In 'The Curious Shopper's Guide to New York City,' author Pamela Keech offers tips on where to find the best Bakelite jewelry, Asian furniture and mid-century modern lighting. Read an excerpt
Antiques and Vintage Stores
24th and 25th sts. from Fifth to Seventh aves.
F, V to 23rd St.
The history of this area is one of mixed usage. After the Civil War, Boss Tweed, supported by the votes of the area's Irish immigrants, made the area into a profitable center for vice that became known as the Tenderloin. In 1885, one-half of all buildings in the Tenderloin were reputed to house illegal activities.
In about 1910, loft buildings began to replace the boardinghouses, flophouses, and brothels. A few years later, film production studios located on 26th Street west of Seventh Avenue; Mary Pickford made Tess of the Storm Country (1914) in an old armory on West 26th Street. Light industry, stores that sold industrial sewing machines, and Samuel French Dramatics Company (still there) were among the other assorted enterprises.
Thunder Bay Antiques, Ltd.
134 W. 24th St. (Ave. of the Americas/Seventh Ave.)
Tues.-Sun. 11 A.M.-7 P.M.; closed Mon.
What to look for: Asian and Middle Eastern antiques
Thunder Bay is filled with idiosyncratic antiques, many from Asia. You'll find golden Buddhas, painted tables, and benches from Rajasthan, cabinets from Indonesia, daybeds from China, and armoires from Morocco alongside a few other African pieces, in addition to an occasional early American or Federal piece. A popular new line, Thunder Barn Ltdl, is custom furniture made in upstate New York from wood salvaged from old barns. Recent paintings by African and graffiti artists are displayed with earlier works by known and unknown painters. In-house design, refinishing, and restoration services are offered. In-stock antique items are pictured, and can be ordered, on the website; catalog is also available. Domestic shipping is free.
Olde Good Things
124 W. 24th St. (Ave. of the Americas/Seventh Ave.)
Daily 9 A.M.-7 P.M.
What to look for: architectural antiques
The "architecturologists" (as the staff members call themselves) at Olde Good Things follow wrecking balls all over North and South America in pursuit of architectural antiques. The 24th Street store has four levels filled with chandeliers, balustrades, lock sets, sinks, faucets, doors, windows, desks, statues, display cabinets, and much more. From an impossibly heavy sixteenth-century limestone mantel found in a Connecticut mansion to a sweet one-inch lock plate from the Plaza Hotel, the store displays a vast array of artifacts, including stained glass pieces and chestnut flooring--two categories that are increasingly difficult to find.
The firm has stores in multiple locations and a huge central warehouse in Scranton, Pennsylvania. More than two thousand items are available on the website. Prices are not always firm; some items have a "make an offer" button. Shipping is calculated on a per-item basis. There is a ten-day return policy.
This 'n' That Collectables
124 W. 25th St. (Ave. of the Americas/Seventh Ave.)
Daily 10 A.M.-6 P.M.
What to look for: vintage costume jewelry
The Bakelite in the window of This 'n' That is enough to weaken the knees of the most seasoned collector of vintage costume jewelry. The highly sought-after early plastic was invented in New York City in 1907 by a Belgian chemist, Dr. Leo Baekeland. It was used to make bracelets, flatware handles, and radio cases. It also was used, less familiarly, for the distributor head and cap in the Model A Ford, for the floor beneath the dancing feet of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the film Top Hat, and, experimentally, for lightweight coffins during World War II.
Anita Stern, the owner of This 'n' That, has been collecting Bakelite jewelry since the 1950s, when she was a teen-ager and bought it at Woolworth's. She also offers a dazzling array of vintage designer pieces by Trifari, Schiaparelli, Ciner, Miriam Haskell, and Coro, and contemporary designer pieces by Laura Cardillo, Barbera, and Lawrence Vrba. The shop glitters with thousands of crystals and rhinestones, Lucite and Bakelite necklaces are heaped around the necks of mannequins, and stacks of cases hold jewelry categorized by color, material, or motif. The labels on one stack of pin trays read "Butterflys/Bows/Crowns/Birds/Bugs & Flies."
