Delaware is the oldest of the United States. And in Delaware, the oldest communities were established in Sussex County. So, it stands to reason that the First State’s southernmost county is a natural location for antiquing.
From Antique Alley of Bridgeville (with 20,000 square feet of shopping space and 70-plus vendors) to Beaman’s Old and Gnu in Lewes, a go-to resource for local memorabilia, coastal Delaware offers pieces of history visitors can take home with them.
At Jayne’s Reliable in Dagsboro, shoppers can peruse the contents of a Victorian house, several outbuildings and the grounds Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jayne’s is known as a resource for antique garden furniture and salvaged pieces, like clawfoot tubs and other bathroom fixtures. It also has a niche in selling DIY paint in such beach-inspired hues as Sea Glass, a vibrant turquoise, and Summer Crush, the deep orange of the setting sun.
The owners, David and Karen Jayne, started selling years ago on a smaller scale as a young couple with three kids. “When you buy what you love, what gets you fired up, the odds are other people will love it, too,” Karen says. “You need to look beyond the rust, the dust and the bird poop.”
They identify with the thrill of the hunt that drives antiquers, picking all the way up the East Coast as far as New England. Karen waxes rhapsodic about landing her first Rotabin, a circular metal multitier display piece, at an auction. “After years of stalking them and getting outbid, someone blinked and we got one.”
Jayne’s eventually bagged four Rotabins and is selling two, priced at $400 each. The emporium’s Project Tent houses items that need TLC, starting at $1. At the other end of the spectrum is a $12,000 pair of 5-foot-tall bronze urns from Belgium.
At Passwaters Antiques and Collectibles in Georgetown, the store itself is an antique, a 19th-century shirt and button factory hauled in four sections from Milton over coastal Delaware’s pancake-flat roads in 1990.
“I bought it for $1, and paid $46,000 to move it, quite an undertaking,” recalls Cortlandt Guy, who owns the emporium with John Umschlag.
Counting the owners, there are 22 vendors at Passwaters, selling Thursday through Sunday during the beach season. (It’s a good idea to call ahead at 856-1566, as hours are subject to change.) License plates, especially surf tags for driving on the beach, and vintage advertising memorabilia are favorites with customers. Inventory is refreshed frequently by a steady stream of sellers.
“Glassware, crockery, furniture, tables, chairs,” Guy says. “People arrive on my doorstep when they come across something interesting. They know what I sell.”
Melody Hudson and her husband Richard live in a replica of a colonial tavern behind Hudson’s General Store in Ocean View, the shop they opened in 1990. The daughter of an antiques dealer, it was Hudson’s dream to run her own business. Over three decades later, the store has evolved with trends in collecting.
“Years ago, it was oak, then pine, then original painted furniture, and now it’s primitive with old attic surface,” she says. Those pieces date as far back as the 17th century and are crafted by hand. The furniture isn’t sleek or refined. It shows its age.
“It’s never been refinished, never painted, not shiny. It looks like it’s been tucked away in a barn for many years,” Hudson says.
Dry sinks can be purchased for less than $1,000. Wooden dough bowls are priced at $300 or less. In recent years, Hudson began offering reproduction furniture, clearly labeled, such as Windsor chairs priced at $250 to $695. And because not all browsers are looking for furniture, the store also sells smaller goods, such as candles, potpourri and gifts.
Antique Alley is the state’s largest antiques emporium. Cindy Small, founder of Copper Kettle Antiques, operates three of the 125 booths there, selling framed art, china, pottery, vintage furniture, and whatever else she thinks might strike a buyer’s fancy. By virtue of its size and location, Bridgeville has become a destination and not just a diversion for beachgoers on a rainy day.
“We get the east-west traffic from the Bay Bridge and also north-south traffic to Ocean City, Maryland, the Outer Banks and other destinations,” she says. “The store also is a good spot for other resellers since the prices are reasonable.”
Lewes Mercantile Antiques, located on Second Street in the historic downtown, has been purveying antiques since 1991, attracting the locals as well as folks on vacation. There are 30 dealers with a wide range of specialties, including retro toys, maps, glassware, jewelry, clothing, furniture, lighting and garden sculptures. In addition to antiques and collectibles, there are modern and reproduction pieces.
Sited on Route 1 between Milton and Lewes, Heritage Antiques has more than 65 vendors in 10,000 square feet of floor space. The center’s motto is “Something for Everyone,” which is reflected in an inventory that typically includes vintage hand tools, porcelain, collectible plates, and midcentury furniture and lighting.
Magnolia Street Antiques in Milton caters to folks who are furnishing a home. Pieces range from rustic to rococo, from mahogany dressers to painted garden benches. Have a few pieces of your own that you would like to deaccession? Magnolia offers a virtual furniture consignment service.
Peter and Mary Beaman have been at the helm of Beaman’s Old and Gnu since 1981, when the couple relocated from Washington, D.C., to Lewes. It’s a great place to find antiques with a local connection. A hard-to-find half-pint cream bottle from Rehoboth by the Sea Dairy is priced at $275. Other price points: a Flow Blue plate in the Fairy Villa pattern, $25; a bohemian painted china clock, $600; and a Roseville planter in the Thornapple pattern, $95.
On your way out of Lewes, hit the Old Screen Door on Monroe Avenue. OSD is a quirky mix of consigned antiques and clothing, with upcycled and recycled pieces in between. Picture a World War II uniform, a pair of bunny figurines, and an old chest hand-painted with a mermaid. The next week, find a circa 1970 kitchen table, black wrought-iron wall brackets, and, not surprisingly, a vintage screen door.
Related: 10 Must-Visit Souvenir Shops at The Delaware Beaches