This story was reported and written by Maureen Stanton and Sandra A. Miller
SOON AFTER ANTIQUING CAUGHT HOLD in America in the mid to late 19th century, Boston became an epicenter for buying a piece of history. In 1904, a Boston directory listed three antique shops; 20 years later, there were 47. Interest in old treasures has only escalated since then. When the WGBH-produced Antiques Roadshow debuted in 1997 in the United States, it was the sole TV program on the subject. Since 2008, more than 50 reality shows on antiques and collecting have aired, fueling the hope that there’s gold in every attic. The pleasure of antiquing, though, transcends the “score.” Maybe you’re in it for the rush of nostalgia, a connection to history, an investment, or a bargain — or all of the above. Whatever your Holy Grail, this guide, focusing on larger and group shops within 30 miles of Boston, can help you map your search.
De rigueur for Boston treasure hunters, Charles Street has one of the finest antique pedigrees in the country and an undeserved reputation for stuffiness. Start at the Charles/MGH T stop and wander toward the Public Garden, popping into any or all of the more than a dozen shops where history is for sale at every price point. Try on tiaras and vintage designer baubles at TWENTIETH CENTURY LIMITED (73 Charles, 617-742-1031, boston-vintagejewelry.com) or paw through piles of paintings at BOSTON ANTIQUES COMPANY (119 Charles, 617-227-9810), where owner Lou Desautels encourages people to “come and hunt.” ARTIFAKTORI (121 Charles, 617-367-5854, artifaktori.com ) sells both sweet and sophisticated vintage clothing and accessories, while MARIKA’S ANTIQUES INC. (130 Charles, 617-523-4520) is packed with affordable finds, such as the perfect silver serving pieces for a Downton Abbey dinner party.
> CHARLES STREET, BOSTON, FROM CAMBRIDGE STREET TO BEACON STREET
SoWa Vintage Market
As many as 35 dealers hawk vintage goodies with an urban edge in this 7,000-square-foot funky brick warehouse in the South End. Popular with set decorators scouting items for film shoots, this is also a place to find painted furniture, stylish retro fashions, or Mad Men-era barware for your next martini throw-down. There’s $5 parking in the lot next door.
> 460C HARRISON AVENUE (GPS USE: 365 ALBANY STREET), BOSTON, SOWAVINTAGEMARKET.COM
The Barn at 17
“Nothing goes out in less than perfect condition,” says Jerry Freeman, one of the two owners of this expansive showroom just a short drive from hipster haven Davis Square. Mint-condition furniture, art, and decor from all eras appeal to architects, designers, and retail customers, many looking to mix up a modern aesthetic with unique antiques. The attached full-service restoration shop can breathe new life into that beloved beat-up dining table collecting dust in the basement.
> 17 MURDOCK STREET, SOMERVILLE, 617-625-5204, THEBARNAT17.COM
Cambridge Antique Market
Every shopper, from teenager up, will spot recognizable childhood relics in this five-floor Cambridge market with more than 150 dealers. Second-floor salesperson Michele Denning specializes in pop-culture collectibles of the 1950s through the 1970s and is a knowledgeable guide for those looking to blast back to their past. Vinny Vullo, at Menotomy Vintage Bicycles (508-344-3872, oldroads.com) in the basement, salvages and sells bikes. For around $200, you can probably find your powder-blue Schwinn from the ’70s and pedal down memory lane.
> 201 MONSIGNOR O’BRIEN HIGHWAY, CAMBRIDGE, 617-868-9655, MARKETANTIQUE.COM
Considering Concord’s heavy history, these three multi-dealer shops have an airy, eclectic feel. THOREAULY ANTIQUES (25 Walden Street, 978-371-0100, thoreaulyantiques.com ) and UPSTAIRS ANTIQUES (23 Walden Street, 978-371-9095, upstairsantiquesshop.com ) share a sunny building and, to some extent, a lighthearted aesthetic. Look for crisp vintage linens, college wall plates, ephemera, estate jewelry, and Victorian oddities — perhaps a silver snuffbox or mahogany music stand. You’ll also find first editions of requisite reads by Thoreau, Alcott, and Emerson. Pop across the street to NORTH BRIDGE ANTIQUES (28 Walden Street, 978-371-1442), a cooperative with 26 dealers specializing in art, decorative items, and classic antiques.
