Cover Story » Current Issue » Vol. 22

Local Antique & Art Dealers

New England  ~ Massachusetts in particular ~ has always had a history rich in art and antiques.  It would take days to shop every antique shoppe in the state, and even longer to find and talk with the many art and antique aficionados who run private auctions or serve as appraisers and dealers of finer items.  And come the warmer weather, flea markets crop up everywhere, bringing out both seasoned collectors and those folks who hope to find some hidden treasure that might be worth its weight in gold.  Programs like “Antiques Roadshow,” “Hollywood Treasures,”“Pawn Stars,” and “Antique Kings” have also helped to reinvigorate interest in antique/unique/potentially valuable items.

We were lucky enough to speak with five highly regarded art and antique appraisers/dealers in Worcester County and it became clear that buying and selling items means much more to these gentlemen and ladies than just a sale ~ it’s true passion, an art form, sometimes forged at a very young age and only increasing in fervor with every exciting find, with every family whom they can tell, “Yes, this item is extraordinarily rare.”

In this cover story, meet Wayne B. Hodges, president of the Brimfield Antique and Collectibles Show in Brimfield, Cheryl Nedoroscik, the manager of Bob Courtney Auctions in Millbury, Stuart Whitehurst, Vice President at Skinner Auctioneer and Appraisers in Marlborough and Boston, Gary Sohmers, owner of Wex Rex Antiques and Collectibles in Framingham, and William Union of the Art and Antique Gallery in Worcester.

Brimfield Antique  and Collectibles Show

By Christine R. Walsh
Wayne B. Hodges, president of the Brimfield Antique and Collectibles Show in Brimfield (which happens three times each year), loves the many aspects of the world-famous show: the excitement in people’s faces as they find that favorite item, the camaraderie amongst sellers, seeing young couples walking down the aisles and knowing that his beloved hobby is alive and well and being passed on to a younger generations.  But one might not easily guess his favorite part of the show.

“My favorite thing about the Brimfield Show is being able to get to my house!” Wayne exclaimed jokingly.  “I’m serious!  Every so often in our area, you’ll see a bumper sticker that says, “Let me through, I live here!” and it’s in reference to the show.  So many people come to be a part of this experience ~ it can be hellacious trying to get to your house!”

Wayne is quick to note that the Brimfield Show is an important interest of his, and not a business.  According to Wayne, some shows or antiquing sites are connected to promoters, specific dealers or certain bed and breakfasts.  But because the Brimfield Show is beholden to no one, the exhibitors and the administration have the visitors in the forefront of their minds.
“The show is amazing,” Wayne said.  “It’s hard to live in Brimfield and not be intrigued by antiques. If you go to one show a year, over 25 years, you become a collector ~ like it or not.  You’re bound to stumble upon something that is interesting.  And I think it’s just the discovery process that keeps people coming back.”

Wayne has loved antiques for over 25 years and it was his wife who originally got him involved.  The two met quite by accident in a hospital emergency room and four months later, they were married.  Along with a blushing bride, Wayne gained a knowledge of collectibles.

“My wife grew up in the culture and has always been intrigued by early American.  So that’s what I’ve gravitated to as well.  But we honestly never went on any antiquing dates,” Wayne said. According to Wayne, he and his wife also love to collect silver ~ which can be quite an adventure. There are many dealers who sell very shiny, polished silver pieces, but that shine can come with a high price.  Wayne seeks out the dealers who sell silver that’s tarnished and blackened with good reason.

“I love finding a beautiful piece of silver that’s in terrible condition, taking it home and working on it for a couple of days and all of a sudden you’ve got this beautiful piece that cost you nothing,” Wayne said.  “You don’t find that type of thing on ebay.  It’s fun finding the hidden jewels.”

Wayne said that, because of the recession, business has been slightly slower in the past few years, but his original major concern was that ebay would hurt the show’s attendance.  Still, the Brimfield Show has thrived despite the internet.  Wayne believes the reason behind the show’s success is because it is an experience and that people come to share in the atmosphere, year after year.

