“These are called smalls,” says Ron Gamba, founder of the Antique Show and Sale that takes over the Grange Hall in West Tisbury every Friday in the summer. He’s referring to one dealer’s collection of items. Smalls is a catch-all term that refers to just about anything that can be displayed on a vendor’s table, as opposed to furniture or art work.
Among the smalls at last Friday’s fair, you might have found a steer horn, old Martha’s Vineyard books and maps, a wicker grape picking backpack/basket, beautiful hand-made doilies and runners, some antique tools, a set of little bowls set in china holders in a variety of fun colors, a couple of leather holsters, a selection of Lassie comic books, lots of period jewelry, and a set of corbels (decorative carved accents) from a gingerbread cottage.
And, for just about every small there’s a buyer – or at least an admirer. Connie VanKirk of New Jersey found a little, mustard colored, decorative ceramic pot and was happy to fork over $20 to add it to her collection of old planters. Ms. VanKirk and her husband recently sold their summer house here, and she says that she found many of the unique pieces with which she furnished that house at the Antique Show. Her favorite find was, as she describes it, “a beautiful breakfront with a mirror.” That piece now holds a place of honor in her New Jersey home. Ms. VanKirk still visits the weekly fair on her frequent visits to the Vineyard. She says that she usually finds something, though these days, by necessity, it’s usually limited to the category of smalls.
Mr. Gamba’s stock in trade is furniture, some of which he has restored himself. The native New Yorker started working in antique shops in Greenwich Village when he was 14 and has had an interest in old furniture ever since. Upon moving to the Vineyard in 1971, he began working as a cabinetmaker, but he retained an interest in collecting and restoring old furniture.
Mr. Gamba was hired to restore the Grange Hall 15 years ago and says that he thought to himself, “This would be a great place to sell junk – I mean furniture.” Although, the slip was intentional, he tends to see the possibilities in what others would consider disposable. Mr. Gamba points out a piece that, when he found it, was a five-drawer chest, missing one drawer. He cut it down to a four-drawer chest, and you’d never know by looking at it that it had been altered.
“A lot of the fun is in finding stuff,” he says. “It all depends on how much you like a piece and how much you want to see it come back to life.”
Mr. Gamba was on his own for the first few years of the Antique Show, before inviting in other vendors. Now 10 to 20 dealers pay either $50 for an indoor space or $25 to $30 for the opportunity to set up on the porch or lawn.
Ron Beitman was one of the first vendors. A personal injury lawyer who practices here, on the Cape, and in New York City, he has turned a hobby into a second job. Mr. Beitman buys entire estates – everything but the fixtures – then sifts through the contents for saleable items.
“Before I agree to purchase a house’s contents, at least 50 percent of the items have to be of some antique value,” he says.
Another requirement is that the estimated value of the contents must be at least $5,000. He stores the treasures in a home he owns on the Cape and disposes of the rest. He notes that the escalating costs of trash disposal, including extra charges for electronics, has taken a bite out of his profits.
Like Mr. Gamba, Mr. Beitman enjoys the treasure hunt. He says that his favorite find was a set of nesting Nantucket baskets that were included in an estate. In estimating the value of the lot, he factored in $20,000 for the baskets, but was able to sell them for “considerably more.”
Mr. Beitman’s primary job allows him to make this kind of substantial investment in something that he may not realize a yield on for years.
“I do it as a hobby. Having another occupation allows me to pay more. It’s a seasonal business on the Island. It’s hard as a dealer, but I do it as a hobby, not as a sole source of income.”
Other vendors have made a career of the antiques business. Beth McElhiney, a jeweler and artisan, recently left her shop on State Road, Vineyard Haven, where she sold her silver jewelry and other hand crafted objects, to pursue an interest in recycling antique pieces. Her latest enterprise is creating unique tabletop pieces by powder coating antique silver-plated objects such as trays, covered dishes, teapots, and candlestick holders. The items keep the delicate workmanship of the original pieces but get new life and a contemporary feel. The one-of-a-kind pieces in retro colors, or in white or black with jeweled accents, serve as practical serving pieces, since they are food safe and dishwashable.
“I love that I am saving beautiful metal items that would sit in the attic or go into the landfill to never decompose,” Ms. McElhiney says.
Antique Show and Sale, Fridays, 9 am–3 pm, Grange Hall, West Tisbury. Weekly through Sept. 9. Free admission & parking. 508-560-0136; 696-7979.