Having lunch with friends from the U.K., we discussed our afternoon spent browsing through antique stores. “Why aren’t there more antiques in your antique stores?” questioned Nigel.
“There aren’t enough real antiques in America” chimed in his wife Susan, “except those that are imported from Europe, of course.”
“America has a thriving antiques business” I replied. “We were first colonized almost 400 years ago, you know.” I could tell they were not impressed. To those belonging to a culture whose roots reached back thousands of years, Americans are the new kids on the block. “Besides,” I added, “we’ve been manufacturing goods for the last three hundred years, not to mention importing a lot of Europe’s estate antiques.”
“Perhaps” said Nigel, “but dealing in antiques as a fulltime pursuit is rather new to America, isn’t it?”
Early estate inventories show very little in the way of household goods.
I had no idea, but the question piqued my curiosity, and set me to Googling for the answer the rest of the weekend. It’s not often that I’m at a loss for words, and I felt obliged to eliminate my ignorance on the subject.
Of course, there have been estate auctions in America since Colonial days, but what Nigel wanted to know was how long our “modern” antiques trade has been around. You know: shops full of old merchandise culled from estates and sold at healthy mark-ups. To answer his question, I had to first determine exactly what was meant by the term “antique,” and then discover the set of social circumstances that could lead to the development of a market for antiques.
Definitions for the term “antique” abound. Most of us know that in the U.S. the official government definition of “antique” comes from the U.S. Customs Service, who considers an antique to be anything “over 100 years of age at the time of importation.” The importation requirement notwithstanding, this definition seems to have stuck, and antiques purists swear by it. Read More
Originally posted 2013-10-01 19:14:00.