Monday, April 7, 2014

What has happened to our antique market?

A well established, long time antique shop in Massachusetts, that appears to be going the way of the dinosaur.

In a recent letter to patrons, The Cobbs, a Peterborough, NH mainstay in New England antique sales, lamented to their clientele about the "weakening" of the "mid range antique market, particularly furniture." They see it not only as an aging participant problem, but a "cultural and societal" issue as well. 

I spend much time reading New England Antiques Journal, Maine Antique Digest and others too, in search of knowledge and information. All of these respected, knowledgeable organizations are writing of the demise of our beloved early American antique market. There is nothing new in this folks; markets come and markets go, tastes change and people evolve. Once healthy "buggy whip" factories, the "type writer" industry and "stagecoach" market, employers of vast numbers of citizens, no longer exist; hopefully the entrepreneurs who ushered in these innovations adapted and survived.

Let me interject here that I love antiques, have collected for years, have recently become a dealer and short-sightedly thought that this market would endure forever. Well, maybe not "forever." After all, we're talking about American History. Forget all the rhetoric about a lousy economic climate, we've endured those before, although not to this extent within my lifetime, but what is relevant is that those who collect such items are quickly becoming a political minority. Those who are becoming the majority, apparently have little or no interest in the items that I hold dear. Then it simply becomes a matter of supply and demand. The supply is still here but the demand is not and according to "Economics 101," prices will plummet. And they have. It's provided me with excellent purchasing opportunities, but very poor selling prospects. 

As a collector and dealer reality has hit me square between the eyes. My 18th century, maple highboy, ladder back arm chair or antique Persian rug just doesn't hold the same appeal to today's 40 year-olds who listen to rap music, yearn for a shiny new Porsche, shop  at Pottery Barn and show up for an international flight in their best sweat pants with the word PINK written across their bottom and their earbuds in place. Is this wrong? No. I may not like it, but it's now the market in which I find myself. Either I adjust or I go out of business. The same decision the buggy whip, typewriter and stagecoach manufacturer had to make many years ago.

How will we, antique dealers that is, react? Will we continue to defy logic and try to sell items that few seem interested in purchasing? Will we change our business model and hawk products more suited to a contemporary market? Will we hunker down and hope for better times or will we try to educate others to think as we do and share our values? These, as I see it are our choices. Now... which path to follow.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Everyone needs a friend in business. We've made many... here's one of them.

Al Benting

When Linda and I decided to jump in with both feet and open RAND PECK ANTIQUES, we drove north to Concord, NH and wandered along antique alley, routes 4 & 202 to see just how this business is done. We met Jane Benting at one of the nicer shops on the route and explained that we were new dealers looking to learn the business. She advised, "you need to meet my husband Al." So off we went to Barrington, NH to meet Al Benting.

Some twenty minutes later we pulled into the driveway of this massive, beautiful, antique colonial built in 1780. What you can't see are the ell's, porches and outbuildings that further define their home and business. I wish that I could bring you inside to enjoy all of its architectural detail and years of painstaking antique collections.  

This building out back houses their antique business and is full of interesting antiques collected by this husband and wife team who have been in the business for a very long time, understand that business and have hundreds of wonderful contacts.

Al was kind enough to let me roam through his storage facility and just take it in.

Then he gave me the guided tour, pointed out many hard to find treasures and then taught me how he how he acquired them and how he plans to market them. I should have been taking notes.

Isn't this globe beautiful? With cast iron legs, glass ball feet and other navigational parts, it would enhance any private library.

Some of what I bought from Al and Jane to get our business off the ground. Would you like to contact Al and purchase inventory? Give him a call at 978.376.7515 and say hello for me.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

On our way to the Homestead Bookshop
Marlborough, NH.

