How long have you been in business?
“Old Things and Objects has been in Astoria for almost 16 years now.”
How long have you been the owner?
“About seven years.”
How did you first get involved?
“Before we started doing this, I was a rare book dealer. This was just something my wife and I were always interested in, she’s always wanted to own a vintage clothing store and I was always interested in history. She has her interests and I have mine and it creates a great base of knowledge. She knows about clothing and I know about military stuff and toys. Between the two of us we make a good pair.”
You seem to have a broad array of items from antiques to toys. Is there certain demographics you target?
“We try to have enough stuff to appeal to everybody. We get such a broad diversity of people that come through here from the regular tourists, locals and cruise ship passengers — we get people from all over the world. You just never know what somebody is going to want.”
What’s the most expensive item in the store currently?
“It would have to be our painting (by Frederick Schiller Cozzens) of the sailing ship on the wall. It’s painted by a fairly famous artist. We get a lot of famous art that comes through here, just some amazing pieces. Right now that’s the most expensive item in the store, about $1,100.”
What are some of the more prominent items you’ve sold in the past?
“We just sold an antique gong from Asia. It was massive and made in the late 1800s. It went for $900.”
How did you find the gong originally?
“They just walked in the door. That’s one of the few advantages of having a physical store, which is very expensive. The store gives us the advantage of having people bring stuff to us — we don’t have to go hunting for it. The gong was an item someone needed to move out of their space, so they brought it to us and we bought it.”
What are some things you’re always seeking for the store?
“We’re looking for anything from the 1800s. If you walked into a barn in 1860, that’s the stuff people are really looking for…rugged items, farming equipment, old wood and tackle are really hot items.”
What are some of more rare items you’ve come across?
“We have a signed Blue Notes Volume 1, Number 1 by Duke Ellington. It’s essentially one-of-a-kind, you won’t find that anywhere. Some of the most rare things we’ve come across have been very old, vintage books that we never expect to find. Sometimes we find old things inside the old books, which is really unusual.”
What have you found inside old books?
“We found a letter that was written home by a soldier from WWII from Hitler’s chateau. The Allies had taken the area and he went into the chateau and pulled Nazi letterhead out of the chateau, which was basically Hitler’s home away from home. He wrote a letter home to his folks in America saying, ‘Hey, we’re here in Europe, look what we got.’ It was Nazi letterhead filled with symbols from Hitler’s chateau.”
Do you still have it?
“No, we sold it.”
“It sold for about $500. And it was just something we found in a book. It happens a lot. Anytime we buy books we always flip through them. We’ve found that people sometimes stashed money in books. We often find one and five dollar bills that people used as bookmarks.”
What accounts for a majority of your sales?
“The majority of our sales are small items, mostly natural science type stuff. People like rocks, crystals and agate coasters, that’s probably are most regular moving thing with the broadest appeal. We sell something like that pretty much every day.”
You mentioned the diverse customers, including tourists, locals and cruise ship passengers. Do they seek different things?
“With cruise passengers, most of their stuff has to be fairly small because there’s restrictions as to what they can bring on the ship. They usually buy smaller items that aren’t very expensive, but we did sell a $1,400 piece of pottery to a cruise passenger once.”
Has the business changed since you’ve been involved?
“Yes, it has. The Internet has a big impact on the antiques business, so that’s been something we’ve been dealing with. The Internet has exposed the items that aren’t rare and exposed the items that are very rare. It’s created a big divergence by showing which items are common and those you can’t get anywhere. It became a big bifurcation of our inventory. A lot of inventory went down in price because there was a glut of it on Internet, then some other items became more expensive because you can’t find it anywhere, which means it’s very, very rare.”
What were the specific items that became more or less valuable?
“Common things like dishes from the 1950s, anything dish or dinner wise, you can’t give that stuff away. Anything clear glass has no value anymore pretty much. People want colored glass. The things that got really valuable are the truly valuable things from WWI and WWII that you just can’t find anymore. Civil War items are hot.”
Is there anything you feel is beginning to emerge in popularity?
“Vinyl. The 20 and 30-somethings are discovering vinyl and they’re devouring it. It’s just incredible. We could fill a bin with records and it would be half empty by the end of the summer. It’s become so popular that they’re beginning to produce vinyl again, but the people that are buying it want the old vinyl, the original record in the sleeve with the good graphics.”
Did the 2008-09 recession have an impact on the business?
“No, not really. The people who buy antiques, they’re going to buy their antiques. Collectors have their motivations and they’re not going to let a bad economy hold them back.”
Are there any customer stories that resonate with you?
“We get so many different people in here, it’s always an experience. For a while we had some of the original costume drawings from The Adventures of Robin Hood movie from 1938. We had picked them up in an estate. One day someone who was familiar with the artist and where they came from came in. They were the old-Hollywood type and we just started talking. It was very interesting, just how you meet people and they come out of their shells when they find something like that. I never would have known or met this guy until he came in, saw the drawing and wanted to buy it. There are thousands of items in the store and every single one is hand selected. There’s a history behind every piece. One thing we hear more than anything else is how an item brings back a memory.”