AUGUSTA — Sometimes an antique tells its own tale, if you know where to look, but Google and Wikipedia can help fill in the full story of an old item’s past owners.

Stewart Roberts, of Augusta, can attest. He bought a pint-sized child’s dresser dating to before widespread electricity use — complete with a mirror with small platforms on either side of it to hold candles or lanterns for light. While making a minor repair to it, Roberts discovered extensive information about its first history and past owners written in barely decipherable pencil on the bottom of the lowermost drawer.

He was able to read that a Maria Bogardus received the white dresser when she was a little girl, as a Christmas gift from her father, Civil War Col. Charles Bogardus, in Paxton, Illinois, around 1871.

She grew up and married an Oscar Zipf, with whom she had four boys including George Zipf, who was given the dresser.

Roberts, who had numerous items for sale at Wednesday’s annual Augusta Armory New Year Antiques Show, researched the names of those prior owners online. He learned George Zipf, who grew up to become a Harvard professor, came up with “Zipf’s Law,” a word probability and statistical system Roberts said is still used in — perhaps coming full circle — online search engines.

“It’s rare to find an entire story like that, written on the bottom,” Roberts said. “It took a while to piece it together.”

Shoppers perused the tables of 36 different Antiques dealers Wednesday at the Augusta State Armory.

Chris Cotnoir, of Gardiner, was there looking primarily for antique insulators, such as those used on utility poles to hold electrical wires. He bought some insulators at the show but also purchased a pair of circa 1920s lighting rods from Ellsworth antiques dealer Wayne Mayo, haggling the price from $50 to $40 for the pair.

Cotnoir said he bought the lighting rods to bring to other shows where he hopes to trade them for more insulators. He also bought a jadeite coffee mug he plans to resell.

He said he first got interested in insulators and other antiques when he was young and found some cool-looking insulators along some old railroad tracks.

“I’ve just always been interested in antiques and the stories behind them,” Cotnoir said.

Mayo, who also conducts estate auctions, says he’s been into antiques for about 40 years and gets most of his antiques “by picking and poking around.”

He also had for sale the weather-worn stern board from a 1940s or so one-man lobster boat he bought from an old lobsterman, who had fished from that boat himself. Mayo said someone might want to use it as a wall decoration.

Among the more unusual and valuable items at the show was a hand-painted Maine “Dirigo” flag, which Yarmouth antiques dealer Greg Skillman said came from the Johnson House in Gardiner. Skillman was selling the 3-by-5-foot flag for $725, noting it probably dates to the 1930s.

Skillman’s items for sale also included a 1943 Chizzle Wizzle Fair program from Cony High School with a blackface minstrel character on its cover, an old metal and wood cranberry rake, a metal fishing tackle box filled with old lures and hooks, and wooden skis with leather straps for bindings.

Tom Diplock, of Readfield, sold a wide variety of items ranging from a board game based on the late 1970s to early 1980s TV show “Mork & Mindy” to two old intricately detailed but well-worn wooden corbels he bought from a woman who took them off a house she was demolishing in Phillips.

He also had decorative whisky flasks in the shape of a Maine lighthouse and “Mr. Maine Potato” — he said they are cool-looking but don’t have much value because so many people collected them — and a heavy, white-metal “M,” the “golden arches” from an old McDonald’s Restaurant sign that he bought in a deal that also included a fiberglass Ronald McDonald figure.

“I like that sort of stuff, pop culture stuff,” Diplock said.

Longtime collector and dealer Gerry Maxim, of Augusta, had a variety of items including jewelry and photographs and knives but his biggest items of interest, and biggest sellers, are old tools and fishing equipment. He said most of the tools and fishing gear are bought to be used, not hung on a wall. He said wood carvers and other tool-users prefer the older tools, which are made out of better steel than modern tools.

“Oh, people use them, I sell a lot of chisels, and blacksmithing is making a comeback. I sell a lot of carving tools and blacksmithing tools,” Maxim said. “I get them in garages, barns, cellars, you never know when you’re going to run into something.”

 


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