If you live in Brimfield,” Wayne said, “You’re in the antiquing culture.  And people love it.”

For more information on the Brimfield Antiques and Collectibles Show (which happens 3 times a year) or on Wayne Hodges, go to www.brimfieldshow.com ~ and make sure to attend the upcoming Brimfield dates: July 12 – 17 and September 6 – 11.

Bob Courtney Auctions

By Christine R. Walsh

Cheryl Nedoroscik, the manager of Bob Courtney Auctions in Millbury, loves being a part of the antique business and has truly seen the company she works for rise from the ground up.  According to Cheryl, the antique magic began when owner Bob Courtney bought a three decker building in Worcester in the mid 1980s.  He had originally set out to open an antique business, but the three decker further inspired him with the treasures it held inside.

“There were a number of antiques already in the building and Bob really got interested in them,” Cheryl explained. “That’s how he ended up in the business.  He discovered people were eager to buy the architectural antiques.  In the early ‘90s, we started doing auctions and we’ve been doing them ever since.”

The delightful Bob Courtney Auctions  that feature  high-end, quality antiques available for bidding occur twice a year, both at the Millbury location and simulcast live online.  Cheryl gets to marvel at the pieces as they prep them for auction and is currently excited about one particular item that is passing through Bob Courtney. cheryl-nedoroscik-of-bob-c-copy

“We have this amazing piece, from the United Congregational Church here in Worcester,” Cheryl said. “It’s the cover item for our May 28 auction and it is a signed Tiffany Studios Window. To be able to sell something like that is a great opportunity, especially when it’s local.”

According to Cheryl, Bob Courtney travels down the street for some of his antique items, but  he also travels across the world ~ attending auctions, speaking to other dealers, and working to get the most interesting and beautiful pieces for his customers.  There are also a number of people who come directly to Bob.  They’re interested in selling items from their homes or treasures they’ve inherited from a relative.

“Sometimes we buy a single piece of jewelry, other times we buy the entire contents of an estate,” Cheryl noted.  “The antique business is a different business than most ~ you never know what you’re going to find tomorrow. It’s a totally different market.  You roll with the punches and work hard to ensure that you’ll find enough quality items to keep your customers coming back for more.”

Bob Courtney Auctions enjoys many repeat customers, according to Cheryl.  She can think of people who have once a customer has been bitten by the antique bug, they’re done for.  Still, she is quick to confirm that the recent recession has affected the antique business.

“These days, you’ll see a lot of your smaller dealers just making it by,” she said.  “We used to have a lot of small antique stores everywhere.  Now you don’t see them.  People are computer savvy these days, and know how to buy and sell on Ebay.  But merchandise we sell is unique, gorgeous, and different, which is why we’ve been able to stay in business.”

For more information on Cheryl Nedoroscik or Bob Courtney Auctions, go to http://bobcourtneyauctions.com.

Skinner Auctioneer  and Appraisers

By Christine R. Walsh

Stuart Whitehurst, Vice President at Skinner Auctioneer and Appraisers, its Senior Appraiser, and the company’s Director of Fine Books & Manuscripts, considers himself quite lucky to have had very supportive parents.  At 15, Stuart attended his first antique auction and became fascinated with the business.  But because he was born into a family who had chosen careers in medicine, Stuart originally opted to put his antiquing dreams aside.

“My father asked me what I wanted to do in terms of a career,” Stuart remembered.  “And I said I wanted to be a doctor.  He asked why and I gave him all these answers that I thought he wanted to hear.  But as a parent, you can see when your kids are feeding you a line.”

According to Stuart, his father then pressed him further, asking if he could put jobs aside and just do something he loved for the rest of his life, what would that path include.  Stuart professed his interest in antiques.

“My father said, ‘Let’s skip the medical part and go right into the antiques,’” Stuart laughed.  “I was really lucky to have that support and the antique business is the only job I’ve ever known.”

