An Afternoon Antiquing

Recreational shopping (also known as “retail therapy”) can be a delightful way to spend a rainy afternoon or even a sunny afternoon if the wind is too brisk for outdoor activities. And what better place to shop than an antique mall—an attic as big as a barn and crammed to bursting with trash and treasure.

Door County is fortunate to have three such places located south of Egg Harbor, waiting for the intrepid browser. There is only one rule: the shopper must buy something, even if it’s only a figurine or a doily; otherwise the excursion will seem like a waste of time and the shopper will return home feeling empty and unfulfilled.

Imagine a merry little group of friends making the rounds at an antique mall. We enter and find ourselves facing an immense assortment of old jewelry, coins, medals, figurines, glassware, and LP records. Our attention is drawn to an unusually large glass figurine of a gaunt old man slumped in a chair. We first mistake him for Rip Van Winkle, but then we notice that he holds a sword in his right hand. His left hand rests on a thick open book; his long bony fingers dribble over the edge of the book and point to the floor. His vacant eyes stare at the pages. He is Don Quixote. After a glance at his price tag, we quickly move on.

We pass a display of collectable beer cans and an assortment of mugs. The largest of the mugs is made and painted to resemble the head of Ronald Reagan. In the distance we see a handsome decorative table made in the Chippendale style. It is too small for almost any useful purpose, although it might make a writing desk for a 10-year-old. We check the price tag and discover that the table was crafted in the 18th century, perhaps by Chippendale himself. We scurry away, reluctant to leave so much as a fingerprint on this pricey little masterpiece.

We find a handsome but sturdy old secretary, one that would make an excellent addition to a living room, office or library. The price is reasonable and I would buy it on the spot, except that there is no room left at home for anything larger than an endtable. Nearby is a striking set of English china — 86 pieces, including a tea service and a tureen for soup. The set is not exactly cheap, but it costs far less than any china on display in a modern department store.

But suppose a hostess would prefer to set her table with mismatched china? It has been rumored that Queen Elizabeth uses this strategy when she is forced to entertain a crowd of boring guests—wealthy heirs who have nothing on their minds. The guests must talk about something, and the plates and dishes can serve as conversation pieces. One member of our group likes the idea (she has a large family of dull in-laws), and when we find a booth filled with oddments, she snaps up two quaint dinner plates, a covered serving bowl, and a chipped cream pitcher.

Making our way toward the cash register, we pass a pair of carved wooden bears that are the size of Labrador retrievers. They appear to be guarding a wall covered with faded prints and paintings of uncertain provenance. One of the miniature prints is a charming picture of two Victorian children playing with a litter of gray-and-white kittens. One of the kittens is carrying a dead mouse.

We leave the store pleased with our purchases—a glass frog, six crystal tumblers, the mismatched china, the kitten picture, and an elbow-length cape made of mink-dyed rabbit fur. We agree that it has been a most pleasant afternoon and we promise to get together soon for another such excursion. Somebody mentions a tempting mall in Manitowoc.

Antiquing is fun and the malls await you. But be warned: if you are the kind of shopper who likes to dash into a store, grab your purchases, and get out as quickly as possible, the antique malls are not for you. There is no such thing as an efficient way to browse.

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