Cocalico Corner: Sold on the old

By on July 6, 2016
Donna Reed, author of the weekly column, Cocalico Corner

There’s a reason why Adamstown is at the epicenter of antiquing in America.

This corner of Cocalico has been dubbed Antiques Capital USA. Indeed, there is a Web site dedicated to just that.

Antiques fever —and its concurrent marketing — pretty much started in the late 1960s with the ever-growing popularity of flea markets in nearby Shupp’s Grove.

Today, along and near much of Route 272 in the general Adamstown/East Cocalico/Denver areas, there are hundreds of dealers and auction houses devoted to the selling of antiques. From Renningers to Stoudtburg Village to the famed Morphy’s Auctions, there is something to appeal to every collector from the amateur to the high-end.

Morphy’s has auctioned high-end items in a variety of genre from vintage advertisements to rare antique cars. Of note last October was the sale of a 1929 Duesenberg Model J convertible coupe for a cool $2.53 million.

Every collector, even the most casual, hopes for that fantastic find when perusing the offerings at a flea market.

My own heart skipped a beat when I purchased a pair of Waterford Lismore-patterned candlesticks for five dollars a few years back at a flea market on a school lot in Berks. They have a value of $100 (more or less) so there would be a profit to be made, but I like them best sparkling in my dining room and the anecdote that accompanies them.

But, my five-dollar investment pales next to the four dollars spent by a collector in Adamstown back in 1989. You likely recall that story which made international news.

The man bought a nondescript painting in an ornate frame. He hoped the frame would work for another use. Unfortunately neither the painting nor the frame had any worth. But folded to a business-envelope size was something extraordinary — one of the 200 original official copies of the Declaration of Independence manually produced by Philadelphian John Dunlap within hours of the signing of the original document.

Of course, the buyer (who choose to remain anonymous) did not know that at the time. But he was smart enough to make some calls and, in short order, that folded, hidden-away piece of history was documented to be only the 25th surviving “Dunlap Broadside.” Within two years of spending four dollars on that old painting and frame, the unidentified Philadelphia purchaser realized a return on his investment to the tune of $2.4 million.

The document would change hands a few times, ultimately purchased in 2000 by famed television and movie producer Norman Lear for $8.1 million.

Lear sent the Dunlap Broadside on a road trip cross country, giving so many Americans the chance to view history in an up close and personal way in their own communities.

All but four of the surviving Dunlap copies are in museums or public institutions, according to published reports.

That once-in-a-lifetime find is not likely an experience many of us will ever have, but it begs the question: Just what kind of price tags do you place on history?

This Saturday, July 9, at 10 a.m., the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission will be holding an auction of some its collection at Cordier Auctions and Appraisals, 1500 Paxton St., Harrisburg. There will be a preview on Friday, July 8, from noon to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

There are items formerly held at the Ephrata Cloister as well as at the Anthracite Heritage Museum, Cornwall Iron Furnace, Drake Well Museum, Eckley Miners’ Village, Fort Pitt Museum, Graeme Park, Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, Somerset Historical Center, Washington Crossing Historic Park, and the State Museum of Pennsylvania.

The items from the Cloister include a 19th-century wooden foot stool; two wool cards, faint bell design on back, circa 1815; a stoneware stylized “4” or “H” or “LJ” crock (possibly four gallons) with hairline crack and greasy from former substance stored inside, circa late 18th/early 19th century; a brass plate sundial with iron gnomon welded-on plate, weathered from outdoor use, “1642” but unclear if that is date or origin; one of a pair of 19th-century English wool combs; a circa 19th-century tin reflector oven; and a book, “Martyrs Mirror,” Ephrata edition, circa 1748-1749.

According to a press release from Howard M. Pollman, PHMC director of external affairs, the pieces being sold have no special significance to the history of the Commonwealth or duplicate what is already in the state’s collection.

Having spent some time working closely with a historical society, I’ve come to realize that donations of treasured antiques to a revered institution are usually done with the thought those items will be housed there forever.

‘Deaccessioning’ is a difficult, but often essential, means of culling inventory for space or for monetary reasons.

So, this weekend, readers have a chance to bid on some local history. No one will likely be finding a bargain — those items have been vetted by expert eyes — and no one will be spending in the millions as did Mr. Lear.

But there is a chance to bring some history home. And, in this week when we mark the most noble time in American history, might that not be the best way to celebrate?

Happy bidding!!

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