At Skinner Inc. ~ both the Boston and Marlborough locations ~ the knowledgeable and customer service-oriented staff functions on two levels, Stuart explained.  They appraise and they sell.  People reach out to the company to find out what various items are worth and Stuart says that he is often asked to visit with a person who is attempting to downsize from a large home to a smaller living space or with a family who has a house full of items after a relative has passed away.  In each situation, the people willingly admit to Stuart that they have no idea what to do next.  With over 26 years experience under his belt, Stuart smiles calmly, ready to assist.

stuart-whitehurst-from-ski-copy“I ask them to think of a perfect scenario in terms of what they want to happen.  They’ll say something like, ‘When I move from my big house to an apartment, I want to be able to take the things that I really want, and I want you to take the things that I don’t want and my kids don’t want and sell them.’  With that in mind, I lay out the ground work as to how we can sell these things.  At the end of the day, I love it because they’ll say that the process happened exactly as they had hoped.”

Stuart has also had his share of exciting items pass through his hands.  Shrewsbury’s Historical Society, for example, had in its possession an early printing of the Declaration of Independence.  It had been printed in Boston within 10 days of signing and the Society didn’t know what to do with it.   The document was not a town copy, nor was it related to the town in any way.  So it was sold.

“This was one of those wonderful instances where I initially thought it was going to bring around $70,000 – $90,000, which is a fair chunk of change and even in that case, the Historical Society would have been happy with that,” Stuart said.  “We ended up selling it for over $600,000.  So everyone was happy.”

Another perk to being in the antique business, shared Stuart, is reaching a wide range of people who are all interested in the items Skinner has to auction off.  And none of these people needs to be on the premises during auction time.

“All of our auctions are carried live by our own websites and by live auctioneers.  We conduct them all live, just like they used to be done, but with the communication channels we have today, I’m standing there selling something and my clients aren’t just sitting in front of me.  They’re everywhere!” Stuart marveled. “Someone could be driving down the road, looking at our live auction and getting ready to make a bid.  You never know!”

For more info on Stuart Whitehurst and Skinner Auctioneers and Appraisers, go to www.skinnerinc.com/index.php.

Wex Rex Antiques

By Christine R. Walsh

Gary Sohmers, owner of Wex Rex Antiques and Collectibles in Framingham, first became intrigued with the antique business after his father came home one day with a small box ~ and a life lesson.

“I was about 8 years old and my dad showed me this box full of old campaign buttons,” Gary remembered.  “He’d bought it at a little antique shop.  That day, my dad taught me about history and he taught me that these buttons that he bought for a dollar, he could sell for $100.  I think my reaction was, ‘WHAT?!?’”

From there, Gary kept his nose to the grindstone, soaking up history, pouring over toys, records and rock and roll memorabilia.  He’d also peruse the local neighborhoods in search of the perfect treasure.

“Starting out in the business, you either sell at a yard sale or a flea market.  I started out by trash picking,” Gary said with a chuckle.  “I’d drive around neighborhoods on trash day, pick up stuff that was being thrown away and take it to the flea market.

“Whatever I could sell was profit.  I’d take the rest and either put it in the trash or donate it.  That was a way to make a living.  Or beer money,” he laughed. gary-sohmers-wex-rex-copy

Before giving his heart to antiques, Gary went into show business.  He wore a number of hats: he was a producer, a manager, a performer.  As he was traveling that exciting path, he encountered a number of fantastic popular culture items which only encouraged his first love, collectibles.  “About 25 years ago nobody thought pop culture was worth anything,” Gary said.  “Today, I sell Jimmy Hendrix toasters for $300.  So that’s not bad.”

Today, Gary still maintains his place in the spotlight.  He has appeared as an appraiser on 14 seasons of the popular television show “Antiques Roadshow,” and has a radio show on 980 WCAP AM called “Calling All Collectors.”  But despite a busy life behind the mic and in front of the camera, there are few things Gary loves more than taking the time to help people with their antique questions.

“I get access to a lot of people and they call me because they need help.  They have no idea what to do with the stuff that Grandma has left.  Or death or divorce has launched them into difficult situations.  They’re overwhelmed.  The most gratifying thing is being able to help people make a rational decision about what to do with the stuff near a time of crisis.  And these things happen to everyone ~  especially in this economy, especially with costs so high.”

