It's funny how that expression can be so literal, because that's exactly how I felt when I walked into Riverbank Antiques!
As I roamed throughout the quaint corner shop, my eyes got wider and wider. There was so much beauty, but it was unlike any beauty I have come to see in any one place. This was special, this was a step back into history with beautiful heirlooms, historic period furniture, rare collector's items and stories. They were stories of the lives of our ancestors. As I was caught in a gaze at so many amazing pieces, I was fortunate enough to meet Ben & Nedi Hern, co-owners of Riverbank Antiques, who graciously taught me so much about the antique world. I am happy to share this interview with you and hope that you will be just as inspired to bring a little history into your own home as I was.
Me: Tell me about Riverbank Antiques.
Ben: Riverbank antiques is known as a collective group: a number of dealers who joined forces and created a store to sell whatever it is they sell in the antiques/collectibles business. Most antique shops in the US are collectives - that's how they evolved. There are smaller ones with just one dealer and larger ones with 100's of dealers.
Me: How did you get started?
Ben: My wife and I have been collecting antiques for 30 years. I love antiques because I love history. I'm a history buff - I got attached to antiques because I always wanted to buy history, posses history, study history in its physicality as opposed to reading about it in a book. There's nothing better than reading about the Edwardian period and looking at an Edwardian desk or a reading about a Georgian period and looking at a Georgian armwar or reading about the Victorian period and actually seeing something from 1841, and touching it and feeling it and better yet how about owning it and putting it in your home and then admiring it everyday! As a former finance guy, I started thinking of finance from a very different perspective from the people I competed with - the investment world should also include art and antiquities, and like buying equities, you should get as studious as possible and study antiques and collectibles because there is long term opportunity and value.
What I like to focus on is investment grade antiques, and that could deal in anything. That could be antique furniture, artifacts, sculptures, paintings etc. I tell my clients there is nothing wrong in buying something that has intrinsic value that in 10-30 years could make you some money. So when you buy, buy the best!
ME: And to add historical appeal within your home!
Ben: Exactly and you're also buying a heck of a lot better quality than most furniture made today if your buying antique furniture. So those are the aspects that you need to consider. And if you're going to buy to make money for investment purposes, what I recommend is to find an area that you like, so pick 1-3 areas that you really like, study those areas - get really proficient in them...hook up with an expert or someone who has expertise in that area and then the advice I LOVE to give is to buy the best in class for that collection!
ME- How do you know your getting the best?
Ben: That's from research and whomever your dealing with...it's by you knowing what it is you're buying. Remember what I told you, study what it is your going to buy. Get proficient at it, touch a lot of it, play with it, read about it, talk to people about. And you'll get really good at knowing what's mediocre and what's really good. You'll get a feel for it. And there are a lot of reproductions out there that you have to be careful of. That’s why you want to get an expert involved sometimes.
Me - Is that bringing it to an appraiser or antique shop?
Ben: Either one. An appraiser will charge you, but an antiques dealer who loves it may just talk to you about it and tell you yay or nay without charging you. It just depends on how you go about developing relationships. This way when you have questions, you can pick up your phone and just say ‘I just found something, can I send you a picture?'
ME- Do you have recurring clients through the years?
Ben: Yes...they know us, they come to us to buy because they know what they're going to get. We stand behind our products...I'm not saying I don’t make mistakes, but I do make mistakes. But the thing is, we stand behind our products, and because we do, clients know they can buy with total confidence and if it turns out not to be what it is, they can come back with it.
Ben: Yes, more of the higher end auctions like Sotheyby’s, Christies, Pook & Pook (in Philadelphia), as well as some local ones. Remember, like with everything else, if you went to a mediocre store, you get mediocre products, if you went to a high-end store, then you're going to get high-end products. Well it's the same thing with auctions and antique dealers...wherever you go, expect to find what is appropriate for whatever niche your hitting. That's not to say you won't land a rare find, but those are few and far between.
ME- How does each person know what to spend?
Ben: There are different levels like in any other retail operation. That's why you want to know how much you want to spend. I always say go for the best collection you can for whatever your income level is. And buy the best and always remember you're buying for the long term.
ME- Do people trade?
Ben: Yes, they trade and they sell. We've been buying antiques for 30 years. We went from buying 1930s and 1940s pieces and now we are now collecting pieces from the early 1800s through upgrade. Remember with antiques...we never own an antique, we just borrow it. You're not going to take it with you anyway, so why not let the next person enjoy it!
ME- Do you get things from estate sales also?
Ben: Yes...estate sales, people inviting us into their homes, as well as our own clients who want to sell their collections.
Ben: A dealer who is really a collector (whether its furniture or art work or whatever the case may be), should be able to educate their clients about the piece, about the collection, about where to go...they should have a lot of knowledge at their fingertips to be able to help the client how to tell a forgery from the real thing. We believe that giving our clients more information than less...we believe in education - the more we educate, the better off you're going to be. If I can help teach you the difference between real and fake, old and new, pristine vs damaged, then I’ve done my job and you're going to keep coming back.
ME- That’s good business!
Ben: Its a simple philosophy.
ME- What is your advice if someone is brand new to this and wants to start purchasing antiques?
Ben: Pick something you like. Research it. Develop relationships. Before you actually start buying, look around, read about it. But there is a lot of information out there, and that is one of the reasons you go to dealers. Dealers take a lot of time to pull all that information and really work with the pieces, etc.
If you’re just starting out, your going to have to do exactly what we do - your going to have to start buying books and learning about the general things. The best thing to do is always use your eyes, your nose, and your hands...that's going to help tell you if something is genuine or not. And the most important factor of them all is your gut. If it seems too good to be true, walk away.
But pick a category, know it, get to know the history, get to know the times. Most people just look at what they are looking to buy and that's wrong. There's a lot of information in the history surrounding each period, so read the history of the period, because it will give you insights into what is real and what is not. A lot of history books offer you a lot of information, but most people tend to ignore it. I read a lot of it, and that's why you should always go to an experienced dealer.
Well boys and girls like Ben said, you're on your way! So give your home some character and charm. Step away from the Pottery Barn catalog and purchase you're own antiques. Just remember, make sure it's the BEST!
Riverbank Antiques is located in Red Bank, NJ, and for more information on the photographed pieces or buying/selling antiques and other vintage pieces, you can reach Ben at email@example.com