Earl knew the value  of antiques

With the news that “Antiques Roadshow” is coming to Baton Rouge this summer, fans of the show have begun mulling what they might haul down to the River Center for appraisal.

The show will tape three episodes July 27. See the story in The Advocate that ran Jan. 8 or go to http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/roadshow for details.

The person I’d most like to talk to about “Antiques Roadshow’s” coming to Baton Rouge is Earl Sinclair. Alas, Earl is traveling the back roads of the Great Beyond in a celestial pickup truck, peeking into the barns of angels.

Earl, who owned Sinclair’s Antiques on Hooper Road, died in 1994.

I met Earl one rainy afternoon in the early 1970s. My wife and I lived a short drive down Hooper Road from Earl’s place. Haunting antiques and good junk stores is what we did on Saturday afternoons. The children were small, we didn’t have much money and Earl’s place and Earl were full of stories.

This was almost 40 years ago, and Earl bemoaned getting into the business late. A carpenter, he’d been in the antiques business full time for only eight years when we met.

Twenty years earlier, the then 56-year-old Sinclair said, a person could set up a good antiques business for $5,000. The things in Earl’s sprawling shed seemed reasonably priced to us, but Earl couldn’t believe what people were willing to pay for wooden ice boxes and iron beds.

Earl’s favorite customers were “the little girls” setting up their first apartments. They arrived in T-shirts, jeans and tennis shoes in search of iron beds, two matching, inexpensive chairs and a rocker.

They were looking for what were to them old things, furniture with character, that had lasted 30 years and would go another 20.

Sometimes, young shoppers fell for something they’d never seen before. They had to have it. Earl would suggest in his Mississippi drawl that they go home to think about it. Often, the young people came back to buy something they really needed.

“You have to win their confidence if you expect them to buy from you, again,” Earl said.

The beds, chairs, chifforobes, round oak tables, lanterns, dial telephones, grinders, seed planters, harnesses, Depression-era glass and kitchenware were in barns when Earl found them on scouting trips.

Farm families and their kin were dying off or
moving up and eager to shed the trappings of their rural past.

I know what I’d take to the “Antiques Roadshow.” It would be the ballot box Earl sold me after much cajoling. Earl kept his tools in the box and didn’t want to part with it the first 20 times I asked.

The box’s green paint was fading, and the slot where voters dropped their ballots bore traces of the polling commissioners’ red sealing wax.

“Can you imagine the stories this box could tell,” Earl said, as we loaded the ballot box into the trunk of my car.

Among the things we bought from Earl was a wooden ice box, forerunner of the electric refrigerator. My hand shook slightly as I wrote a check for the princely sum of $90.