Collectibles, oddities, rarities, antiquities
Route 1 beckons the curious, the hunters
“You’re killing me,’’ the shop owner, a stout man wearing a hunter’s plaid wool jacket and a two-day beard, said. We had just offered him $40 for an antique yellow Fiesta water pitcher - if he threw in the small wooden box we had dug out of heap in the back of the store. “This ain’t no charity,’’ he grumbled. But he took the offer, and we were happily on our way to the next shop, housed in a renovated 1800s barn within eyeshot.
We were on an antiquing road trip in southern Maine, a 30-mile or so stretch from York to Arundel jam-packed with shops and the occasional salvage yard. It’s home to the largest concentration of antiques stores in Maine, from tiny hole-in-the-wall shacks to multi-dealer malls. Some consider it America’s original “Antique Alley.’’ We consider it the best fall hunting grounds in New England. The crowds were gone; the shops were open; and we had our sights on end-of-season bargains.
We started at York Antiques, one of our favorite shops, with more than 60 dealers. It’s been around since 1989 and is a great place to find good quality - though not cheap - 18th- and 19th-century antiques.
The store was originally focused on American country pieces, particularly Colonial period antiques, but it now has a more international collection, including pieces from India, England, Bali, and Nepal. We admired a fine 18th-century Queen Anne highboy with a $15,500 price tag and a 1780 cherry tea table for $9,500 - way beyond our budgets - but picked up a vintage tin florist vase for $20 that would look perfect on Diane’s kitchen table.
Columbary Antiques, our next stop, was housed in an 1830s Greek Revival farmhouse with two outbuildings. We scoped out the display of antique corkscrews near the front door of the farmhouse and then browsed five room settings filled with large furniture pieces. A beautiful, hand-painted giant Spode turkey platter caught our eye; so did the price tag: $1,200. We passed on it. In the garage and other outbuilding, we found less pricey, newer collectibles, like porcelain and enamel dishes and bowls.
Among the Route 1 antiques shops, there are art galleries, home design boutiques, garden shops, thrift stores, salvage yards, and a slew of places to get fried clams and lobster rolls. We stuck to the plan, driving through busy downtown Ogunquit, heading to Gray’s Antiques.
Jean Gray, who has owned the shop for more than 25 years, buys what she personally likes to round out her collection of country furniture and accessories. Her dog Andy, a 12-year-old border collie mix, greeted us when we walked in, and followed us around the store. Gray had a fun collection of dog-related memorabilia, including old dog licenses, statues, bookends, dog paintings, portraits, and more. Pam couldn’t resist the Scottie doorstop.
Neither of us has ever actually bought a piece at R. Jorgensen Antiques, but we always stop to look. The longstanding shop, housed in a historic 1685 Cape with attached ells and a separate barn in the back, has a huge collection of fine period antiques from around the world, usually dating before the 1830s. The stylized rooms were filled with tables, chests, chairs, cabinets, artwork, lighting pieces, clocks, and more. We admired a Portsmouth, N.H., chest for $12,500, a 1785 demi-lune table for $8,500, and a set of eight period Chippendale chairs for $38,000. The shop was a virtual museum of fine antiques.
“So, what’s the rarest piece in here?’’ we asked Bob Jorgensen. Jorgensen, who owns the shop with his son, daughter, and grandson, is 97, and is in the shop every day.
“Me!’’ he joked, and then added, “Let me show you my favorite piece.’’ We followed him to the back of the shop, where he pointed to a wooden box sitting on top of an antique table. “Looks like a dumb old oak box, right?’’ he said. “But, look.’’ He opened it to reveal a beautiful set of glass decanters. It was a 1790 ship captain’s liquor chest in perfect condition.
There was no way we could pass up our next stop, Collectiques. It looked like a picker’s dream, the cluttered yard and front porch filled with funky items.
“We don’t have the bed that George Washington slept in,’’ owner Renee Monnier said. “We have the stuff you find in grandma’s kitchen or attic.’’
We rambled through two floors of rooms filled with costume jewelry, vintage clothing, and stuff like a pair of leopard lamps, flatware from an old Statler Hotel, and a wild collection of salt and pepper shakers.
“A woman brought me her collection of more than 900 salt and pepper shakers,’’ Monnier said. “We get some weird stuff, but we like the unusual.’’
We left the store with a very cute set of turkey-shaped, brightly-painted salt and pepper shakers for $20.
The low-slung shops at Wells Union included eight small buildings, each housing its own unique collections. We were immediately drawn to the ramshackle shop in the back corner with moose antlers, pulleys, old tools, and iron rims hanging on the outside wood-paneled walls. Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz of the TV show “American Pickers’’ would have a field day crawling through this tiny shop, loaded with old tools, chisels, vises, lanterns, rusty hinges, oil cans, license plates, door knobs, fishing lures, and more. How about an old can of Super Puro antifreeze?
Less than a mile away, the MacDougall-Gionet shop, housed in an 18th-century, two-story barn, offered a much more refined collection of American period antiques, predating the Victorian era. Randall MacDougall, one of the owners, opened the shop in 1959, when he inherited his grandmother’s furnishings. It’s one of the oldest shops in the state, featuring antiques from nearly 60 dealers. The antiques were nicely displayed in room settings, with helpful, handwritten descriptions. An 1825 New England chair table, with original red paint, was a beauty, along with the eye-catching tiger maple Chippendale high chest made in New Hampshire. We eyed a Federal-era fireplace fender. Neither of us was ready to jump on it yet, but we thought it might require another look on our return trip home. We continued up Route 1.
“Seems like everything comes around again,’’ Beverly Bissonnette told us when we asked what was selling these days. “Our ’50s stuff and gas and auto memorabilia are still hot.’’
Bissonnette owns the Wells General Store, a 200-year-old barn stocked with old gas station signs, vending machines, gas pumps, and fun retro items. The “ ’50s’’ in the back had cigarette and soda pop vending machines, Formica tables and chairs, diner booths and jukeboxes for sale. We passed on the Betty Boop mannequin but couldn’t resist a pair of old, glass Coke mugs for $3 apiece.
Our final stop on this tour was Antiques USA in Arundel. It’s Maine’s largest antiques shop, with rows and rows of glass display units, shelves, and little rooms filled with dishes, glassware, furniture, and odds and ends.
We could easily have spent a few hours in here, but it was near closing and we were shopped out. Instead we headed back to Kennebunk and grabbed a table at 50 Local, where we toasted to a successful hunt. We had bagged some deals.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.