Downstairs at Felton Antiques
Owner Hope Chudy says that artists from nearby studios like to peruse this 50-dealer shop in Waltham in search of creative inspiration. Reasonably priced items include jewelry, sewing notions, apothecary jars, carnival glass, and — on the upscale end — American Art Pottery. Dealer Dennis Wolbach explains that Boston was the hot spot for this type of pottery in the early 1900s, and he now travels many miles a week to find unusual pieces to sell. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, ask to add it to Chudy’s wish list. She’ll call you when she tracks it down.
> 100 FELTON STREET, WALTHAM, 781-894-2223, DOWNSTAIRSATFELTONANTIQUES.COM
Fancy Flea Antiques & Fine Jewelry
Owner Marge Perlman is known by her staff as “the ultimate huntress” for the riches she gathers for her small, sparkly Lexington store. With one-of-a-kind jewelry that dates from Georgian times to the present, there is something pretty for everyone, including the eco-minded. “Vintage jewelry is green,” says manager Nannette Cote. “There is no refining of metals, and the quality has stood the test of time.” The shop also does repairs and redesigns or will scrap your broken pieces into “flea dollars” for use in the store.
> 1841 MASSACHUSETTS AVENUE, LEXINGTON, 781-862-9650, FANCYFLEAANTIQUES.COM
Antique Coop & Auction House
Twenty dealers fill 15,000 square feet with “everything from A to Z,” says owner David Noonan. The warehouse’s partially hidden rear entrance is tricky to find but then opens into an expansive messy trove with objects ranging in price from a few dollars (vintage Duncan yo-yo, $8) to midrange (George Koch mid-century-modern chair, $350) and higher. On-site auctions occur every other Saturday with fresh-to-the-market estate merchandise. In the final hour, bidding often closes at $5 or $10.
> 730 EASTERN AVENUE, MALDEN, 781-388-9878, ANTIQUECOOPANDAUCTIONHOUSE.COM
Canal Street Antique Mall
The cavernous ceilings, brick walls, original wood floors, and large windows in this rehabbed mill in Lawrence provide an apt setting for affordable antiques. Sixty dealers spread across 15,000 square feet offer great low- to mid-priced stuff, from a 1950s Felix the Cat clock to vintage furs, architectural salvage, and textiles. There’s plenty to see and buy in this sunny space — don’t skip the top floor stocked with furniture. Owner Steven Fortier says: “People stay for hours. I’ll never throw you out.” Free appraisals are offered on Wednesdays.
> 181 CANAL STREET, LAWRENCE, 978-685-1441, CANALSTREETANTIQUES.COM
Main Street, Essex
Thirty shops within a 1-mile stroll make the old shipbuilding town of Essex “America’s Antique Capital.’’ Start your search near the “A’’ sign for ANDREW SPINDLER ANTIQUES & DESIGN (163 Main Street, 978-768-6045, spindlerantiques.com ). Stroll down the street, along the river, stopping to shop when a storefront inspires, but not missing BIDER’S (67 Main Street, 508-633-4858, bidersantiques.com ) for bargains on beautiful furniture or HOWARD’S FLYING DRAGON ANTIQUES (136 Main Street, 978-768-7282), if only to ogle its cluttered charm. End at the WHITE ELEPHANT SHOP (32 Main Street, 978-768-6901, whiteelephantshop.com ), a true treasure hunter’s paradise, where you’ll likely find everything — and the kitchen sink.
