Antiques dealer closing doors, but business doesn’t get old
In this high-tech world of mass production, where the newer-is-better mentality rules, Debbie Rivera-Morton loves things old.
Things made by hand, of wood and glass and tin. Things that aren’t made anymore. Things that evoke sentimental memories of a time when possessions were useful and held meaning. Things that hold within them a rich history.
Rivera-Morton is proprietress of Forever Elegant Antiques in Glenwood Springs. The store, located at 2512 S. Grand Ave., will close its doors at the end of the summer. But Rivera-Morton won’t quit the business entirely. It’s clear by the way she talks that she is in love with her antiques.
“It’s a fun business, it’s really interesting,” said Rivera-Morton, who also manages Outlaw Medical Arts in Rifle with her husband, Dr. Tom Morton.
Part of the lure of antiques is that they come from a time when items were made to be both useful and lasting, said Rivera-Morton. “Nowadays, everything is so disposable.”
Her store is filled with examples of long-lasting goods, including furniture, glass, jewelry, toys, household items, prints and original artwork, books, linens, and even a wrought-iron cross from France.
A desk, made in 1863, was signed and dated by its maker, a Scandinavian craftsman. Its construction includes a clever, intricate, built-in locking system.
Rivera-Morton couldn’t budge a 12-foot-long harvest table, a solid piece of furniture where the yields of someone’s family farm were sorted, and where the family likely dined. An armoire, made of flame mahogany, was scavenged in the 1950s from an Aspen hotel that closed long before then.
“If only these pieces could talk,” said Rivera-Morton. Many of her favorite pieces came to her along with a history. Knowing who owned a piece, where it’s been, who made it, and how it was used gives it an intangible, sentimental quality.
Rivera-Morton plunged into the antique business more than 11 years ago because, quite simply, she liked antiques. She had collected a few pieces and was shopping in Grand Junction, when she met the owner of an antique store.
The owner was selling out, and the two worked a deal where Rivera-Morton would purchase the entire inventory at a bargain price, as long as she took all the silver and jewelry, or “the small stuff,” for which she had no interest.
But she did take all the small stuff. She rented a space on Grand Avenue in Glenwood Springs on Nov. 1, 1991, and opened Forever Elegant on Nov. 9.
Eventually, she said, “I got to love the small stuff.”
She moved her store from downtown to its current location about five years ago.
Rivera-Morton learned her first lesson in antiques – that she had a lot to learn – the hard way, she said, lamenting about the time she sold a $5,000 silver vase for a mere $125.
For $50, a man sold her an old suitcase filled with tarnished silver. “I bought it from someone dumber than me,” she laughed, admitting that she was more interested in the suitcase than in its contents.
It was January and business was slow. Her attention was focused on an upcoming vacation. She polished the vase, which was clearly marked “Tiffany.” Rather than researching its value, she reasoned that it would still be there when she returned from vacation and she priced it at $125. A New York antique dealer happened in the store, recognized the piece for what it was, and purchased it.
The dealer later called Rivera-Morton from New York to boast that she had sold the vase for $5,000.
After paying too much for some items, and selling others for less than their worth, she told herself, “If I don’t get smarter than this, I’m going to end up with a lot of junk.”
So she started studying about antiques.
Today, she has an extensive library of reference materials, and works to keep up with changes in the industry. After all, every day something else is labeled “old” or “rare.”
“Even though I sold the vase for practically nothing, I have found things that are very valuable,” she said.
She purchased a Miriam Haskell necklace for $9 and found out later it was worth $500. She kept that piece. She also had a rare Roseville panther vase, priced at $250, on display for two years. Customers complained that it was overpriced.
She sold the piece on eBay, an on-line auction house, for $900 to a gentleman who was writing a book on Roseville. He was bidding against a lawyer for ABC.
E-Bay has added a new dimension to buying and selling antiques, she said. “On eBay, you get to do business with people that might not otherwise come in the store.” Collectors searching for a specific item can save a lot of time that would otherwise be spent searching antique stores, “although a lot of people like the hunt.” While she’s sold numerous items on eBay, she said it’s a time-consuming venture that requires almost constant monitoring.
The recent jump in the quality of reproductions has also changed the business, but in a negative way. “There are a lot of very good reproductions out there and you have to be really careful,” she warned.
Sometimes, positively identifying an antique can be a challenge. Hanging on one of the store’s walls is the painting of a black child, purchased from a New York art dealer. The dealer believes that the piece was painted during the Civil War era by an artist named William Aiken Walker, well-known for his portraits of black people.
To begin verifying its authenticity, Rivera-Morton would have to submit bits of paint for dating.
With this piece, “It’s hard to say,” she said.
Rivera-Morton is in demand for her services as an antique appraiser. She recently appraised an estate of more than 900 items. The process required photographing, cataloging and determining a fair and current value for each item.
“It was fun,” she said. Many of the items were familiar, thus simple to appraise, while others were more challenging.
Rivera-Morton prides herself on being fair with her customers, and loathes dealers who take advantage of the unwitting.
“I want to pay fairly for things,” she said. Conversely, she wants those “things” to go to good homes, and will work with customers to find a price that meets everyone’s needs. Now is a good time to visit the store, since she’s anxious to reduce inventory before closing.
Rivera-Morton has confidence that closing the store will give her time to pursue other interests, including writing children’s books.
Her first subject is her dog, Skeeter.
“I want to write about his spirit and determination,” she said of her 16-year-old dog, who has been hit by a car and still walks, and once nearly died but was resuscitated. The poodle, who looks like a koala bear, “is an inspiration for kids.”
In addition to her appraisal services she’ll still deal in antiques. She hopes to rent a space at the neighboring Grand Antique Mall, and has a booth at the Redstone Flea Market, held every third Saturday of the month at Redstone.
Having the store has been wonderful, she said. Her employees, Helen Collins, Teresa Rippy, Kay Thompson and Tracy Sours, have helped her keep the business afloat while she works full-time. They love antiques, too, she said, joking that she hired them after finding them standing on a street corner, wearing “will work for antiques” signs.
Forever Elegant Antiques is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. No official closing date has been set. For information, call during business hours at 928-0510.
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