Friday, 28 Feb, 2014, Linda and I left home in Amherst and drove to Marlborough, NH to visit The Homestead Bookshop, one of my favorite destinations. I've written about the Homestead previously, but certainly consider it worth another post. Rob has a fantastic array of books, well presented and easy to find. Another reason we enjoy this trek is the drive over Pack Monadnock with great views of Mt. Monadnock

Rt 101 also brings us through the Town of Dublin, NH. founded in 1752. This is a small New Hampshire town with a population of about 1,600 that touches Mt Monadnock and rests comfortably at about 2,800 feet above seal level. It's also home to Yankee Publishing. You may recall a piece I wrote some time ago  concerning Yankee editor-in-chief Judson Hale visiting Amherst, NH. Anyway, it's a beautiful little town as you can see from the photo above of the town center.

Here's a 1906 postcard view of the center of Dublin with it's long view to the south upon the Wapack Range.

This is interesting. This blackboard is attached to one of Yankee's buildings that fronts on Rt 101 and serves as a "notification center" for the town. I'm sorry to announce that Peter Hewitt died Saturday, but a memorial service will be announced. Facebook has nothing on Dublin, NH!                                      


Across the street from the Yankee Publishing consortium, is the Dublin Town Hall. Just to the right and out of view is the town library.

This is Peter Pap Oriental Rugs located just south of Dublin center on Route 101. We love orientals, have driven past Peter's for years and finally, today, made the effort to stop in. And I'm glad we did. Before we go inside though, Peter, with 30 years experience is recognized internationally and has another shop too that probably see's higher traffic volume than here in Dublin. It's in San Francisco! Here's a LINK to his business.

Not what you expected to see from the simple colonial exterior? Me either. The interior is spectacular and it's full of Persian rugs, beautifully displayed, from though out the Middle East. Prices ranged from what I saw, from $1,500 to $120,000.

But don't be put off by the prices. Leslie was more than happy to speak with us, give us the tour and advise that "education" or "knowledge" acquired before a purchase is very important. 

Before we leave Pap's Oriental Rugs and continue to Marlborough, here's a picture of Peter inspecting a rug. You may recognize him from Antiques Roadshow.

When leaving Peters turn right on to Rt 101 north, heading towards the center and you'll soon happen upon the Dublin Historical Society museum. This is Schoolhouse "number 1" built in 1841 with the towns Civil War Monument (erected in 1870) out in front.

Only ten miles or so past Dublin on Route 101 on the way to Keene and you'll stumble upon HOMESTEAD BOOKSHOP. I've written about this place before so won't go too deeply into it here. 

Other than to say, that if you love old books and other ephemera... you'll love this place. I've visited old bookstores around the world and this is clean, well laid out and run by Rob and his sister Judy who are friendly and well informed. 

Among other things, I'm a Samuel Chamberlain and Wallace Nutting collector who looks for first editions with well cared for dust jackets and have found most of my collection right here. It's taken a few years, but that's half the fun and we enjoy the drive over as well. I could have easily purchased them on Amazon or eBay (I do look there and have occasionally purchased there too) but much prefer the hunt over in Marlborough, NH. 

You may have noticed that I purchased The Spirit of St. Louis by Charles Lindbergh. What the heck, I'm a pilot and couldn't resist owning this 1953 first edition (of the book of the month club) with a very nice dust jacket. A few years ago, while on a Maui layover, I rented a Jeep and with great difficulty located Colonel Lindbergh's grave site.

It's a little off subject, but if you're interested, here's the Colonels grave marker. Another Northwest pilot learned that I was planning a visit to the Colonel's grave and asked me to leave these/his wings behind as a gift. I did so. I thought about linking you to a site with information but decided to let you enjoy the search/education as much as I did.

Although Homestead has an excellent collection of New England town histories, I found this, "Secomb's 1883 History of Amherst, NH" something I've been in search of for a long while, at the New Hampshire Antique CO-OP in Milford, NH. Linda and I also display at the CO-OP (what a coincidence) so please stop in and visit.

Thanks very much for reading my blog.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Huntington Avenue


On Saturday January 14, Linda and I met Blair, Samantha and Sebastian at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to view the John Singer Sargent exhibition. Our son Ian had sent us tickets  and it was a cold, wet, snowy day, nearly perfect for such an outing. The only drawback was, that this was the last weekend for the exhibition and everyone else had the same idea. The line, just to get into the gallery was two hours long and as much as we wanted to see it, the wait deterred us. But, if you'd like a glimpse of the event, CLICK HERE.

