Dealing Antique Quilts
Cindy Rennels of Cindy's Antique Quilts in Clinton, Oklahoma. Photo courtesy of Cindy Rennels.
Jane Lury, owner of New York-based Labors of Love, views an old quilt with a customer. Photo courtesy of Jane Lury.
Suzanne Cude of Apples of Gold in San Antonio, Texas.
Virtually every major quilt or antique show across the country features several antique quilt dealers. If you’re like me, you’ll stand in front of these booths and do your best to keep from drooling.
With fabulous old quilts showing remarkable workmanship, unique designs, unusual color combinations, and vintage fabrics lining the walls of their spaces, the antique quilt vendors always have the most appealing displays. I wish I could buy everything I see, and I always wonder about the dealers themselves.
How did they get involved with antique quilts? How has their business changed over the years? And perhaps—most importantly—how they can bear to part with their wares?
Cindy Rennels, who owns Cindy’s Antique Quilts in Clinton, Oklahoma, didn’t grow up with quilts or come from a sewing family. In the mid-1980s, when a friend (who was already knowledgeable about quilts) started buying on a local radio “swap shop” program, Cindy started doing the same. Interest turned to fascination. She soon became a full-fledged collector, advertising in area trade papers, visiting private homes, and attending auctions.
As her collection grew, she realized that she needed to pare down, and she began selling some of her quilts at antique shows and craft fairs. Finally, she gave up her “day job” with her family’s livestock auction business and became a full time dealer.
Cindy’s quilt knowledge has evolved through the years, and she now attends shows all across the country, handling a wide variety of quilts. She always makes a special effort to learn as much as possible about the provenance of her quilts, as that is of great importance to her clientele.
Since her home base is in the Midwest, her collection tends to contain more quilts from the 1930s, but her buying trips across the country help fill in the void by adding quilts from the 1830s to the 1900s. Cindy feels that the market for quilts in the mid-price range ($400 to $800) is fairly soft in the current economy, but more expensive quilts ($1000 to $5000 and up) continue to sell well.
“I always have ‘keepers’—quilts that I don’t want to sell. I do collect patriotic quilts, chintz, and western-theme quilts among others,” Cindy says. “I may bring something special out of my personal collection and I’ll offer it for sale at a show, as these may be the quilts that other collectors are also drawn to. Often those quilts will sell and then I’ll say to myself, ‘I’m going to miss that quilt, but I know the buyer will enjoy it also!’ ”
Labors of Love is the name of Jane Lury’s antique quilt business. Jane works as a psychologist in New York City. Selling antique quilts, according to her partner, David, “is a weekend hobby that has gotten totally out of hand.”
In the 1980s, while on a trip to Oregon, Jane saw a quilt for sale in an antique store and bought it. When she returned to New York, she visited a few of the stores that had quilts in the city. Then, while driving across the country the next year, she found and bought more. She amassed such a quantity that she decided she needed to reduce her collection.
When she easily sold those quilts at an auction, she decided to continue buying. “I loved the quilts, but I got into the business by pecking at it,” Jane laughs. Now she and David attend about nine major quilt festivals and textile events annually, including shows in Tokyo and France.
“Over the past 25 years, my business has gone through good times and bad times, although I’ve seen little change during the current recession. Quilts are comfort items, and comforting things are valued in hard times,” Jane explains. “The major difference over the past decade is that I now sell mostly expensive quilts. The ones priced under $1000 don’t sell as well, except overseas.”
When asked if she has a hard time parting with her quilts, Jane is quick to respond: “My home is bedecked with quilts! I try not to sell the ones that really move me.”
Antique dealer Suzanne Cude, owner of Apples of Gold in San Antonio, Texas, added fine old quilts to her inventory in 1978. She credits Jonathan Holstein’s 1971 exhibition of quilts at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York as being the watershed event that made people not only recognize the beauty and artistic merit of quilts, but want to collect them as well. Though not a quilter herself, Suzanne has sewn for years and has long been interested in textiles of all sorts.
The main difference that Suzanne has seen in the antique quilt business through the years has been the knowledge level of her customers. Today’s quilt buyers are extremely well-informed. Like Cindy and Jane, Suzanne has seen the mid-range quilt market slow down, while expensive quilts still readily sell.
“True collectors are always out there,” she says. “If you have something really special, they will buy it.” As might be expected, it is not as easy to find truly remarkable old quilts as it once was, although Suzanne says you just never know when something amazing is going to show up. She recently had someone bring in a magnificent quilt to her shop—it literally walked in her door.
“I have quilts hanging in every room of my house, and sometimes I’ll even decorate a room around a particular quilt,” says Suzanne. “I’ve reached that point in life where I’m starting to downsize though, and I’m beginning to let some of them go. Not long ago I sold one of my favorites—an 1850s red chintz—and I started crying as I wrote up the ticket. The lady who bought it promised me she would give it a good home!”
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