There often comes a time for an antique collector when she or he hits a wall. It’s time for a new approach, a new way to broaden the hunt or a new learning experience. Enter the antique guide, a professional who knows the terrain and can help shoppers find exactly what they are looking for.
For 22 years, Macon Riddle, owner of Let’s Go Antiquing!, has served as a scout and guide for collectors who come to New Orleans to purchase just the antiques they need to complete a room or add to an existing passion. Riddle, who has escorted buyers in New Orleans since 1986, says that most of her clients are from outside New Orleans and come here because it has a great reputation as an antique center.
“New Orleans is a port city with diverse culture,” she says. “In the early 1800s it was a very wealthy city that commanded grandeur. The gorgeous homes and gracious lifestyle attracted some of the finest cabinetmakers, silversmiths and jewelers the world had to offer. Our shops in the French Quarter and on Magazine Street have quantity and quality that few cities in America can offer.”
Whether her clients are from outside the city or locals who want an experienced eye, most are busy professionals who don’t have the time to walk from store to store to find that perfect addition. Riddle meets with the clients to find exactly what they desire –– such as that special piece of furniture or a dazzling antique bauble for an anniversary –– and does the legwork for them. Some of the most unusual pieces she’s had to locate include German cup weights, antique kaleidoscopes and 19th-century hat molds. “No two clients are alike, and my job is endlessly interesting,” she says.
Riddle is recommended by Fodor’s, Frommer’s and other New Orleans travel guidebooks and has been featured in many top home and decorating magazines.
For New Orleanians who love to take the hunt to the source, Freedom Tours LLC, a locally owned agency, sponsors antiquing trips abroad. This October, the company will take a small group (limited to 10) to France where Dominique Fersztenfeld, owner of Dominique’s Antiquities of Francaise on Magazine Street, will take buyers to Paris, help them locate specific pieces, negotiate prices and ship the items back to New Orleans.
“There are items in Paris that are found nowhere else in the world,” says Annie Schroeder, owner of Freedom Tours. “It’s an antique hub. You can find gorgeous French antiques, of course, but also Chinese, English, Italian, whatever you want. We chose Dominique to guide the tour because she has been in the antique business for 30 years, is fluent in both French and English, has roots in New Orleans and Paris, and knows what to look for and where.”
Schroeder adds that although the dollar is weak, there are still many good buys in France. The key is to know where to shop and how to negotiate with French dealers. Because Dominique has decades of experience buying in Paris, she can streamline the process in France for her American clients.
The tour will visit some high-end galleries but also the flea markets and back rooms of shops. Future trips sponsored by Freedom Tours will take shoppers to England, the Orient and Italy. “Most antique-lovers are passionate about their collections and love the thrill of the hunt,” says Schroeder. “Going directly to the country where the piece was created adds to the excitement of finding that special addition to your home.”
For Riddle and Schroeder, helping a buyer find the perfect addition is a mission, and it’s one that antique dealer Rodney Smith of Soniat House Antique Galleries applauds. “Some buyers need to bring along an expert for support, validation,” Smith says. “A guide can provide the advanced research, help the buyer make the right decision and avoid costly mistakes. They never pressure the buyer. In fact, I’ve never had a collector regret a purchase or return a piece that they bought with Macon or any other reputable guide. And that is worth a lot.”