If you haven't been to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston for a while, you may enjoy viewing these photos that may entice you to make the journey. The building alone is spectacular and it's continually rotating exhibitions will lure you back for more.

John Singleton Copley painted Boston Silversmith and member of the "Son's of Liberty" Paul Revere in 1768. 

Silver artifacts produced by Paul Revere.

Thomas Sully's 1819 painting of General Washington, just before  crossing the Delaware River is 17 feet across.

Gilbert Stuart's painting of General Washington at Dorchester Heights originally hung in Boston's Fanuel Hall before moving to the MFA.

Jean-Antoine Houdon's marble bust of Thomas Jefferson, 1789 when he was the American Minister to France.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens sculpture. Have you ever visited the Saint-Gaudens Historic Site in Cornish, NH? Among many historic statues, Saint-Gaudens also designed the U.S. $20 gold piece or "Double Eagle" that was minted from 1907 to 1933 and is considered America's most beautiful coin.

Boston's own Dr. Joseph Warren who died at the hands of the British at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

And my grandson, Sebastian, enjoying all that there is to see with his father.

Sebastian likes dogs... big dogs.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Rand Peck Antiques
has expanded and added toys from the 1930's through 1960's. We're specifically collecting Marx, Wyandotte, Tonka and other cast iron and pressed metal trucks and airplanes. 

This is a quick look at our new glass cabinet at the NH Antique CO-OP.

We're having just one small problem though; he has blond hair and weighs 28 pounds. 

When we find a new piece to add to our collection for sale, Sebastian has found that he likes them too.

We're delighted to see that kids still enjoy playing with old metal toys.

So come on down and see our collection of Marx, Wyandotte, Tonka and Buddy L toys before Sebastian decides that he wants them.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Whatever happened to all the Silver Dollars?

But we'll get into that later.

Do you know America's most collectible coin?
This is it, the Morgan Silver Dollar.

One Hundred Morgan Silver Dollars in a box.

When I was 12 years old and shoveling driveways and mowing lawns for a dollar an hour, my goal was to accumulate $100 dollars. That represented an enormous amount of wealth to me and seemed a worthy goal. The picture of 100 Morgan Silver Dollars above represents that ambition. 

What is a Morgan Dollar?

Minted by the US Treasury from 1878 to 1904 and again in 1921, they came about due to the Bland-Allison Act of 1878 during the Rutherford B. Hayes administration. Hundreds of millions of these coins were struck in five different mints: Philadelphia, New Orleans, Denver, San Francisco and most famously, Carson City in Nevada. Most languished for years in canvas bags, never leaving the mint and eventually, due to the Pittman Act of 1918, 270,000,000 were melted, or half of the total mintage.   The War Time Silver Act of 1942 melted even more Morgans, thus aiding considerably to the coins scarcity. So, how many Morgan Dollars exist today? Due to lost mint records, mass melting's and general usage no one really knows, but one leading authentication service estimates that it has seen more than 1.4 million of these highly collectible coins.

Designed by Englishman, George T. Morgan in 1878, and acclaimed as one of the most beautiful coins ever minted, it's composed of 90% silver and 10% copper, giving it a total silver content of 0.77344 troy ounces. Or more simply, it contains a little more than 3/4's of an ounce of silver. These are not the only silver dollars produced by the mint, but certainly the most recognized and collected.

Obverse on the left and Reverse on the right of these (BU) brilliant uncirculated examples.

This is an 1889 Morgan. You undoubtedly know heads from tails, but coin collectors refer to the front as the obverse and the back as the reverse. It's a beautifully detailed, hefty coin and when flipped into the air by your thumb nail, it "rings." Try this with a current "clad" coin and it "thuds." If you look closely beneath Miss Liberties neck you'll discover a tiny "M" that indicates the engraver, Mr. Morgan. This was a highly controversial issue within the Mint at the time. On the reverse below the tail feathers is where you'll locate the "mint mark" or where the coin was struck. There is no mark here which indicates it was struck in Philadelphia. An O represents New Orleans, an S San Francisco a D Denver and the highly coveted CC is Carson City. 

