Antique ironstone pitchers were for everyday use.
by Deborah Olsen
Furnishings from the past add spice to a home
ROMANIA, AFRICA, GERMANY, FRANCE … even occasionally, Colorado. The antique market in Steamboat Springs is unpredictable, says Annie Tisch of Annie’s Home Consignments.
“Random things show up,” she says. “‘Where did this come from? Where did you get it? How did this show up in Steamboat?’ These are questions we ask every day.”
In some cases, people inherited antiques; in others, they brought them when they moved to Steamboat. Once in awhile, they even originate here, although that is scarcely an everyday occurrence.
The word “antique” has a different connotation in the American West than it does back East. Browsing through secondhand stores in Vermont, for example, a shopper may well find an item from the 18th century.
Meanwhile, Northwest Colorado wasn’t even settled until 1875, and Steamboat Springs celebrated its 100th anniversary just over 10 years ago. In addition to its comparative “youth,” Colorado’s pioneers arrived here by stagecoach to face rough conditions. As a result, most brought little with them and their limited belongings endured hard use. “The settlers brought parts, rather than whole objects,” Tisch says. “They brought knobs and hardware. And what they had was used. It was either primitive — or Victorian.”
Depression glass and stoneware are among the occasional finds. “They were a little more sturdy,” Tisch says. Enamelware, graniteware, jugs, woolies and Stetsons turn up, too. Trunks, tools, ranch oak furniture, sleds, horse bits and collars, skis, centuries-old books and Native American jewelry also find their way into the local antique market.
Not all early residents had such a simple life, however. As John Rolfe Burroughs noted in his historical books about the area, the pioneers hosted some pretty elegant parties prior to World War I.
All of these variables make the term “Western antique” difficult to define, says interior designer Irene Nelson. “Molesworth made beautiful furniture from logs and twigs,” she says, referring to old “dude ranch” furnishings made by Thomas Molesworth in Cody, Wyo.
On the other hand, people who came from Minnesota and the Midwest brought “Scandinavian primitive” style to the West, while in Texas, German influence is evident. And Utah’s Mormons made “beautiful furniture from packing crates,” Nelson says. “Steamboat’s most distinctive old stuff is from the arts & crafts era.”
So how does a consumer identify an authentic Western antique? “Get down on your hands and knees and look underneath the side of a table. Check the construction. If it’s white underneath, it’s from China. You have to have an eye for it,” Nelson says.
Antiques actually make up a relatively small portion of Tisch’s business. They’re under-appreciated in Steamboat, she says, which means savvy buyers “can get some screamin’ deals.”
“You absolutely can find some wonderful stuff here,” Nelson says. “The secondhand stores have quality furniture and right now, the pickings are spectacular.”
Although local homes are likely to be casual or Western contemporary, antiques still have a place. “I think antique accent pieces are the best counterpoint to even a very clean, contemporary interior,” adds Nelson. “They keep a home from being impersonal.”
They also add variety and a glimpse of the past. “Personally, I think it makes life more interesting to mix it all up,” Tisch says. “It gives a home a bit of intrigue and adds to its history.”