88 East Main Street, Clinton, CT 06413
+ 860.664.4200

Print Articles by Susan Alon

The Antique Marketplace:
That Gentle Madness


Collecting is a universal affliction, known as 'that gentle madness', a desire to possess for as many different motives as there are minds who desire. Begun in childhood (perhaps with marbles or baseball cards), in some continued, in some fewer, refined, collecting is a fellowship of shared excitement, experience, and humor, that like fine cigars and malt whiskey, seem to know each other without introduction.

Collecting provides a sense of order and a delirium of desire, of chase and capture, of appreciation, in that physical act of seeking out and surrounding oneself with possession of the beautiful, the beguiling, the evoking. But this is only one-half of the equation. Success in securing, possessing the object, and ruminating on its reverence, is the other half.

The essence of collecting has not changed through our civilization: consummate art accompanied by superb discrimination which allows the assemblage of any great collection. Though taste and style revolve and protocol and medium may be different, the impulse and aggravation are timeless. So is the passion. Acquisition is always a chase and capture, and sometimes the possession becomes the possessor.

A basic philosophy of the discriminating collector is to acquire objects that please aesthetically, have cultural-historical interest, and stimulate study and learning. Serious collectors are individuals indelibly tattooed by their love of beauty, form, function, and design. They are fluent in the language of craft and technique, of objects as tutors of civilization.

Antiques are indulgence for most of the population. But for many, that 'gentle madness' is that part of our soul that craves and understands the essential non-essential. Then they become sustenance, as necessary as drinking water to live. This drives the market, a market that has changed little over the last nine hundred years, insofar as collectors and the dealers who serve them.

The antique dealer is essentially a gambler, like a stockbroker or a venture speculator. She is also an tangible asset broker whose knowledge, connoisseurship, and business savy are the only criteria for success--repeat customers. Shrewdness tempered with honesty, reticence with fairness, and above all knowledge, are equally important. As is showmanship. Most important however is the necessity of years of hands-on experience and education to derive a formula for savvy buying. This is the expertise you pay for when you purchase an object for more than what the dealer paid, and are happy to do so because you now own the possession.

As maverick retail operations in the business of purveying essential non-essentials, no antiquarian shop has the same inventory, management style, or clientele, they are as individual as their proprietors. If you ask ten antique dealers what they did before they became dealers, you will receive ten different answers. No one as a child ever said, "I want to be an antique dealer," though some of us did wish we could make a living on our taste. God has answered our prayers and now we are compelled to.


Antique, an object that has at least a century of age, is representative of a period, style, or type, and hangs together aesthetically.

Collect, from the Latin col, together, and lect, choose or gather.

Collecting, to assemble, accumulate; secure (specimens, books, &c.), for addition to a set...

collector, one who collects &c. for addition to their set

connoisseur, one who collects &c. with superb discrimination

The Quirks of the Antique Trade

Imagine being a business owner having an imperative of livelihood to constantly find and purchase and turn inventory to maintain a cash flow, when your goods and services are tied to an appetite for an intangible idiosyncrasy, and your clientele do not need your goods or services. And there are five hundred other competitors within ten miles with their own superfluous goods and services.

The antique and antiquarian book trade are unlike retail markets in the most essential consideration-- competition does not diminish but rather expands the potential for collective success. The Clinton antique renaissance benefits every dealer on the shoreline, because that is the way this specialty market--like no other--operates. Quirky, unpredictable, sometimes lean and sometimes fat, a roller coaster livelihood certain to bring on agida, and no dealer really wants to be doing anything else.

The dealer is selling his and herself as a product and service only they can provide. It is a win-win situation, perhaps for that reason competition is benign. Antiques give good value for consumers even if they not collectors. Old and used goods in comparison to contemporary mass-production are of far better quality of workmanship and detail and usually a fraction of the cost. Living with, decorating with, and enjoying period decorative arts is an acquired taste, education is essential, and experience is the best education. Not everything old is valuable, and valuable is not always old.

The antiques business is a tightrope of balancing market savvy while trafficking in a desire for possessions. An antique will seek its own level, selling repeatedly at higher and higher prices until it reaches a cap off. Quality, condition, desirability dictate staying power of an object. A good antique or well-crafted period piece does not lose its value when it goes home with you. You can sit on, drink from, eat at, sleep in, walk on, and live with your antiques. But one thing is certain, the good antique or period piece will be worth more when you go to sell it than when you buy it. You don't have that certainty in the stock market.


Antique :
an object that has at least a century of age, is representative of a
period, style, or type, and hangs together aesthetically.

Collect : from the Latin col, together, and lect, choose or gather.

Collecting : to assemble, accumulate; secure (specimens, books, &c.), for addition to a set...

Collector : one who collects &c. for addition to their set.

Connoisseur : one who collects &c. with superb discrimination.


  Editor’s note: Susan Alon, proprietor of MiRIAMGREEN Antiquarian Bookshop & Gallery, in her former life was Head of Special Collections at Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis and Secretary to the Historical Collections, Yale School of Medicine. She is a rare book consultant for Lyman Allyn Art Museum (New London) and a certified appraiser. Locally she offers appraisal workshops on books and is available for Library Friends’ groups seeking to raises funds with an appraisal event. If you are interested in arranging a library or community event, contact her at 88 East Main Street, Clinton, 860-664-4200.  


Azoth Gallery Web Design

Copyright © Susan Alon, 2010. All rights reserved.