Want to know more about this beautiful, highly collectible U.S. coin? Then you should probably purchase this book, MORGAN SILVER DOLLARS by Q. David Bowers from Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. Really, he's from New Hampshire! And no, I don't know him. Mr. Bowers writes in great detail about its history, production, design and investment analysis. He'll teach you about scarcity, rarity, condition, mintage and all the factors that determine value. Though equally beautiful, not all Morgan Silver Dollars are created equal from an investment viewpoint. 

I equate learning about, searching for and negotiating for Morgan Silver Dollars the same as I learn about, search for and negotiate for early American furniture. Both represent value, beauty and long term investment. 

On the left is an 1884 Morgan in fair condition valued probably at $30.00 or so. To the right is an 1888, very highly worn example in poor condition that I'd estimate at $25.00. Both of these coins in a "proof state" would be valued between $3,000 to $4,000.

The reverse of the two coins above.

A 1921, a Morgan in uncirculated condition vs our 1888 well worn example. Although the 1921 is in very nice condition, it's the last year they were minted and more than 2 million were struck and only in Philadelphia. Even the uncirculated specimens have dings and marks that are called bag marks. They occurred while large canvas bags of coins were moved about causing abrasions. Even the least expensive, common date, "almost uncirculated" Morgan with nice brilliance sells in a good coin shop for $50 to $75 today.

What makes a Morgan valuable? A combination of factors like; date, mintmark and condition. For example, an 1889 CC in excellent condition is worth in the neighborhood of $300,000. I'll have to go through my little box and see if I have any.

As a contrast here's an example of a U.S. Peace Dollar minted from 1921 to 1928 and then again in 1934 and 1935. It has the same specs as the Morgan but has failed to capture the imagination of collectors and demands far less money. 

Morgans are generally accepted as numismatic coins, meaning that they have collectors value on top of their "bullion" or silver melt value. There are many on line coin shops where you can go to learn the values of these coins, such as Littleton Coin in Littleton, NH. I don't know these folks either.

Here's the formula though to determine the silver value of a silver dollar. 

Today's Silver Price X .03215 X 26.73 X .90 = Silver value
Silver today is $20 so the formula would look like this.
20 X .03215 X 26.73 X .90 = $15.46

To watch live gold and silver prices click over to BULLION DESK.
To watch gold and silver trends click over to KITCO.

What about this Gresham's Law. It's an economic axiom that in the vernacular argues, "cheap stuff forces good stuff off the market." Remember when our daily change/coinage was made from silver? Silver halves, quarters and dimes were common, plentiful and all that we knew. In 1965 the Treasury Department during Lyndon Johnson's administration, debased our coinage and created today's "clad" coins. The silver was replaced with a cheaper alloy of copper and nickel. Consequently these coins lacked intrinsic value and when you stumbled across a silver dime or quarter you'd bring it home and put it in a jar with others because it was intrinsically valuable. It wasn't just you, everyone did this and in no time our beautiful, artistic silver coins became a memory. In other words, the inferior or clad-coins drove the valuable coins off the market and into your jar.

 This picture represents "Junk Silver" or pre 1965 U.S. coinage. 1942 Walking Liberty half dollar, 1958 Franklin half dollar, 1964 JFK half dollar, 1928 Standing Liberty quarter, 1964 Washington quarter, 1935 Mercury dime and a 1963 Roosevelt dime. All of these coins were in common circulation until 1965. This little $2.20 pile of coins equals 1.57 ounces of silver that equals $31.40 today in silver value. (11/27/13 silver = $20.00 per ounce)
Here are four "Washington" quarters on edge. Would you venture a guess as to which are silver and which are clad? 

Today, these pre '65 silver coins are called "junk silver" and you'll pay dearly at a coin shop to purchase them. One dollar of junk silver face, which means, any combination of silver change that adds up to a dollar equals .715 ounces of silver or $14.30 at todays silver price. So $100 face value of real silver change equals 71.5 ounces of silver and 71.5 ounces of silver equals $1,430 in today's currency. A quick check of the Provident website indicates that they're selling $100 face of junk silver for $1,563.

