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Antiques help humanity in more ways than one; by preserving the past, helping the environment and bringing happiness to others

Matt Paxton (left), Jaime Ebanks (middle), and Lex Reeves (right) pick through David Hayes historic barn in Coventry, Connecticut. // Courtesy JR Delia via Legacy List

By Madison Roper

In spite of COVID-19, Irongate Estate / Bellingham Coin Shop is helping to keep the antique scene alive in Bellingham.

The shop is currently closed, but owner R.B. Wick is working on getting an online auction started for people to continue to support his business.

“Sales have dropped considerably because of foot traffic, so if people can’t buy it online, then it’s a little hard for them to make it work,” Wick said. “We’re just trying to one, find the customers, and two, just keep the big part of the business going.”

A lifetime Bellingham resident, Wick has had interest in antiquing for most of his life.

Wick found his interest in antiques at 9 years old when he would go to the library to rummage through antique and coin collecting books while his father read The New York Times. 

“The first antique I bought was an old GRIZZLY cast iron cornbread pan,” Wick said. “I bought it for 10 bucks and sold it to someone for 15. That’s when I went ‘Hey, this is pretty cool.’”

In 2015, Wick rented a retail space and a warehouse to create his store after obtaining various items from auctions, abandoned storage units and estate sales.

“It was a big commitment,” Wick said. “The store itself was scary, the warehouse on top of it was scary. I think part of being a business owner is that if you want to be successful, you have to be scared. I’ve been frightened the whole time, but it seems to be working out.”

To find items to sell, Wick used a social network from person to person with estate sales, which accounts for 50% to 60% of his usual revenue. Wick typically has 45 to 50 estate sales a year, but in 2020, he was only able to do 12. Otherwise, he still has a warehouse full of stock from Whatcom County storage units and auctions.

National banknote issued from Bellingham National Bank and signed by Victor Roeder, a Whatcom County historical figure. // Courtesy of R.B. Wick

“We have a big belief that our business is part of the solution to the climate crisis,” Wick said. “Whether people believe in it or not, we still want to do our part to make sure that we’re keeping things out of the landfills.”

Matt Paxton, the host of PBS show “Legacy List,” is a specialist at helping people let go of items and decluttering their homes, but not everyone is so sure to be rid of items, antiques and otherwise.

“They associate the emotional value with the financial value of the item,” Paxton said. “They say, ‘Oh, that was my dad's watch. It's worth $5,000, I wouldn't let that go for less than $10,000.’”

Although emotional attachments make it hard to sell some antiques, Paxton said he thinks “Legacy List” helps people let go.

“Have them tell the story; that's the whole purpose of ‘Legacy List,’” Paxton said. “People have to tell the story, and once they know the story, it's easier to let go and someone else may want the item.”

Appraisers are there to help determine the monetary value of an item.

The American Society of Appraisers defines an appraiser as someone who identifies and provides a value for various types of property. Since the society’s beginning in 1952, it has advised and certified appraisers across the nation, helping to train them and keep them responsible in their various memberships that are dependent upon education and experience.

“Being part of the ASA is one of the best ways to build an appraisal practice and promote yourself to potential clients and referral sources,” said Danielle T. Rahm, an accredited senior appraiser of the American Society of Appraisers and managing director at New York Fine Art Appraisers, in an email interview. “It’s also nice to have a community of appraisers in other specialty areas and locations around the country to rely upon and share ideas with.”

To figure out the value of an item, appraisers identify what it is, then research and compare the item to others like it in order to know its value.

Factors such as a work of art or antique’s ownership record, exhibition history and literary citations can also affect value.

"Antiques are a lens to view history, through," Rahm said. 

To Western Washington University third-year student August Milleson, the monetary value of an item isn’t what she’s looking for. Instead, she enjoys 25 cent candid photographs.

“I’ve loved old stuff my whole life,” Milleson said. “I really like collecting old, sincere photographs, and I tell myself I’m going to make a craft out of them someday, but I’m probably not. I’ll probably just keep them and look through them every once in a while because they make me happy.”

Whatcom County automotive technician Sean Moore collects lanterns, lamps and oil lamps. Moore’s favorite item in his collection is a 10-inch tall, mint condition 1950s Dietz oil lamp that is chartreuse and made in Japan.

“It’s just about maintaining history, keeping parts of the past,” Moore said. “It’s a bonus if they work. If they don’t work, I can fix them. I like to tinker, so I like finding old things and making them work.”

Wick had a similar sentiment to Rahm and Moore. 

“We are temporary curators for these pieces because we’ll die eventually, and these pieces will be left behind,” Wick said. “You can curate them in a certain way, depending on what you want to preserve for the future.”


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