The gilded age of the antique business may be behind us, but there is a burgeoning new love for old local things, It has only blossomed in the mid-to-post-pandemic times.
“The 1980s,1980s, 1990s, early ‘00s — that’s when an antique dealer could throw up a hundred-dollar bill and have it come down as a thousand-dollar bill,” said Dan Seldin of Saugerties. “There were antique stores, and dealers and flea markets popping up everywhere. There were 45 just in Saugerties. Then we had the stock market crash in 2007, and most of them fell by the wayside.”
Seldin’s shop in downtown Saugerties, the Saugerties Antique Center, stood tall along with one other neighboring dealer during what he calls the “cleansing of the soul” period for the antiques business, which is now in the midst of a renaissance.
For Jay Werbalowsky, owner of JMW Auction Gallery in Kingston, the antiques business has changed drastically in the 40 years he and his family have been running auctions. “We’re now 100 percent online,” he said. Like Seldin, he’s seen a huge influx of business in the past two years. “The pandemic has really helped our business because we’ve had so many Brooklynites move to the area who are looking to purchase antique furniture and fine art,” he said. “We have 200 registered bidders with Brooklyn addresses.”
He agreed with Seldin about when the business flourished. “In the early 2000s it started going soft, and then recently it has just skyrocketed,” reported Werbalowsky. “Younger people are getting back into it. They have houses that they want to furnish with authentic Hudson Valley furniture, décor, fixtures and fine arts.”
Those breathing new life into the antiques business are not just looking for anything old, they’re looking for Hudson Valley old.
“The new buyers are interested in items that have local attributes,” said Seldin. “They want Hudson Valley primitives — cupboards, stoneware, wood bowls, farm tables. Everyone wants a farm table!” he said. “But there is something that has people rediscovering the organicness of things that have been around a long time and passed down from generation to generation. They like that natural patina that comes with an old piece of furniture, and brown wood is making a big comeback.”
“Brown wood” is an industry term for the darker woods like mahogany and walnut. “The dark walnut furniture that your grandmother used to have is now being appreciated because it lasts, it’s sturdy, and it has history,” Seldin said.
During the pandemic, people were stuck in their homes, spending more time around their stuff. They wanted to focus on renovating or reimagining their living spaces. “Everyone is working from home now,” Seldin noted. “And many of them have left the city and have bought homes up here. Old farmhouses and Dutch stone houses and Victorian homes. And they want to furnish and decorate them.”
Iron Victorian patio furniture is as hot as it’s ever been. “Victorian garden furniture is a timeless classic,” said Seldin, “but now people are spending more time outdoors, having a glass of wine on their deck or having a barbecue on their patio, and they want this decorative but sturdy outdoor Victorian furniture.”
A nostalgic return to the home has people gardening, growing their own vegetables, and sometimes raising backyard chickens for eggs. It’s the same drive that has them looking to buy historically relevant antiques Seldin thought.
“They want to furnish their homes with items that are true to the period. They might add a flourish of mid-century modern, but they also love any sort of local nostalgia like Washburn bricks from the Saugerties Brick Factory or old trade insignia like blacksmith shop signs.”
Buyers are looking for local apple crates, Rosendale Cement bags, road signs and remnants of long-gone inns, pubs and restaurants.
JMW Auction Gallery recently sold a tavern sign for a remarkable $247,500. It was an old sign painted with a crocodile against a blue background that had written, in gold lettering, “G. D. Witt’s Inn.” A man from Kingston was fascinated with the history of the sign, as well as its aesthetic appeal.
According to the story told by Werbalowsky, the Crocodile Inn sign was purchased by Jack Whistance, who traced the inn’s history to 1800. The original Dutch house, built circa 1776 by a colonel in the Revolutionary Army, had a stone in the basement that was said to look like a crocodile tail. Hence the name of the inn.
Sanford Levy, owner of Jenkinstown Antiques in the historic stone Hallock House circa 1792 in New Paltz, confirmed that relics, postcards or signs with local history are in high demand. “Rosendale Cement bags are collectible as are anything related to our railroad and agricultural history,” Levy said. “Besides collecting things, when people move here they often become interested in the history of the region and want to research different aspects of it.”
Reading materials, artwork, postcards, signs, letters and other items become valuable. Handcrafted Hudson Valley stoneware, pottery and furniture from the region are always sought after.
Levy opened his shop in New Paltz in 1974. For many years, he operated out of his 18th-century stone house and a small outbuilding. The shop is now located in a 1792 building relocated to the property from Orange County in the 1980s.
Though there appears to be no ceiling to demand, there is a limited supply, a phenomenon that will support higher prices for the best antiques.