A highlight of many people’s trips to Maine is a visit to an antiques store to find treasures that might have been recently unearthed after being tucked away in the attic of a rambling old seaside mansion for decades.
Rest assured, if such a place is to be cleared out, Tim Torrey, owner of Old Creamery Antiques in Ellsworth, now in his 20th year of business, is likely to be called upon.
Families hire the retired U.S. Coast Guardsman to look through a late relative’s house and assess what he might be able to sell in his shop. But he is selective because he only has so much room at the Old Creamery Antique Mall on Hancock Street. Plus, he wants families to call upon extended family members to see if they might want some of the items.
“We try to encourage them to contact people if they might want something,” the antiques dealer said. “I’d like someone to call me up and say here’s your grandpa’s milk separator or roll top-desk.”
Some dealers will hit auctions and yard and storage unit sales, but Torrey pretty much just unearths finds by sifting through houses, usually two a month.
“I don’t have a big shop like some of the other places,” he said. “I have to be selective in what I buy. I go in and pick what I want. I encourage family members to take things.”
Torrey has kept a few treasures from his years of sourcing vintage finds. They include a 1938 “pie-eyed Mickey Mouse,” made of cloth and “very rare,” he said. “I’ve been holding on to it for a number of years.”
The dealer recently discovered what he described as an “awesome flyer” for Larus & Brother Co.’s Hi-Plane Tobacco brand produced in Richmond, Va. The promotional poster came out of a store that once stood at Lamoine Beach.
Like any good antiques shop, you’ll find some of everything at Old Creamery Antiques.
“We’ve been selling a lot of furniture,” Torrey said. “People are buying these houses up here right and left. They bring some stuff with them, but they need furniture.”
And furniture is Torrey’s specialty. He likes old, well-made furniture, that is. He isn’t interested in what he calls “the sawdust and glue stuff” one might find at a big-box store.
“I like the quality of the old furniture,” he said. “It’s made of real wood.” Pointing to an antique oak desk, he noted, “This roll-top desk. It’s functional. You can use it. I just like the quality of the wood. They [carpenters] took their time and they cared about the quality of it.”
“Mid-century is very popular right now,” Torrey said. “Anything we get mid-century, it doesn’t last more than a week or two. But, it isn’t cheap. It’s Danish furniture, smooth lines. I think a lot of people like that.”
Torrey said he hears people say that the young don’t like antiques. He disagrees.
“They’re interested in the quality of wood, real wood, not laminate,” he observed.
The dealer tells young people who shop his store, “You’ll always get your money back out of the antique, but you’ll never get your money out of the new.
“Yes, it’s 100 years old, but look at it, it’s stood the test of time.”
Pyrex dishes are in demand. You would recognize them if you can’t immediately imagine one. Your mom probably had one yellow or white or brown Pyrex bowl she served potato salad in during the 1970s.
“We have a lot of cast iron,” said Torrey. “A lot of people are trying to buy old cast iron because it’s more dense. “Postcards, we have a big selection. We have a massive whole case of fishing lures.”
Finely crafted Maine pottery is popular too. Old Creamery Antiques specializes in various present and past ceramic studios including the late Sullivan potter Denis Vibert’s work as well as Blue Hill’s Rackliffe and Rowantrees pottery.
This being the Maine coast, famed musicians and other celebrities periodically pop into the shop. They include the late singer Dan Fogelberg, who owned a house in the area. Torrey remembers him well.
“He was downstairs playing a guitar,” he recalled. “I went down and heard him playing. He looked at me and smiled. I had just bought a bunch of hats. Not knowing who he was, I threw one down and said, ‘Here, you may as well try and collect some money while you’re here.”
Fogelberg introduced himself during a later visit. Another time, the singer/songwriter and his wife were shopping there. A customer recognized the singer right away and asked Torrey if they lived in the area.
“I said, ‘I don’t know, I’m not sure’,” he remembered. Fogelberg’s wife was around the corner and had heard the whole exchange. After the customer left, she told the antique dealer that wouldn’t have come back if he’d disclosed where they did live. “That summer, he and his wife spent a pile of money here.”
Torrey keeps records of what his customers are hunting for.
“People collect everything,” he said. “A guy from Blue Hill collected fingernail clippers. He had over 200 of them.”
“Sometimes, people will come in looking for something,” he said. A lady came in for a corkscrew, her husband has over 400 of them. She was looking for one that is really rare. “They’re just hunting for it.”
The Old Creamery Antique Mall is located at 13 Hancock St. The multi-level antique store is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more info, call 667-0522, email [email protected] and visit oldcreameryantiquemall.com as well as the store’s Facebook page.