Antique dealers, friends now share space in Florence

  • Antique dealers Stuart F. Solomon, seated, and John Hunt-Marshall recently moved their businesses into the same space at 296 Nonotuck St. in Florence. SUBMITTED PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 3/17/2019 6:07:35 PM

FLORENCE — One day, a California couple went to a yard sale and purchased a piece of furniture for $10. They took it home and brought it out to their porch with the intentions of painting it, but when they bent down to examine the piece, the couple found a signature on the side. “Stickley,” it read.

They stopped what they were doing and typed “Stickley” into Google. Up popped the name Stuart F. Solomon, along with a phone number.

Solomon, a Northampton antiques dealer who owns Stuart F. Solomon Antiques, said he receives phone calls like this all the time. But when they sent over photos of the piece, he nearly fell off his chair.

“It was absolute the holy grail of Stickley,” said Solomon, referring to the renowned American furniture maker. “It was rarest and most sought out piece by collectors of Stickley that you could imagine.”

After getting assurances that the couple wouldn’t sell him out, Solomon flew to California to make them an offer. When he arrived, more than 20 people were waiting for him in excitement.

“I don’t want to talk numbers, but I gave them enough money to put a down payment on a house,” Solomon said. “I brought it back to the East Coast and sold it to a collector.”

That’s just one of thousands of deals Solomon has overseen during 40 years of selling antiques in the area. He has owned shops in Amherst, Manhattan, New York, and three in Northampton, where he currently shares a space with John Hunt-Marshall Antiques.

Solomon specializes in arts and crafts furniture, furnishings and decorative arts. Hunt-Marshall offers an eclectic range of 18th-century furniture and accessories, as well as mid-century modern pieces.

The two businessmen used to have their own, separate spaces at 28 North Maple St., where Salmon Studios resides. They were both there for a number of years before Salmon grew so large and decided that they needed the space.

So Hunt-Marshall and Solomon recently moved to the Nonotuck Mill at 296 Nonotuck St., where they currently hold and sell their antiques. They set up in an old mill building with brick covered walls that accents the vintage beauty of their antiques.

Though they share space, the business owners have different backgrounds. After college, Solomon attended law school. The whole time he was in class, his mind was somewhere else. He has his law degree, but made the transition, finding his real passion in antiques.

“I just love what I do, I don’t think I would be saying that if I was still in the law business,” he says.

Solomon specializes in collecting pieces from Gustav Stickley, an arts and crafts designer and furniture manufacturer in the beginning of the 20th century.

Hunt-Marshall splits his time between teaching at the White Oak School in Westfield and running his business.

He does a lot of business with dealers.

“I am not going to rely on street traffic,” he said. “What I sell is collector based and a lot of it tends to be expensive. Same thing with Stuart.”

The Rhode Island School of Design graduate explains that, “It is hard for people to walk in off the street because when they start flipping price tags they’re going to be like, ‘holy crap.’”

“They’re going to need oxygen,” Solomon jokes.

The antiquers say experience is everything. They admit that they have both made many mistakes.

“You pay for your education in your early days when you buy something thinking it’s great and find out it is a reproduction,” Solomon said.

Hunt-Marshall agrees, as he gets up to collect a vase he had recently purchased. “I bought this the other day,” he said. “I have no idea what it is.”

He says he bought the Japanese vase because the quality of the glaze is really good and it’s older — made in the 20th century.

“I paid $150 for it, but I know that it is worth more than that.”

And that knowledge is something that just comes with the years that these men have been in the business.

“If you live and breathe this stuff, and you have a visceral response to it, it has to be more than your eye, it has to do something to your body,” said Solomon.

When it comes to buying products, Solomon says, “You really gotta have integrity and honesty to build a business.”

They both agree that you would have to be crazy to buy products online at random, unless one knows who they’re buying from. “A camera can hide a lot,” said Hunt-Marshall. “You’re going to get a lot of bad stuff.

Hunt-Marshall has bought over 200 items from a man from Amsterdam that he trusts. He is also a part of Antique Dealers of America, which is a respected organization in the industry where business owners can buy and sell from one another.

“We do not make money on everything that we buy,” Hunt-Marshall said. “I have lots of stuff right now that I would sell for less than I paid for.”

But there are certain items that he has made much more than he expected.

Recently, he found a drug jar, which he bought for a low price. After doing some research, he discovered that it was an Opium Jar from 1720, which are highly collectable.

A man got in touch with him to buy it for a collector. “He said give me a price that would make you happy, I gave him a ridiculous price and he said fine.”

These types of pieces are where the men can make up for their losses.

Despite their passion for the business, both accept that it is disappearing.

“Younger generations seem to not have a romance for this stuff like my generation did,” said Solomon.

Hunt-Marshall says redecorating is what is in style today. “That is why Ikea has become so successful, it looks nice and it’s cheap.”

“It will have to be thrown away,” Solomon said.

When stripes are in Martha Stewart shows a room full of stripes, but in a few years, when solids are back in, she will display a room of solids, and the people they will throw away their old decor, and buy what she is selling.

“I’ll tell you, I know Martha Stewart, and I have been to her house,” Hunt-Marshall said laughing. “Her house doesn’t look like her magazines. Her house looks like our shop.”

“Design is very fickle, it changes quickly and it’s all about the fads and who the trend setters are,” Solomon said. “I don’t make near the living that I used to make because the customer base has changed so much.”

The men are practical about what the business has become, but have hope that it will revive itself. They both love what they do and that is what matters most to them.

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