e-mail. I sent her Robert Markey’s contact information. Normally, I do not hear one way or the other if the information I provided was helpful. Hence, I was pleased when I opened a later e-mail from E.N. informing me that she had sent pictures of her Old Hickory furniture to Markey. Within the week, Markey and his wife drove from Michigan to Pennsylvania and bought the seven pieces for his Christiby’s shop. E.N.’s e-mail noted: “They paid me $3,000.”

In summary, knowledge is power in the antiques and collectibles field. Markey and E.N. were lucky. With a little outside help, the right two people met to create a win-win situation. Unfortunately, this is not typical. Chance is a scarce commodity.

Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out Harry’s Web site.

You can listen and participate in Harry’s antiques-and-collectibles radio call-in show “Whatcha Got?” on Sunday mornings between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Eastern Time. It streams live on the Genesis Communications Network.

“Sell, Keep Or Toss? How To Downsize A Home, Settle An Estate, And Appraise Personal Property” (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via Harry’s Web site.

Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the 20th century. Selected queries will be answered on this site. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Pond Court SE, Kentwood, MI 49512. You can e-mail your questions to harrylrinker@aol.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered. Please indicate that these are questions for WorthPoint.

Copyright © Rinker Enterprises, Inc. 2013

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