Get the scoop on New England's best sources for culinary antiques (as well as a hot dating tip).
Marilynn Brass says she can spot a Hall teapot from 20 paces away – a skill she has no doubt developed over 35 years of hunting for culinary antiques with her sister, Sheila Brass. The Cambridge collectors, cooks, and authors of Heirloom Baking With the Brass Sisters and Heirloom Cooking With the Brass Sisters have amassed quite a collection, from vintage ice cream signs to copper pots to 1,000-plus food molds. “Each piece we buy has a story,” says Marilynn, “and if we’re lucky enough, we learn the story.” (You can hear some of their stories on their own holiday special, slated to air next month on the Cooking Channel.) Here, five of the Brass Sisters’ top spots for hunting down culinary antiques.
Owner Lee Joseph is also an auctioneer, “so you never know what’s going to come into the store,” Marilynn says. The sisters slow down every time they drive by the 30-year-old Cambridge shop; once, Marilynn spotted a large tin sign shaped like an ice cream cone, rushed inside, asked Joseph to hold it for her, then went back and bought it later that day. The store is “not stuffed, you can walk around, but things are sort of stacked or tucked in little areas. It’s one big room,” Marilynn says. “It’s a fun place; it’s not overwhelming,” adds Sheila. Their finds include a 1920s traveling tea set, including spoons and a match holder, and a Fannie Farmer cooking-school diploma from 1902. When you’re in the neighborhood, they suggest, head next door to the Bryn Mawr Book Store for cookbooks and stop for a snack at Full Moon restaurant or Formaggio Kitchen. > 375 Huron Avenue, Cambridge, 617-491-2131, leejosephauctions.com
Cambridge Antique Market
Don’t be overwhelmed by the market’s five floors of antiques and curios. “It’s big,” Sheila says, “but you can always come back.” (She also points out that there is ample parking in two lots.) “The dealers are friendly, and you never know what you’ll find there,” Marilynn adds. Plus, it’s a good place to take a date: “If you’ve just met someone and you have an interest in antiques and they say they have, too, you can go together,” Marilynn says. “Hopefully you’re not going to be looking for the same things.” The sisters found a heart-shaped wooden butter mold from the 1890s or early 1900s at one dealer’s shop and a Leedsware china platter with a blue ruffled edge from the same period. > 201 Msgr. O’Brien Highway, Cambridge, 617-868-9655, marketantique.com
Nesting on Main
Sheila says this second-floor boutique, located in Concord, is “full of ideas and inspirational.” Owners Melissa Cox and Wendi Snider sell a mix of new and old items related to nature, including bird books, eggs, and nests, plus jewelry, antiques, furniture, and more. “There’s a sense of calm” when you walk in, Marilynn says. “The rooms all go off of each other,” she adds. “It’s not all laid out like a grocery store; it’s all very personal.” They have found chocolate molds from the early 1900s, a bouillon carrier used by French factory girls a century ago, and an oblong glass display case from the 1940s or 1950s. > 44 Main Street, Concord, 978-369-4133, nestingonmain.com
Country Loft Antiques
The sisters say that this is their favorite shop in the 2-mile gold mine on Main Street in Woodbury, Connecticut. “It’s very high-end, an expensive one. What makes it a good place to go to is that you can see how antiques should be laid out,” Marilynn says. Adds Sheila: “It’s a nice drive in the fall.” The Brass sisters, who have been shopping at the store for 10 years, picked up some unusual pieces after the owner purchased a French general store that had been closed and left untouched for 70 years. Among their treasures: metal display reproductions of French chocolate bars. > 557 Main Street South, Woodbury, Connecticut, 203-266-4500, countryloftantiques.com
A two-room store in coastal Wells, Maine, the shop owned by husband and wife Art Smith and Linda Zukas has an oft-changing selection. From it the Brass sisters have acquired a commercial french-fry potato slicer from the 1920s or 1930s, a silver-plated Art Deco coffee urn, and a gray enamelware fish poacher, complete with cover and drain insert, from the 1900s. Marilynn also recalls a weathered Midwestern kitchen table she almost purchased but didn’t have room for. “That’s never stopped us before,” Sheila says. > 1755 Post Road (Route 1), Wells, Maine, 207-646-6996
Courtney Hollands is a senior producer at Boston.com. E-mail her at email@example.com.