By BARRY GOODRICH
During their honeymoon in Bermuda in 1950, Ralph and Terry Kovel were riding bikes around the island when they spotted an antique shop. They stopped in the shop and met the owner, who had been an antique dealer in England.
“We bought a pair of very large French porcelain vases, a small figurine and candlesticks,” said Terry Kovel from her eclectic Shaker Heights home. “That was how it all started.”
In September, the 51st edition of “Kovel’s Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide,” will be published, the 108th book authored or co-authored by the 90-year-old Kovel, whose husband passed away in 2008. The new edition will contain 15,000 prices and 2,500 photos of items including dolls, jewelry, furniture, art and pottery. Kovel is considered the nation’s authority on antiques and collectibles and the company website kovels.com lists over one million free prices along with a free weekly email and a subscription newsletter.
The book has become a bible for generations of enthusiasts who visit antique shops, yard sales and flea markets.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Kovel, who has thrived in a world dominated by numbers despite being dyslexic. “To this day, I flip numbers and letters,” she said.
Q: What inspired you and your husband to write your first book in 1953?
A: We had been going to house sales and saw marks on the bottom of everything we looked at. We got this bright idea to make a list of the marks by shape. Ralph said, `I’m going to sell this book.’ I said `Who’s going to help you do it?’ He said `You.’ And then I told him I wouldn’t do it unless my name was on the book. We went to the library and traced all the marks. We had no art training or education in writing. The book had 42 printings. It sold a lot of copies because we had no competition.
Q: What have been the biggest changes in the antiques and collectibles market over the years?
A: Styles have changed dramatically. We used to buy figurines and put them in a cabinet. Bathrooms were small, closets were small. We had a lot of cabinets and bookshelves to put things in. Nowadays, people want more open houses. They might have a long table with one vase. We also went through a stage when everyone wanted their house to look like a country store. Nobody had a decorator then. You talked to the guy from the furniture store.
Q: What was the most unique antique you ever bought?
A: Years ago, we bought a tin Grape Nuts sign at a mall in Akron for $25. I still have it hanging in my breakfast room. It’s worth about $3,000-$4,000 now. We also had an old wooden Coca-Cola sign that we sold back to the dealer who sold it to us. He sold it to Coca-Cola and made a fortune on it.
Q: What do buyers have to guard against?
A: You have to understand that in this market there are not only reproductions but out and out fakes. In many cases, it’s difficult to spot a fake. There’s a machine that can duplicate any painter’s brushstrokes on a painting. If you’re spending a lot of money on something you should be asking a lot of questions. Most antique dealers are honest…they wouldn’t be in business if they weren’t.
Q: Your house has four garages and three of them are filled with items. Your basement is full of grocery store items and catalogs and you have a collection of 20,000 books. What is your favorite collection?
A: I have the same problem everybody else has – I’m running out of space. I collect banana stickers. At first they would tell you what countries the bananas were from. Then they became cartoon figures and ball players. Right now I’m collecting Star Wars ones. I can’t resist a good banana sticker.