Heart of Country - American Country Antiques Show
Heart of Country Feb. 2-4, 2012 Horse weathervane

Tickets: $25 at the door

The following is a review of the traditional morning walking tour of the show. The walking tour is a favorite event, which gives attendees an opportunity to view the show in small groups with expert guides, before the show opens to the public. Rusha Sams, a Heart of Country showgoer, wrote this review. It first appeared in the antique trade newspaper, Antique Week.

The “Early Bird Walking Tour” May Be Heart of Country’s Best Bargain

By Rusha Sams

Now I usually don’t avail myself of the opportunity to plunk down $25.00 for a tour at an antiques show – I’m too cheap, I suppose. But talk about value for my money! The early Thursday morning tour at the Heart of Country Show not only taught me some aspects of the business; it showed me that no matter how long we have been dealers, buyers, or scholars, we just can’t know it all! 

Prospective tour-goers met in the lobby outside the exhibition hall at 8:30 A.M. where we were addressed by an enthusiastic coordinator who placed us into groups. Luckily for me, Jim Sanders, a lecturer on American Antiques at Purdue University, University of Southern Indiana, and the University of Evansville led my group.  

“This is one of the best educations you can find,” Jim told us. He said that he brings students to shows frequently. “The Kramers [show coordinators] ask their dealers to bring a good variety of merchandise.” And with over 150 dealers from all parts of the U.S., there was quite a variety, although Jim noted a trend: “Lots of tall case clocks, weathervanes, and tavern signs this time!” 

“Now before we tour, I want to let you know something about the prices you will see. For the most part, you won’t find antiques priced better anywhere. Dealers save their best pieces all year long for this show and they go through a lot to bring them to you. They have to rent a truck, pay a sizable fee for a booth, rent rooms for the week, eat at restaurants, etc. It’s not cheap.” He also encouraged us to factor in the part of the country the dealer represents. “Sometimes locale alone will be a factor in setting a price.” 

So we were off, stopping at booths, listening to Jim wax poetic about the virtues of sugar chests, dovetailing, preservation. But he also added, “I hate to say this, but some of the pieces I earmarked for our tour this morning sold last night at the Preview Party. There were a large number of people attending, and, from the looks of the comings and goings of the dealers this morning; a number of special pieces are gone. This is not a charity event. People come to buy.” We noticed that dealers were headed to their private stashes in the storage areas to find replacement pieces for empty corners in their booths! 

We first stopped in front of a life-size reindeer looking quite stately in the booth of Newsom & Berdan from Maine. Not only did Mr. Sanders praise the hand-carved fish and other renderings on the body of the reindeer, he noted that the entire reindeer would completely break down! Jim clicked an antler off the circa 1890 beauty to demonstrate the point, and then we all searched for other previously hidden-to-our-sight joints. Also in that booth, he noted a federal eagle from Connecticut – a “transition eagle” he called it. “The eagle is an Early American symbol – at first it looked like a dove; then it evolved into a bird of prey.” 

He paused in front of a grain-painted trunk from Ohio dealer, Kemble’s Antiques: “It’s your decision on refinishing. Definitely don’t strip anything entirely, but do clean your wooden pieces.” I shuttered. I belong to the old “Original Is Best” school of thought myself, but he was a true Southern gentleman: “Whatever suits you best, ma’am.”  

Kemble also offered an excellent sugar chest for sale. Jim praised the piece and then added, “You’ll see a lot of cherry at this show. The best, if you’ll pardon me, comes from Tennessee and Kentucky. The poorest cherry is from Indiana – their cherry has too much white in the coloration. Indiana is known for walnut.” Again, a hesitation lest he offend someone in the group. 

Tiger maple became a favorite wood of our group after we spied fine pieces in several booths. “Certain chemicals in the ground give it the striping. Only about one of every 500-750 trees will have the figuring. Sometimes you can even find it in cherry.” Then he paused again, so as not to offend. “Now let me explain why it was in demand. One of the first things a household had in Colonial days was a good firearm. The better ones had a tiger maple stock. So, you see, men were familiar with tiger maple, and, when it came to purchasing or making furniture, the men wanted the wood with which they were familiar: tiger maple!” And where in the U.S. do you find tiger maple? “A lot of it comes from Ohio,” Jim added. 

