WALL — Under overcast weather and bouts of rain, the Old Wall Historical Society [OWHS] showcased, through its annual antique show, memorabilia from a time history has all but forgotten.
The event, OWHS’ 26th annual Antique Show, was hosted on the grounds of Wall High School’s gym and cafeteria. There, vendors shared their collections of jewelry, tablecloths, soft ware (from a time before computers monopolized the phrase), war tokens, and more with the interested world.
One of those vendors was Reed Baron, who has sold at the antique show for the last 10 years.
Hidden under Mr. Baron’s 21st Century war tokens and New York Times’ from the Civil War laid remnants of a history of Belmar and Manasquan seldom seen.
An advertising banner with the name, R.M. Purdy, went for nearly $300. Mr. Purdy, Mr. Baron explained, born in 1860, was the Ocean County Coroner, furniture merchant, member of the town council, board of ed, mason, trustee, all while being the Manasquan Undertaker during the early 21st Century.
In Belmar, Mr. Baron showcased a photo of the borough’s Public Service Enterprise Group, or PSE&G, baseball team lineup photo circa 1927.
“This historical material…tells a story,” he remarked. “It tells a story that people can relate to it because a lot of their family members were involved in things like this.”
He also taught a bit of history about the press, using copies of the New York Times printed in 1863 and 1864, during the height of the Civil War.
“Authentic Times newspapers from the Civil war are in good condition still because they’re made with cotton,” he explained. “Which makes it less acidic than todays paper. After WWII, the press began using a lot of acid chemicals in their papers. That’s why you see them turning brown and disintegrating. But early newspapers didn’t have that.”
Another vendor from Staten Island was initially brought into the industry as homage to a late relative.
“My brother used to do flea markets,” said Virginia Valente. “He amassed a lot of antiques. When he passed away in 2005, he left a big storage shed filled with items. I had no idea. When I opened the shed, it was stacked to the ceiling. When I started to go through things, I wanted to make sure these went into good hands. I didn’t want to just throw it all out.”
The collector, in her 12th year selling, finished saying, “I don’t do it for the money. I do it for him and for the pleasure of being able to have these beautiful items be repurposed.”
But beyond the vibrant history that laid formally across table after table at Wall High School was the atmosphere of an industry that seemed to be fading alongside its merchandise.
It was the work of Dennis Cirrito, OWHS curator, more than a quarter century ago that brought the event to fruition.
Back in 70s and 80s, “antique shows were in vogue,” Mr. Cirrito explained. “There were maybe 30 to 40 shows in the shore area at the time.”
However, he said, times have changed.
“One by one, they’ve all gone out of business,” Mr. Cirrito expressed. “Because of either the younger people coming into the organizations were not interested in doing the work … or the organizations going entirely defunct. We went from shows in almost every town to we being the last show standing on the shore.”
De Hearn, president of OWHS, also acknowledged the fading interest in such events.
“A lot of the young people are perfectly happy with the IKEA type furniture and, you know, ‘The old furniture smells funny!’ is the old answer I get from my girls if I offer them something that’s old and has been in my house.”
An event for those interested in celebrating the richness of antiques, the show saw over 30 vendors and 300 attendees shop and cultivate around the aging hobby. But even with strong turnout, Ms. Hearn, retired owner of Wall’s De Hearn Jewelers, is skeptical for the future of the antique show.
“We have had up to 60 vendors in the 70s,” she said. “And now it seems that a lot of the young people are into the retro type furniture and things. They’re not into the antiques and so it’s changed. It’s just different.”
Vendors seemed to agree, with two New York vendors, who wished to remain unnamed, citing “security issues.”
“Local shows are not doing as well as they used to and it’s a shame because it’s sort of an American phenomenon,” they said. “They started getting very popular in the 70s and 80s and businesses just jumped into it.”
Just as vendors and OWHS members seem to have reached a consensus on the future of their aging industry, 31-year-old Dori Ciccarella entered the antique show.
“I really am into vintage jewelry so I wanted to see what they had,” she said. “I wish there were a few more vendors but the jewelry that they do have is very pretty.”
Ms. Ciccarella explained that her mother noticed an ad for the show and suggested checking it out.
“What has happened,” he explained, “in terms of demographics, is you haven’t got [millennials] following in the footsteps of my generation. They’re approaching it in their own way. They’re approaching it from a vintage standpoint, from a repurposing standpoint. I’m not as negative about it as some dealers who think young people will never be into it. I don’t believe that. I believe there is a taste for good stuff. People has inquisitive tendencies. It’s human nature- the want to surround yourself with collectibles of beauty. With objects of value. Whether it’s cultural or artistic or historical value. Those motivations haven’t died. It’s just a generation that’s getting into it sideways.”
Ms. Ciccarella explained that, “I’ve always been into history, my entire life. I’ve always been into history classes, always loved watching old documentaries, always into the vintage jewelry. So when I heard this was going to be here, I thought to come check it out. “
And so, too, one of the New York vendors found solace in the future of his industry.
The New York vendors also explained that, although sales of most categories of merchandise are down among younger crowds, “We’re seeing an increase in diamond sales … We have new buyers in the market for wristwatches- those are very collectible. And they are traditional collectibles like U.S. coins and ancient coins.”
Jewelry was exactly what Ms. Ciccarella was looking for, purchasing an antique ruby necklace.
“I don’t believe the business will ever die but my generation really propelled this business to the heights that it hit,” said one of the New York vendors. “All the shows that are out there, Pawn Shop, Antiques Roadshow, American Pickers, they didn’t exist 20 years ago. And that bodes well for the business because those shows are still popular. But the business has definitely slowed down from its’ peak.
“I don’t have a negative view. I have a view of reality that nobody really needs this stuff so if I can make a living out of it, then I’m blessed.”
Even Ms. Hearn, president of OWHS, was hopeful after Saturday’s event.
“I’m really happy. We’re in debate as to whether to continue it because things have dropped off quite a bit. But after today, I’m encouraged again,” she said.