Stern is a prized resource for designers, and she rents many of her pieces to stylists for print ads, editorial photographs, and films. Her jewelry is regularly seen adorning models in Vogue, Elle, W, the London Times, Glamour, and Harper's Bazaar. In addition to jewelry you'll find vintage compacts, glassware, perfume bottles, lamps, chandeliers, and other period bric-a-brac. Shipping is available.
122 W. 25th St. (Ave. of the Americas/Seventh Ave.)
Daily 11 A.M.-6 P.M.
What to look for: stylized lamps and Lucite handbags
Deco Etc. is a mini-museum of mid-twentieth-century industrial design. At each turn another pair of wildly imaginative lamps, a piece of streamlined furniture, or a quirky handbag comes into view. The shopwindow holds sculptural glass lamps made in Venice by Alfredo Barbini, Marina Barovia, Archimede Seguso, and the house of Venini. In the entry, a chrome robotic pig lamp from the 1970s with glowing eyes lights the way to two tall French Deco lamps topped with dancing figures by Andre Arbus. Nearly life-sized stark-white torsos form the bases of a pair of lamps by James Mont; they sit on a glass table by Donald Desky, who designed the interior of Radio City Music Hall. Graceful wooden lamps from the 1950s by Edward Wormley are nearby. Interspersed among the designer pieces are anonymous lamps that once decorated the living rooms of America--tall, short, boxy, bulbous--some with monstrous chenille shades, with the vivid color combinations (coral and black, dark green and chartreuse) that epitomized the 1950s.
A large showcase near the rear of the store holds hard, boxy Lucite handbags made in the 1940s and '50s. Some are clear, and some are in opaque colors and trimmed with mother-of-pearl or rhinestones. These collectibles can range in price from $200 to $2000. The average price for the handbags at Deco Etc. is about $500.
New York Vintage
117 W. 25th St. (Ave. of the Americas/Seventh Ave.)
Mon.-Wed. 11 A.M.-6 P.M.; Fri. 11 A.M.-6 P.M.; Sat. and Sun. 10 A.M.-6 P.M.; closed Thurs.
What to look for: vintage designer evening wear
New York Vintage sells couture vintage clothing and accessories, as well as small personal items such as compacts and cigarette cases. The store has high standards for its collection; store policy is that everything must be of superior quality and in excellent condition. The result is an outstanding shop where the clothing appears to be new--even a peacock blue beaded bustle gown circa 1885. Designers represented include Jean Muir, Mary McFadden, Giorgio Sant'Angelo, Yves Saint-Laurent, and Chanel. Frocks by the avant-garde master of prints Ossie Clark could be worn, then framed. The selection of evening wear is lovely and affordable. A Gattinoni one-shouldered silk print tea-length cocktail dress from 1972 is $750, and a black taffeta full-skirted floor-length gown with blue velvet trim by Oscar de la Renta is $495. Customers include celebrities, costume designers, stylists, and discerning shoppers looking for that perfect something.
Bluedog Coffee Co.
101 W. 25th St. (Ave. of the Americas/Seventh Ave.)
Daily 8:30 A.M.-between 4:30 P.M. and 6 P.M.
Wonderful coffee, fresh pastries and baked goods, sandwiches, salads, and freshly made entrees that change daily. Limited seating (there is a bench outside). Inexpensive.
Cafe at Showplace Antiques Center
40 W. 25th St. (Fifth Ave./Sixth Ave.)
Sat. and Sun. 8:30 A.M.-5:30 P.M.; closed Mon.-Fri.
Self-service sandwiches, salads, and soft drinks. Inexpensive.
Antique Cafe 55
55 W. 26th St. (at Ave. of the Americas)
Daily 8 A.M.-10 P.M.
Known for seasonal outdoor seating in a sheltered plaza. Serves light breakfasts and lunches, pasta, steak frites, wine, espresso, ice cream. Inexpensive to moderate.