Our Road Trip to Antique Treasures…

…And bargains in curious shops across the state. Sure you can sit on your couch, laptop on your knees and bid on a bobbin from a New Hampshire textile mill or a 19th-century Canterbury Shaker duster, but is that really antiquing in the Granite State? We think not.

While eBay and Craigslist, not to mention the anemic economy, have resulted in fewer antiques shops in the state and the country than there once were, there are still plenty in New Hampshire — hundreds in fact — and they offer more than the Web could ever provide to those who love the thrill of the hunt, New England-style.

First there’s authenticity. While New Hampshire antique shops tend to offer an array of items from “smalls” to furniture, they usually have something in which they specialize. That results in dealers and experts who have to maintain their reputation in the industry, and in many ways become historians of their particular specialty.

Take Nancy Winston at Willow Hollow Antiques on Route 4 — otherwise known as Antiques Alley — in Northwood. Among the array of items in her store, including early butter molds, ironware, pewter and banks, she also specializes in Shaker items, especially those from nearby Canterbury Shaker Village. Not only does her shop have Shaker treasures like tools, boxes and tinware but she met and talked to the last living Shakers that used to reside at Canterbury.

She has some great stories, like the time Eldress Gertrude Soule, one of the last Canterbury Shakers, came to her shop and pointed to almost everything and said it was Shaker, whether it was or not. And Winston recalls the content of some letters she once posessed. “It was between two Shakers and the subject matter was a little spicy, shall we say.”

That’s definitely not something you’d get on eBay. Nor would you get the plateful of gingersnaps and complimentary hot chocolate in the fall, the smell of wood smoke from the corner Franklin stove lit in the winter or the handpicked lilacs in the spring displayed in a vintage bottle.

“It’s true there aren’t as many shops as there used to be here,” says Wilson, who has been a member of the New Hampshire Antiques Dealers Association for the past 30 years. “But what’s left is the good stuff — the shops whose reputation for authentic, early items have kept them in business a 
long time.”

One of those shops is the Antiquarium operated by Sharon Platt and Hollis Brodrick overlooking the Piscataqua River on Ceres Street, Portsmouth’s “Olde Harbour District.” The shop itself is housed in a 200-year-old warehouse building with the original thick, hand-hewn beams supporting the low ceiling. It’s an organic atmosphere for the high-end early American decorative arts in which it specializes. On a recent visit, for example, were a pair of women’s lime green silk brocade shoes that were worn by a New England woman about 30 years before the American Revolution began. The price — $3,400. One of the rarest and dearest items in the store was a Revolutionary War-era, hand-painted hatchment armorial crest in its original wooden frame selling for $25,000.

In many ways this and other antique shops in the state are like museums where you can touch the artifacts from the early days of our state and country, but a museum where everything has a price tag. Even if you don’t have the means to buy some of the items, the fact that it’s for sale allows for the daydream of acquisition.

And in most stores there’s usually something anyone can afford. So while the 1775 man’s red cape at the Antiquarium might be out of reach for many people with its over $7,000 price tag, most of us could afford a slice of Americana in the form of a 204-year-old exercise book written in the hand of a local girl on sale for $65 or a Colonial clay pipe for $20.

“I love handling these objects,” says Brodrick, considered by many in the business to be the king of Colonial and Revolutionary War-era New Hampshire antiques. “If I could afford it, I wouldn’t sell any of it. I’d have 27 barns filled with everything I’ve ever loved and purchased. You can read anything you want about American history but there’s nothing like holding a Naval commission of a New Hampshire sea captain in your hand that was signed by John Hancock in 1776 or a wallet that belonged to a Revolutionary War soldier from Londonderry.” That’s not something you can get online.