North Reading Antiques and Collectibles
This 50-dealer shop in North Reading has a mix of entry-level antiques with a few reproductions blended in. You’ll find glass, architectural salvage, vintage, and collectibles, like a 2008 team basketball signed by Celtics players. “A little bit of everything,” especially coins, says manager Dean Dillon. An X-ray machine on-site is used for metallurgical analysis, and they’ll test one or two pieces for free for customers. If your beachcombing turns up some crusty heavyweight blob, these guys can tell if you’ve hit the jackpot with a gold nugget — or not.
> 157 MAIN STREET, NORTH READING, 978-664-4402, NORTHREADINGANTIQUES.COM
Pickering Wharf Antiques Gallery
In this sunny shop overlooking the harbor, 25 dealers offer antiques and vintage goods for $2 to $1,000. The Salem store is the “oldest surviving business on the wharf,” says manager Jacquie Satin. Not much furniture, but many “smalls,’’ including nautical, jewelry, political buttons, books, textiles, lighting, ephemera, pottery, glass, vintage military toys, and cast-iron kitchenware. Inventory changes frequently. Families are welcome. Take the Salem ferry, Nathaniel Bowditch, from Boston’s Long Wharf, then walk or catch the trolley to Pickering Wharf.
> 69 WHARF STREET, SALEM, 978-741-3113, PICKERINGWHARFANTIQUESGALLERY.COM
R&B Antiques and Consignment
An 8-foot-tall cherub fountain graces the entrance to this Lynn warehouse, promising wonders inside. You won’t be disappointed. In owner Richard Brahm’s office, a 1940s photo shows him as a boy peering into a curio shop. A lifelong antiques aficionado and veteran dealer, Brahm just expanded to 12,000 square feet with 22 dealers. “We have all unusual things,” he says, from $1 trinkets to a pair of 1890 French griffin urns for $12,000. Mixed styles populate the sunny showroom: Danish modern Finn Juhl chairs beside 1960s Lucite Z-chairs.
> 270 THE LYNNWAY, LYNN, 781-592-2124, RBCONSIGNMENTS.COM
Salt Marsh Antiques
Owner Robert Cianfrocca restored an 1805 barn in Rowley — retaining its charmingly creaky wooden floors, nooks, and loft — and opened an antiques market there in 1986. It now houses 30-plus dealers selling quality, affordable antiques. The constantly revolving inventory includes 17th- to 20th-century artifacts, with many so-called eye-trainers — objects tagged with labels that offer historical information, like an Iroquois basket or a Shaker-made box. There are toys, books, textiles, pottery, glass, advertising, lighting, silver, clocks, dolls, tools, and furniture. The business is open seven days, with extended hours on Sundays March through November.
> 224 MAIN STREET, ROWLEY, 978-948-7139, SALTMARSHANTIQUES.COM
North River Antiques Center
Retired science teacher Les Molyneaux tells and sells local history in his cozy, cluttered four-dealer shop in Pembroke. Tucked amid shelves of antique tomes from the owner’s days as a bookseller, you’ll find American wood carvings, rare blue-and-white Dorchester Pottery, nautical artifacts, and paintings by well-known local artists. Small, but fun, especially for South Shore history buffs.
> 236 WATER STREET, PEMBROKE, 617-584-3624, NORTHRIVERANTIQUES.COM
This colorful Pembroke store, run by two women with old souls, will delight fans of vintage kitsch. In the retro kitchen area, boomers will want to peek into the classic Philco fridge stocked with soda bottles or sort through clever displays of melamine mugs, sunny yellow Pyrex, and fondue plates and forks that may recall suppers of 40 years ago. Items date from 1800 to the 1970s, with an emphasis on the ’50s and ’60s. Some repurposed salvage items, like a wooden pallet turned wine rack, show possibilities for reversing the aging process.