Gary has also had some very interesting and very unique items pass through his hands, including the original prospectus for Disneyland  ~ which Walt Disney himself created.  According to Gary, Disney had attempted to raise $5 million to build the theme park but no one would loan him the money…at first.  Finally, ABC allowed him a line of credit and Disneyland was created.

Gary also has seen the original purchase and sales agreement for Graceland, as well as the document through which a young Elvis Presley purchased his first home in Memphis.

“Elvis wasn’t even old enough to buy it on his own,” Gary noted with a laugh.  “His parents had to cosign!”

www.AllCollectors.com
www.MeetAndGreet.TV
www.CollectorsChannel.TV
Gary Sohmers | LinkedIn
Antiques Roadshow | Appraisers | Gary Sohmers | PBS

Art and Antiques Gallery, Inc.

By Shelly Aucoin

William Union has been interested in art in for as long as he can remember. Now in his seventies, he looks back on his youth and recalls with fondness those early years discovering his true passion. Precious few people can say that they’ve always done what they love to do, but Bill, the owner of Art and Antiques Gallery, Inc. at 4 Old English Road in Worcester, is one of the lucky few ~ and he’s grateful for it every day.

In the 1960s, his part-time art dealership business included selling antiques as well, but Bill speaks quite frankly about gradually realizing that “…most of the pieces in demand were simply too heavy and unwieldy to transport to the antiques shows [that he frequented].” By the 1970s, he was devoting all his time to the business and decided to specialize in what he holds most dear to this day:  17th – 20th century American and European paintings

Many people call Bill an expert on the subject and “I don’t object,” he says with a smile; after all, he has been a successful collector and seller for more than 40 years and is a member of the International Society of Fine Arts Appraisers, LTD. and the New England Society of Fine Arts Appraisers.

He acknowledges that the economic downturn has had an effect on business but says that the market is still strong; his annual sales dropped from a typical $2.5 million to $1 million last year. “The market is strong but different,” he says, sharing that paintings priced up to $10,000 are still common sales but the higher ticket items are somewhat less frequent now. 

Much of the inventory at Art and Antiques Gallery, Inc. comes to Bill via art owners who have heard of his reputation and contact him via his website.  He is also well known in the antique show circles. These days, he travels to an average of twelve to fifteen prestigious shows across the country per year, but there were many years when that number was closer to thirty. Oftentimes antique dealers will come across a painting and recognize that it is something of value but not have the expertise to judge just how special it is. Bill, however, does have the expertise to appraise such paintings and is known for always giving sellers a fair price for their art; it’s this combination of knowledge and integrity that has allowed Bill to build many lasting relationships that have contributed to the longevity of his business. Mr. Union has helped many Worcester area art lovers build their collections and often sells to museums, galleries, and art/auction houses including the prestigious Christie’s.

Although buying Oriental art is a hot new trend, Bill is faithful to what he knows best and has always loved most, the 17th- 20th century American and European paintings; he doesn’t buy anything that he wouldn’t love to own. Right now, he’s “very happy” to have several Hudson River paintings in his inventory; they join work by artists including Charles Hawthornes, Camille Adriani, Olive Parker Black, Samuel S. Carr, William Baxter Closson, and John Corbino.  Does Bill have any plans to add other styles/periods of paintings to his collection?  Based on his clients’ requests, he is now “… expanding our repertoire to include Afro-American artists.”  Bill has also kept a few pieces of antique furniture that he acquired “in the old days,” and in his spare time collects antique cars, selling about five per year.  He is especially proud of the 1943 and 1946 Ford Coupes that he sold in 2010.

If you are interested in making an appointment at the Art and Antique Gallery in Worcester, please call 508.753.7332 or email wmunion@charter.net.  For more information, including a listing of upcoming events, visit www.artantiquegallery.net.  To view the gallery page, visit www.askart.com/artantiquegallery.

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