To better emphasize my point, would you rather have handed to you a crisp, clean, new, $100 bill or $100 dollars in pre 1965 U.S. silver coins? I hope  that you opted for the coins, because the difference is worth $1,330 at today's silver price.

Often I'm asked, "what is your box of 100 Morgans worth?" In today's market I "value" them at $50 to $60 a piece, but the real answer is, they're "worth" whatever someone will pay for them. Have you ever watched Wayne Carini from Chasing Class Cars take a rare automobile to a high-end auction like Pebble Beach? He sets out with a number in mind and might say that he expects it to sell for $100,000, only to see it fetch $75,000 on the auction block. On that day at that location it was worth $75,000 as determined by a sea of free market bidders, seeking quality with a finite number of dollars. Free market capitalism at its best.

If you live anywhere near Nashua, NH and you're interested in numismatics, you might consider attending the Nashua Coin Show. It occurs the third Sunday of each month and attracts vast crowds of buyers and sellers.

Happy collecting! What ever it is that you value.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Watchmaking and Watch Repair

I had a dilemma not too awfully long ago. I'd purchased several, very nice, antique railroad pocket watches off EBAY, but they underperformed. Which is a nice way of saying that they didn't run very well. Both their internal and external appearances were spectacular and rather than return them I set out in search of someone who could diagnose/repair these complex little antiques. My son also called complaining that his 1960, Rolex GMT, that we'd just had refurbished wasn't running well either. 

I love detective work and my investigation lead me to the door of David Searles in Milford, New Hampshire.

David, a 1976 MIT graduate, (a classmate of Benjamin Netanyahu) is a watch maker, antiquarian, horologist and all around interesting fellow, whom I approached with my balky collection. After just a couple of weeks they were back in my possession, ticking away happily, keeping near perfect time. Don't forget, they're nearly 100 years old. 

Since my retirement I rarely wear a watch these days, but my railroad timepieces are beautiful, intricate display pieces that represent  a piece of complex, mechanical art. Their gold or silver cases, made smooth by the touch of many hands before mine, energize my imagination and feed my curiosity. Where have they been? Who owned them? Did they actually guide a railroad conductor and help orchestrate the movement of giant steam locomotives over our nations labyrinth of rails?

David's "parts" collection alone warrants a full scale magazine article and took years to build. This picture shows wooden cases of watch crystals in huge quantities to satisfy all different sizes, makes and ages of watches. Then he showed me his collection of pins, wheels, springs, levers, stems, gears, grommets and other internal parts that simply amazed me. 

As seen here, lighting, vision enhancers and specialized tools have a premier role in his shop as David addresses a complex, antique watch that will soon be available at auction.

He explained to me how accuracy has improved over time, from the 16th century until today, as watchmakers painstakingly developed new parts, tools or techniques. Then others would tweak these parts and increase accuracy yet again. Open the back of an old pocket watch sometime and marvel at how all these tiny parts, that you need magnification to see, work perfectly in unison.   

One of hundreds of boxes of small parts. "One doesn't just run out and purchase these items" David explained, "they come from buying out old watchmakers, saving parts from other watches and keeping your eyes open at flea markets and auctions." 

So what does David do when he's not repairing watches? 

He's an ind├ępendant consultant who writes catalogs, condition reports and pricing guides for Jones and Horan Auction Team in Goffstown, NH. They hold four auctions per year in Manchester, NH that exceed $3 million in sales. I've been to several and they're very exciting.

David's a member of the National Association of Clock and Watch Collectors, the Swiss Association of Chronometrophilia and other organizations that keep him supplied with study and reading material. He also rents space at the New Hampshire Antique CO-OP in Milford, NH where he sells selective pieces.

As my readers know, I enjoy meeting people who are passionate about what they do. These are people who don't understand about "just going to work," they're people who can't wait for the sun to rise so they can get under way and create, produce, teach, fix, learn and enjoy their labor. David is such a guy.

He can be reached at: