Joslyn Dewey loves old things — her house is full of them.
Such as quilts made by her mother and great-grandmother, old iron bed frames, boxes of photographs showing people with lost names. Most of the items came from people she knew and loved, now gone.
So, on Saturday, wanting to support the museum she volunteers for, she naturally packed a hand-painted china figurine, vase and pitcher dating back to the 1920s into her mother’s old suitcase dating back to the ‘40s and took them to the Southwest Kansas Antiques Appraisal Fair, the Finney County Historical Society’s annual, day-long review of the region’s older objects, heirlooms and artifacts.
So far, the fair is the only one of its kind the society knows of in western Kansas, said FCHS Executive Director Steve Quakenbush.
This year, eight volunteer appraisers from Garden City and Deerfield either researched pre-registered items ahead of time or, lined up behind laptops at the front of the room, quickly dug into ones brought in that day. One at a time, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Finney County 4-H Building, different gloved, miked appraisers held up objects and broke down their findings, including age, material and value, to the items’ owners and waiting onlookers.
By the end of the day, appraisers had shown 118 items, Quakenbush said.
“We’re not trying to be (PBS’) ‘Antiques Roadshow,’ but that’s what everyone compares us to,” he said.
The day had kicked off with appraisers valuing a Native American rug and blanket for about $1,000 each, and an ornate china plate for about $1,500, or more than $50,000 if it was an original, said Quakenbush and FCHS volunteer Rosemary Corbett.
Throughout the room, old books, jewelry and pieces of art were spread on tables next to dolls and toys, cloth and ceramics. One appraiser scanned a worn violin with a flashlight alongside a tall wooden spinning wheel that looked torn from a storybook. Across the room, a faded, white christening dress covered a photo of a baby, someone’s grandfather, wearing it in 1916.
Dewey had brought in her great-grandmother’s cast iron skillet, which she still uses, along with items painted by Florence McCray, a prolific Garden City artist who died in 1969. Dewey knew McCray, a friend and teacher of Dewey’s grandmother, and sees her as “a true artist,” she said. She remembers riding in the painter’s lap as her wheelchair rolled through the house.
That kind of connection is probably the best part about the appraisal fair, Quakenbush said. It’s not about the value of the object, but the stories behind them.
“A lot of the objects people bring in, whether we think about it consciously or not, these are a link to lives in generations past,” Quakenbush said. “To me, it’s really fascinating to pick up and hold and see an item that somebody two, or three or more generations ago used in their daily life. And you hope maybe some of the things we have today will be handled the same way 150, 200, 300 years from now, as well.”
Even on the appraisal side, there’s a chance to learn, said appraiser Jude Near, who’s ran the now online antique store Va Va Vintage with her husband, Mitch, for 12 years. Appraisers gain a lot from their research, but also from the personal history, she said. Each saved, stray object has a way of keeping history alive, Mitch said.
Edward Dowell of Hugoton has a habit of uncovering history on his own. For more than 30 years, he has hovered a metal detector over the Wagon Bed Spring south of Ulysses, systematically unearthing bullets, arrowheads, silver coins and pieces of guns and wagons dropped from travelers on the Santa Fe trail. To date, he said he’s gathered about 2,000 artifacts dating back to the 1800s and 1700s.
Most of his mother’s family grew up in Grant County, Dowell said, and he’s always loved old things.
“You start thinking about it. You know, you think about the Indian arrowhead ... It might have been 2,000 years ago that there’s a Native American holding it in his hand. And you go out and find it, and you’re the next person, all those years,” Dowell said.
For others, there’s excitement in the act of finding items in the first place. Clare Griggs of El Dorado said she’s come to the FCHS fair for three years now, this time with her daughter, sister and niece. Together, they absolutely covered a table with decades-old “oddsy endsy things” the four found at garage sales, thrift shops, flea markets and auctions, Griggs said.
It paid off, sometimes, Griggs said — an overlooked vase her daughter bought at a garage sale for $3 was valued at about $100 Saturday. But mostly it was about “the hunt,” she said enthusiastically, where the prize is less the objects and more the people selling them.
Griggs, whose husband died two years ago, lives alone now, but her house is always full of people. Searches through thrift sales or tumbleweed-laden drives to Garden City are welcome social events for her, she said. She gets to meet and learn about different people, and talk to them, too.
But, the objects themselves have their own pull. Dewey said it’s nice to hear a new perspective on items that already mean a lot to her.
The McCray-painted figurine, a flapper-style woman with an exposed breast and grizzly creature hugging her leg, is Dewey’s favorite. Modern-day skillets don’t shine like her great-grandmother’s, she said.
An appraiser valued her pitcher at about $300, but she said she’d never sell it. It was a lost art, she said. Beautiful.
Corbett, who brought in the thousand-dollar china plate, agreed. Her parents died within two weeks of each other and she cleared their house quickly. It could have come from them or her husband’s family — she’s not sure. But, she’s sentimental.
Most likely, she said, she’d put it back in her cabinet.
Contact Amber Friend at email@example.com.