I began dealing in antiques in 1970. In those early days I drove around Vermont knocking on doors looking for antiques.
I would introduce myself and explain I was looking to buy antiques. In those days the old Vermonters were happy to sell antiques. While doing this business I met some real characters. Many of these men and women were born well before 1900. Many of the old sayings I use, I heard from these people. Below are a couple of my adventures.
It was a very hot July day in 1973 when I pulled into an old farmhouse in Orwell, Vermont. The old farmer was in his yard working on a piece of farm equipment when I introduced myself. We went upstairs in one of his barns. The entire second floor was packed with all kinds of antiques. Immediately I began buying antiques. It was very hot upstairs and hornets were buzzing around. I hate hornets. I was complaining about the heat and wondering why it didn’t bother the old man. He finally said to me “Corn don’t grow good if the wife can’t sleep naked.”
Another time I stopped at an old farm in Vergennes and knocked on the door. The old guy came to the door and was happy to show me around the house. I made many offers but couldn’t buy anything. After an hour or so I gave up trying. This old guy was lonely and just wanted company.
As I stepped off the porch to leave he said, “Wait, there’s something I want to show you.” We went up a creaky staircase to a room over an attached shed. When I got to the top of the stairs I was stunned. Neatly arranged around the room on shelves were over 70 Edison phonographs. These were the type that played cylinders, not flat records and all had fancy outside horns. There were old Edison posters, thousands of records and a couple statues of Nipper. It was the largest collection I ever saw!
The old fellow said, “What would you like to hear?” Thinking I had already struck out and there was no chance of buying any machines I quickly replied “I’d like to hear you’d take $100 for everything in this room.” It was so absurd that the old guy bent over double laughing. He told me to sit down.
He played some Uncle Josh records and explained their rarity. I learned a lot from this old man that day. After 30 minutes or so I had to get back on the road.
Then to my surprise he said he would sell me many of the antiques I had given him prices on. He really liked my sense of humor. As time went by we became friends. He taught me how to make a drive belt out of leather to replace worn or missing belts on Edison machines.
As I travelled around Vermont I noticed different areas of Vermont had different accents or expressions. In Forestdale the old timers called a woodstove a wood stofe. In Northfield, when I knocked on a door the old woman hollered “Pa, the second hand man is here.”
When I knocked on a door in Weston I noticed cotton balls tied to the screen of the screen door. When I asked the old timer why he had the cotton balls on his screen door, he said “It keeps flies away from the door so they don’t come in the house when you open the door.” This week’s old saying is in the next two paragraphs.
When antiques become valuable there is always someone who will fake them. About 1975 I bought my first pair of wrought iron pipe tongs. My friend Fitzie in Vergennes knew early iron so I took them to him to evaluate for me.
Fitzie was sitting in his chair next to his woodstove when I handed him the pipe tongs. He looked them over and said “Patch, they’re as fake as a politician’s smile.” He then showed me a real pair and explained the differences. I was never fooled on wrought iron again.
The photos with this article I took in 1992. They show the partial contents of a generational attic I bought. Everything was in original untouched condition. Most of these antiques date prior to 1835.
These old timers are all gone now. I was fortunate to have known hundreds of them. They were honest, hard working people and the backbone of Vermont.
God I miss those days.