What do you define as antique? Has it got to be more than 100 years old? Does it need to be a collectible item that will find willing buyers? Humans have a long love affair with collecting stuff and keeping it for themselves. One only need to look at the mausoleums and uncovered tombs of the ancients to discover what hoards were accumulated and kept for the afterlife!
Being a young nation, our little red dot does not have much in the way of antiques, unless one counts the antiquities uncovered of the 14th century. Can’t collect them privately though…we do have the art and collectibles of the region but it seems the collecting scene is not as diverse as the,
There is this part of Pennsylvania US that has been nicknamed as such. In an area the size of 3½ times Singapore, Lancaster county has one of the highest concentrations of antique and collectable dealers both in the US and probably around the world – we think. So alley is an understatement! And we are not talking about small shops either. Here we are talking about complexes the size of many football fields or equivalent of large warehouses, and where a large number of dealers and individual sellers are co-located.
We found the most concentration of dealers around the towns of Reading and Adamstown. There, you can literally drive and stop every hundred meters or so for shopping!
When Mel travelled along for work on his own, he spent a lot of time at Adamstown where he visited Stoudt’s antique mall. It is a combination of both a restaurant and pub + Sunday antique market. Unfortunately he was there late in the day and most of the dealers were already packed, so don’t get there too late! However, that did not discourage him from driving over to Adamstown antique mall and gallery. Both were really large malls with rows of cabinets.
The individual sellers rent/lease space in these cabinets, which probably serve as a storage place as well. At some of these “malls”, the stallholders are not there and it is the management of the mall that will serve you when you want to see a particular item up close. The atmosphere in these antique malls is relaxed, even carnival like at some locations. No pressure to buy or view any of the items. In fact, it all seems to be a hobby for many of these folks who keep a stall.
Is it all junk?
The mixed array of stuff here range from toys to silverware. Unlike the “rag and bone” collectors here in Singapore, these collectors are much better organized in terms of sorting out the items collected and on sale. Many of the items had been lovingly restored. Rows of old books sitting on shelves next to cabinets of glassware and ceramics. From the smallest items to large dining tables, any collector will find something that caters to their interest. Just bring enough money or plastic…
In addition to fixed lots in this warehouse-like malls, there are also weekend markets where antique dealers will set up shop with their latest acquisitions. Think England. They have the same. Look out on the internet for when these are due to take place. They are huge!
Now if you think it is not possible to bargain at all in these antique malls, think again. You can make an offer – the worst that can happen is that it is rejected and a counter offer is made. This is all in the spirit of the “trade” in which you chat up with the dealer about the item – sometimes great stories can be told. Mel purchased a frame with numerous paper currency notes pasted on it along with some stamps. Turns out the original owner used to travel all over Asia as an engineer and collected currency notes from all over southeast Asia during the course of his work.
One of the things about shopping at antique alley is that the prices are still reasonable. Maybe due to the competition of many dealers or perhaps a “code” of conduct, you will not be made to pay exorbitant prices just because you look well “foreign”. Of course, bargaining like you are in Asia is not likely to be all that fruitful. Tactful negotiation is preferred.
While we did not pay much attention to the antique furniture portions of the malls, they are by no less exciting. There are heavy-set beautiful cherry and mahogany dining tables and chairs that are definitely more than a hundred years old!
Imagine the elegance it has in one’s home, though we think you need a large apartment to fit these furniture. While it is too bulky to bring home with you, it will be no mean feat to make arrangement with the dealer to have it shipped.
For us little red dotters, take note of the limits on GST-free import being pegged to a value of S$600, or less. Anything above the limit will mean you’d be summoned to the customs office to pay GST before the shipment can be delivered to your home!
A day of driving through Lancaster is definitely not sufficient. If we had more time, we’d spend 3-4 days here! Seriously, you’d best plan your driving route to as to minimize driving time and maximize the time browsing in the malls and stalls. Be early at the open-air markets, they close by 4pm! Parking can be challenging too. Malls on the other hand may be open till 6pm or even later in some places.
This essay has focused on antique malls. However, it is not in such malls alone where you can find gems of a kind. Someday we will introduce you to the estate auction, one in which you can bid for heirlooms!
So the next time you get a chance to visit Pennsylvania, do not just head to the Premium outlets or the King of Prussia mall. Go see the other side to shopping; for value of items with history, heritage and provenance. We are sure you will be able to find gifts for your friends and love ones that give lasting impressions and lasts for a long time.
Our antiquing days here were in April 2012 and June 2016