A Publication of WTVP

Antiques Roadshow has been running on British television since 1979. In 1997, nearly 20 years after its premiere, the popular show jumped the pond, and has been a mainstay in the U.S. ever since. More recently, shows like Pawn Stars and American Pickers have popped up, demonstrating a growing trend in all things antique, vintage and collectible.

And not only is the antiques and collectibles industry growing, it’s also changing. While the typical customer in an antique shop was once a woman between the ages of 35 and 55, these days, you’re just as likely to see a man as a woman, and he or she may be as young as a teenager. “As our industry changes and we try to attract new customers, we want to make sure that we understand those customers,” said Dan Philips, co-owner of the Illinois Antique Center located on the Peoria Riverfront. “We do have a lot of young people who are starting their life of collecting and interest in vintage things.”

What’s an Antique?
The U.S. Customs Department defines an antique as something that’s at least 100 years old, a definition, says Dan, that is widely accepted in his trade. And yet, you’ll find that nearly all antique shops carry items much younger than that—that’s where collectibles come in. Many antique stores get around this semantic technicality by labeling themselves “antiques and collectibles” stores. But still, there’s another issue. As collectibles have become quite valuable, “the term ‘collectible’ has kind of been bastardized in the last 10 or 20 years, in that things have been made to be collectible,” Dan explained. At the Illinois Antique Center, a collectible is defined as something unique in nature due to its original use or construction that is typically no longer being produced.

Vintage is another industry buzzword and has become more of a popular culture label. It tends to be more popular with the younger generation and doesn’t necessarily mean, “Grandma’s stuff,” according to Dan. Much like the word retro, younger generations are more likely to empty their pockets for something labeled vintage than antique.

What’s also of interest is that certain types of items become antiques faster than others. Take cars or power tools, for instance. You can acquire an antique car license plate in the state of Illinois for cars that are 25 years or older. Power tools become antiques at age 50, and as for electronic gadgets, they tend to become antiques…well, seemingly instantly. It’s a somewhat subjective field.

Determining Value
And so, valuing antiques and collectibles is a tricky business. With all of the reproductions and imitations out there, it can be very difficult to sort the trash from the treasure. “For a lot of the dealers in the business, including ourselves, [you learn] from experience,” explained Dan. “It’s through research, the hands-on experience, and it’s through making mistakes—buying things you thought might be desirable, and then finding out that nobody wants them.”

Condition, age and scarcity are the three major determining factors of value. For many years, dealers and collectors looked to published guides as their main resource for help in determining the value of antiques and collectibles. Today, of course, the Internet is the bigger source, especially sites like eBay, but one must be wary of information on unsold items. The data to consider when determining value is what similar items have sold for in the past, not just what sellers have asked for them. This will give you an idea of what people are actually willing to pay.

Antique and Collectible Categories
No day goes by that Dan and Kim Philips don’t get a call from someone looking for information on antiques and collectibles, and oftentimes, they want to know, “What’s selling?” The Philipses say it depends on who’s in the shop at the time, but offered the following list as a starting point.

Costume and estate jewelry
Pre-1960s toys, trains and children’s items
Pre-WWII advertising—signs, giveaways, promo products
Art pottery
Sterling silver
Books, writing instruments and related ephemera
1950-‘60s Modernist furniture and accessories
Architectural items

Avon bottles and merchandise
Pressed glass
Mid 20th century glass
Beanie Babies
Milk glass
Modern dolls and accessories from 1965 forward

Location can also be a factor. The Midwest was typically a stopping point for families as society moved westward more than a century ago. Often, the farther a family traveled, the more possessions they’d decide they could do without. These items, then, would often find their home along the Mississippi River, a natural dividing line where industry and towns developed.

But according to Kim Philips, Dan’s wife and co-owner of the Illinois Antique Center, the fact that there’s more “stuff” here in the Midwest isn’t necessarily a good thing when it comes to selling antiques and collectibles. While there’s a lot of supply, the demand isn’t always as high. That’s why collectors and dealers from the East and West coasts often come here—to purchase items at low prices and resell them at home for what can amount to substantial profits.

In the antiques world, every item has a story and a past. “That’s something that’s kind of unique to our business,” said Dan. “Everything in here can potentially have a story, and some people like to have a story. It’s had a life before here, and it’s going to carry on.” Not only do those stories add interest, they can also add value. An antique pen that’s dated to the 19th century, for example, is far more valuable if it was used by Honest Abe himself.

Because these stories are so influential, they’re sometimes falsified. The Philipses recalled a one-of-a-kind folk art table they had purchased from one of the dealers in their store. Each of the table’s front legs had a snake carved around it, making it appear as if it were slithering up to the tabletop. While Dan and Kim enjoyed the table, their young daughters found it creepy, so they decided to sell it. They later saw it in Maine Antique Digest, accompanied by a much higher price—and a fictitious story that it had been made by slaves on a southern plantation.

Getting Into Antiques
When they decided to start their own antiques business, the Philipses weren’t huge collectors by any means. In fact, their interest revolved around one piece of Hall China, a promotional item inside a fridge that the couple had purchased when they were newlyweds. The piece had an art deco style to it, and its “neat look” and fairly low cost attracted them to it.

While on vacation in Milwaukee, they found themselves strolling around the city’s warehouse district, which happened to include the Milwaukee Antique Center—a store the likes of which they had never seen before. The concept was much like a shopping mall, in that many different shops were represented, but it operated as one big shop in which various dealers rented space. This offered them the flexibility of not having to be present in the shop to sell their items, as well as the combined advertising power of a larger operation.

The Philipses realized that this was something they could do together that required little in the way of start-up costs. There was no merchandise to buy, as their inventory would belong to the individual dealers. After finding that the only place like this in their home state was located in Rockford, they went ahead with their plans and developed a kit to hand out to potential dealers about the proposed business. After receiving several positive responses, Dan explained, “we just decided to jump into it, and with the help of family, we started down in the old Murray Building in 1986 with about 16 dealers.”

At that time, they made a commitment not to allow their dealers to sell new, reproduced or craft items, which hasn’t always had the greatest impact on the bottom line, but has kept their loyal customers exactly that. The Illinois Antique Center is also unique for its riverfront location, which they selected because they “felt it added a little more atmosphere. We liked the character of it,” said Dan. The couple has been consistently dedicated to the rejuvenation of the Peoria Riverfront, and they feel that both their initial location in the Murray Building as well as their current location on Water Street speaks to the potential they see for the downtown area.

As Peoria’s Warehouse District gets a makeover and the new museum goes up, the Illinois Antique Center is right in the center of it all. Offering amenities like free coffee, period music and sometimes even donuts, customers are encouraged to take their time and enjoy themselves. “Generally people don’t come in here in a hurry,” Dan said. “We call it ‘want-to retailing’ vs. ‘have-to retailing.’ You go to the mall because you have to buy a new shirt or shoes. You come in here because you want to buy something.” a&s

Some Interesting Finds…