Timeless treasures

Antiques appeal to those with an interest in history and craftmanship

Barb Sweet bsweet@thetelegram.com
Published on April 19, 2014

High on a hill overlooking Portugal Cove, the old St. Lawrence Church is a fitting location for John Landrigan’s varied collection of antiques and collectibles.

The ground floor of the Old Church Antique Shop is one large room, filled with items of every description, from moonshine jugs to china cups to vintage fur coats and even an array of pitchforks.

There are Newfoundland hooked rugs, tables and chairs of every description and even some newer pieces of used furniture.

Up a sweeping staircase is Landrigan’s home featuring some of the finer pieces and a collection of Royal Doulton mug jugs, much of which he’s willing to part with for the right customer.

As Landrigan offers an informal tour of his shop — featured a couple of seasons ago on the “Canadian Pickers” TV series on the History Channel, it’s quickly clear that the antique business has changed a lot.

That’s despite the popularity of shows about pickers who hunt for unique and vintage items. Landrigan says those shows have made it harder because everybody is suddenly a picker.

“It’s pretty much non-existent,” Landrigan says of his trade.

Some years ago, he says he could get $400 for a Newfoundland mat and now he’s sold them for less than $200 apiece.

Changing times that have seen members of the older generation as well as many baby boomers downsize, with some members of the younger generation favouring generic big-box store furniture and artwork, has had an effect on the antique market, Landrigan says.

More than a decade ago, Landrigan operated in Petty Harbour, prior to buying the church.

“When we were in Petty Harbour, I can remember at times, there were 150 Winnebagos parked along the harbour,” he said.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a motorhome pull in the yard here in 10 years. I’ve had signs out by the road, and furniture.”

Still, he says, nautical items remain popular and he’s run out of staple items like cod jiggers.

Landrigan says part of the trouble might be that his shop is off the beaten path.

In St. John’s, Rosemill Antiques and Collectibles opened on Water street West 24 years ago when there were no other shops in the immediate area. Now there’s a handful of old furniture stores along the strip, but Rosemill is the fixture.

There’s lots to look at inside, but it’s arranged in an appealing way, with chairs and tables set up in conversational clusters.

Art, dishes and cabinets fill the room in a way that is charming rather than cluttered.

Rick Clarke and Tom Whalen have seen much evolution in the business since they first opened, the doors.

Clarke says he believes the antique market is seeing another shift now in which people will search out pieces that have lasting beauty and endurance. The top sellers these days are functional — desks and cabinets.

“Old furniture is alive,” he says, noting the originality and craftmanship that can’t be found in a lot of new furniture.

 “It’s still speaking to you after 50 or 200 years. … They have great energy.”

He acknowledges the way big-box retail consumerism and the mass production of everything in China changed the market, but says people are realizing that many modern things — unless they are premium priced — simply don’t last.

Clarke’s interest in antiques developed at a young age and he found when moving around from place to place as a young man, he’d sell things and it was always the antiques that gave him a return on his money.

He worked in window display, was a commercial artist and a culinary food artist and became knowledgeable through decorating.

In 1990, when the store opened, and through 2000, the antiques market was hot and some things remain that way. But some figurines and glassware are no longer the huge money items they once were, Clarke says.

A dozen years ago, eBay changed the climate when people starting selling online. And it became easy for some things to be reproduced in China.

Rosemill remains a traditional shop, with no online sales. It has a customer base that is interested in quality pieces.

“Most people who buy antiques get really excited about it. They’re just really happy about it, can’t wait to get it home and just like looking at it. They are proud of it. There’ a pride to it,” Clarke says.

The store also has a loyal clientele.

“You build a relationship up with people when you are selling antiques,” he says.

But the requests have changed. The partners used to buy a lot of dining room sets on buying trips to the U.S., but they get no requests for full sets anymore, though individual pieces sell.

Designs of homes, notes Clarke, have shifted away from dining rooms to open concept and people eating their meals at kitchen islands, which means they don’t want complete dining sets.