The Gallery Booth, a centrally located highly publicized area, contained showcase pieces that elicited oohs and ahs from our group. “A dealer or dealers will know for a year that they will have the gallery booth. They save for the event. This year, internationally acclaimed antiquarians Patrick Bell and Edwin Hild of Olde Hope, Pennsylvania, presented a collection of folk art, quality 18th and 19th century American furniture, and fine art in “The Art of Country,” the Spring 2001 Gallery Booth. 

Highly collectible for several years now is yellowware. “It was made in the ‘20’s – strictly utilitarian pottery.” The seemingly high prices now should continue to escalate in the future, Jim added. Quality is everything, however. According to Sanders, “Yellowware and blue and white spongeware have become the most collectible of all the kitchen items.” 

At the booth owned by Marie Miller from Vermont, we looked more closely at a 19th century weathervane with a zinc head. “Weathervanes were very important in Colonial days. There was no rural delivery. You had to go to the post office for mail. Therefore, if someone came into a territory or town looking for someone or to make a delivery, the weathervane on a home was an identification symbol.” Weighted heads in horse weathervanes caught the wind just right on a blustery day.  

Other tidbits enlightened those of us who wanted to know more.

  • If you want to buy a secretary or desk, have the dealer pull it out to see if the pieces have been “married” – a top, for example, from one piece; a bottom from another.

  • Have the dealer document a piece for you on his letterhead stationery including the approximate date of the piece and any information concerning its history – it’s good for your own information but it’s also usable information for insurance purposes.

  • Some people like the look of a refinished piece; others will pass on it because it doesn’t look original. You have to live with the pieces. If you like original drawers that you have to lift, so be it. Be happy with what you purchase.

  • When you consider purchasing a really fine clock, understand that usually the works were made by one person, the case by another.

  • Dealers say that buying a single piece from an estate is getting to be more difficult. Sometimes they have to buy a whole collection just to get a key item.

  • Do become specific in a certain area. Read whatever you can so that you know the furniture of one region or one period. He recommended a book entitled The New Fine Points of Furniture: Early American, Good, Better, Best, Superior, Masterpiece by Albert Sack and Deanne Levison. The book gives ideas about proportion, composition, what to look for, etc.

  • If you are shopping a big show such as this one, it’s fine to ask a dealer to hold a piece for half an hour or so. Then you can circulate to get an idea if that is the one you want!

  • Keep receipts for purchases. Antiques constitute some of our best investments – and you can learn so much from dates and prices of items you have purchased.

  • Some people don’t like the look of Empire furniture, but it’s representative of an important period. Mistakenly, people think that the large, overhanging top drawers of Empire chests held blankets, but they didn’t. They stored hats or bonnets.

  • Early bandboxes were covered with scraps of wallpaper, and it is from these early boxes that we get many of our wallpaper designs for our homes today.

  • Finding American brass is very difficult today. Some people resist purchasing a fine piece of furniture because the hardware is missing, but purchasers should know two things: Some of the hardware was given up to make guns for the War, or sometimes an owner had a cabinet made with the intention of getting the hardware later – and just never did.

  • Another excellent resource for those who want to learn more about American country furniture is the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Mr. Sanders ended his lecture/tour with a couple of final examples. First, he paused in front of Booth 284 – Spirit of America from Maryland – where he asked the owner to tell us about an excellent spice cabinet – 16 drawers over 2. The mid-Atlantic piece still sporting its original mustard paint contained drawers that were dovetailed front and back. “It could also be called a Pinch Box – for a pinch of salt or other spice.” Evidently, someone else knew the value of the painted piece listed for $1995 – it was sold before I could get back with my reloaded camera an hour later! 

Second, he explained the value of samplers and theorems. “They were teaching pieces for children, and there are numerous fine examples in the show.” But what astounded us was the description of one in his own collection: a six-foot long sampler! “It was a vita of sorts. A teacher would make several small samplers demonstrating what skills she could teach children. Then she would sew all the different panels together only to unfurl the piece later in front of prospective clients wanting to engage a stitchery expert to while away the hours with their daughters.” An early resume, no doubt! 

Jim Sanders is not a dealer, preferring instead to be a teacher (and an excellent tour guide!). A long-time collector of fine things, he is an appraiser and the owner of a home featured in the April 1991 issue of Country Home magazine showing homes of New Harmony, Indiana. So who says we can’t all learn a thing or two about our passions and collections? Bring on the next big antiques show and the tour! 


Popular early morning Walking Tour led by collector and scholar Jim Sanders

Beautiful room setting booths display
a broad array of Americana.