> 8 MAIN STREET, PEMBROKE (TRY HANSON ON A GPS), 781-293-4411, SALVAGECHICANTIQUES.COM
WinSmith Mill Market
This 18th-century tannery in Norwood has been transformed into a secondhand merchandise village with 16 shops in four mill buildings, and classes and workshops planned. Remarkable Mark’s is chockablock with estate merchandise in showroom-style settings, devolving in back into piles of furniture, bikes, yard/garden items, art, and electronics for an adventure in excavation. Check out Old Bean for “mantiques” — like primitives (hand-made household pieces dating from Revolutionary times to the early 20th century), tools, and industrial items. Try Gallery 2 for quality wallet-friendly antiques, and Applegate Antiques for Victorian through 20th century items. Ramblin Rose Cottage, Vintage Peacock, and Posh Gallery all serve up vintage and shabby chic.
> NORWOOD COMMERCE CENTER, 61 ENDICOTT STREET, NORWOOD
Wrentham Country Store
There’s far more yin than yang in this cheerful Wrentham showroom of 20 female dealers with a clean cottage aesthetic and just enough up-cycled industrial objects to offset all the white. At booths with names like “Paris Flea Market” and “O the Memories,” you’ll find plenty of original vintage whimsies, furniture freshened up with fun fabric, and scrolled-metal chandeliers. There are architectural salvage items, as well as chickens, in the barn next door.
> 715 EAST STREET, WRENTHAM, 508-384-0051, WRENTHAMCOUNTRYSTORE.COM
WORTH THE TRIP
Immortalized in Melville’s Moby-Dick, the old whaling city of New Bedford is a hot spot for antiques, boasting more than 400 dealers. newbedfordantiquedealers.com
NEW BEDFORD ANTIQUES AT THE COVE (127 Rodney French Boulevard, 508-993-7600, newbedfordantiquesatthecove.com ), a co-op in 60,000 square feet, houses antiques, collectibles, and shabby chic and industrial pieces, with some reproductions mixed in. ACUSHNET RIVER ANTIQUES (50 Kilburn Street, 508-992-8878) occupies a refurbished mill with 100 reputable dealers of quality antiques from the 17th through mid-20th centuries. Find nautical relics, garden decorations, art, and furniture from one dollar to thousands of dollars. NEW BEDFORD ANTIQUES CENTER (61 Wamsutta Street, 508-991-8700, newbedfordantiquescenter.com ) comprises 100-plus dealers in an all-purpose shop, “covering all categories, from Tiffany and Chippendale to Star Wars collectibles,” says owner Jeff Costa. NEW ENGLAND DEMOLITION & SALVAGE (73 Cove Street, 508-992-1099, nedsalvage.com ) is the place to go for a beer cooler made from a claw-foot tub and pretty much every type of architectural salvage, spread over a 100,000-square-foot shop.
General manager Rob Morin calls ANTIQUES ASSOCIATES AT WEST TOWNSEND (473 Main Street, 978-597-8084, aaawt.com ) the “largest collection of premium antiques in New England.” The store’s History Gallery carries Colonial silver, George Washington artifacts, and other historically important objects. At HOBART VILLAGE ANTIQUE MALL (445 Main Street, 978-597-0332, hobartvillage.com ), browse 50 dealers’ booths of jewelry, military items, china, silver, and furniture from early American to 1940s. “You can get a nice antique bureau for $50 or a chair for $15. They’ll last a lifetime,” says Dick Fiorentino, one of the owners. DELANEY ANTIQUE CLOCKS (435 Main Street, 978-597-2231, delaneyantiqueclocks.com ) holds “more antique American tall clocks than anywhere in the country,” says owner John Delaney, many of them representing America’s famous period craftsmen. Delaney, an Antiques Roadshow appraiser, says that “the shop sounds like a rainy day on a tin roof — soothing.”
Maureen Stanton is the author of Killer Stuff and Tons of Money: An Insider’s Look at the World of Flea Markets, Antiques, and Collecting, 2012 winner of a Massachusetts Book Award. Sandra A. Miller is a writer and treasure hunter in Arlington. They both teach writing at UMass Lowell. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.