Antique shopping in Philadelphia and the surrounding neighborhoods is truly a unique East Coast experience. In fact, in the Philadelphia area, antique shopping is like going wine tasting in the Bay Area. There are countless numbers of antique shops in the Philadelphia area. There are even towns whose claim to fame is that their entire town is dedicated to just antique shopping. There are also antique flea markets where vendors from far and wide come and set up tents to sell their wares.
I don’t know much about antiques. I assumed antiques are objects of historical significance or old stuff that you can’t find anymore. But guess what? “Antiques” has a wide-ranging connotation here. It can be items that are old, of historical significance, or just plain used stuff that people want to sell. Similarly, antique shopping in Philadelphia has a wide ranging meaning as well. Antique shopping can be at fancy high-end antique shops, mid-range antique shops, goodwill style rummage stores, as well as antique flea markets.
Our antique shopping adventure in Philadelphia started with a walk on Pine St. also known as Antique Row in downtown Philadelphia. A beautiful area with lovely brick buildings in typical colonial architecture, all nicely maintained and “gentrified” to make it appealing to the masses. We went to Antique Row on a Tuesday in July, only to find out that the majority of the shops are closed on Tuesdays.
We did get to browse a couple of antique shops that were open on this Tuesday. One of the shops was a fascinating experience. The owner seemed to have some high-end pieces of historical significance. You know what this means? That the items were out of our price range. But a couple of pieces that caught our eye that we thought were pretty interesting was an oil painting with a built in clock and a collection of water color and charcoal sketches of fashion designs that were drawn back in the 1930s .
The shopkeeper said this painting was from the 18th century and the clock you see here was a working clock and so was the wheel at the base of the painting. I thought it was a very unique piece. There was a small box at the back of the painting to hold batteries for the clock to function. Guess how much the painting cost? $2000! For someone like me who has no clue what the worth of this antique painting is, I just nodded my head and said, “Thank you.”
In this same shop was a collection of beautiful fashion design sketches by a designer who was the premier fashion designer for Macy’s in the 1930s. There were multiple sketches and drawings, and they all looked vintage. I was actually considering purchasing a few sketches for Rani, but the cost was $50 for each sketch. All of us decided it wasn’t worth that price, especially since they were just sketches and didn’t really have any more details than that.
One observation Rani did make is that a lot of the sketches showed ladies with a crop top over a long skirt. She was surprised to see such a design from back in the 1930s, and that too to see these designs on adult women. I guess women back then were gutsier than we are today 🙂 Today you only see teenagers wearing crop tops.
Walking on Pine St. in downtown Philadelphia was a fun stroll. The streets lined with beautiful brick buildings and cobblestone walkways were a step back in time.
Our next foray into antique shopping was a road trip to New Hope, Pennsylvania and Lambertville, New Jersey. These two towns are like sister towns separated by the Delaware River and connected by the New Hope-Lambertville Bridge.
Both towns’ claim to fame is their antique shops and antique flea markets. In these historic towns that date back to the 1700s, the streets are lined with tons of antique shops, Victorian style homes, and charming boutiques.
Lovely restaurants and cafes line the banks of the Delaware River giving folks plenty of opportunities to dine al fresco. With outside seating and views of the river, this is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon over a leisurely lunch.
According to my sister Banu, while both towns have tons of antique shops, the New Jersey side as she called it has a larger selection of antique shops. In Lambertville, which is on the New Jersey side, we walked into antique shops where antiques were literally dumped in piles all over the store. When displayed like this you would expect the prices to be on the more reasonable end, but not so. Prices for items in these shops were just as expensive as any well-displayed antique store.
Some antique stores sold high-end silver service and old porcelain collections. Other shops sold antique furniture in all price ranges. We saw beautiful rocking chairs for as little as $30 and end tables like this book inspired one for as high as $800.
For those of you who know me well, don’t laugh when you read this next sentence. I found a local pottery store selling pottery made right here in Lambertville, New Jersey! Pottery! How can I resist? The store called Goosecreek Pottery was a beautiful pottery shop with high-end pottery in gorgeous colors, shapes and sizes. My sisters and I got a few pieces to take home 🙂
The most fun my sisters Banu and Shobha, and daughter Rani had was at the antique flea market, a ten minute drive outside Lambertville. Here vendors sell all sorts of “antiques” from old books to silverware, to antique rusted skates, to old cameras, furniture, and jewelry. You know the saying “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” That holds true at this flea market!
We saw vendors selling hundreds of rusted keys. I mean seriously, what do these keys open anyway? Antique roller skates, old license plates, a rusted weigh scale, old telephones, old cameras, rulers, compass, old nails and hardware, anything you can think of is sold at this flea market.
Some of our favorite tables at this market were the ones where they sold old books. According to the sellers some of the books were from the 1800s. We didn’t know if they were valuable but we enjoyed perusing through these treasures.
Rani has wanted a typewriter forever. She loves anything vintage and for her, having a working typewriter is pretty cool. There were lots of vendors selling typewriters at this antiques market. Rani was going nuts checking them all out to see if they were in working order. A lot of them were not. I would have bought one for her, but they were too heavy for me to bring back. And I did ask Rani how she planned on using it without the right tape for that particular typewriter we would buy. Both of us decided we needed to think about it more before we came home with a typewriter. Looks like we have another antique shopping trip in the works the next time we visit Philadelphia.
Antique shopping in Philadelphia was a new experience for me, something I don’t get to do here in California. Most of the fun was just browsing through all the antiques in all sizes and shapes and in all price ranges. It was fascinating discovering old and unusual items and mostly just talking to the vendors. Hearing all their stories that they had associated with the items they were selling was very interesting. We also got insights into some old-fashioned gadgets and tools that were used in the old days. Would we buy them today? Probably not, but it did give us a glimpse into the lifestyle of our forbearers.
If you are wondering what I ended up getting from my antique shopping foray, mostly I picked up a couple copper pots to display my plants and flowers in, and a water pitcher.
I look forward to “antiquing” again the next time I visit my sister in Philadelphia. It is an eclectic and fun way to spend an afternoon with friends and in my case, my sisters.