by Len Lear
Barry Blum, 67, grew up in Wyndmoor, where he still lives, and he was practically weaned on the antiques business. His grandparents, Max and Sarah Blum, opened Blum’s Antiques on Chestnut Street in center city in 1930, shortly after the Great Depression wreaked so much havoc with millions of Americans. His grandparents later moved to Pine Street, then considered “Jewelers’ Row,” and had one shop at 16th and Pine “for the better stuff” and one at 10th and Pine for “the lesser stuff.”
Barry’s father, Alfred, eventually took over the business and in the late 1960s moved it to 45 E. Chestnut Hill Ave., about 50 yards off Bethlehem Pike. The Blums bought the property in the late 1970s, and Barry, who has worked in the family business his entire adult life, has been running it by himself since his dad died five years ago at the age of 87. (His mom, ???, who is not in the business, is still going strong at 90.) In other words, Barry is the third generation to run the now-90-year-old business, which specializes in “quality 18th & early 19th century American and European antiques.”
A Springfield Township High School graduate, Barry said last week in an in-person, masked interview, “I used to go to auctions with my dad and granddad. And I went with them to make deliveries and to auction sales. We stopped at places to see if they had good stuff to sell. No one handed me anything. My dad would say, ‘Make sure it is really 18th century and not a 20th century fake.’ I have gotten to know a lot of the appraisers on Antiques Roadshow. I have bought and sold from them. You develop a trained eye for the things you’re looking for after many years of looking at thousands of pieces, and you learn what to stay away from.”
Blum’s shop is filled almost from floor to ceiling with rich-looking pieces of antique furniture. There are just a few paintings. There are no jewelry pieces and no collectibles like old baseball cards or records. “I do not handle things like that,” said Blum. “I just don’t have a feel for it. I wear a Timex watch. No one knows everything, but I can refer someone with jewelry or baseball cards to an expert if I am not the right person for them. I will send an email to an expert, and he will tell me what it’s worth. I buy estate sales. I have a friend who is an auctioneer. I might take a few things, and he will take everything else.”
Blum, who says his family has always had loyal customers from Chestnut Hill, even when the shop was in center city, has bookshelves with countless hardback books filled with photos of decades of auction sales. “If you look at enough stuff and have any kind of an eye,” he said, “you learn it is one thing to have an opinion and another thing when you have to actually write a check for something. When you are going to write a check, you learn to be very careful. The antique piece you are looking at will not be perfect, but it should be as original as possible.
“Ten to 15 years ago the antique market was at its height. People did not look as closely as they do now. Things have come down in price. Many customers know more and expect more. I do not want to handle inferior stuff. I don’t love every piece I have, but it is all good quality. I don’t want to have to apologize for anything that I have in the shop.”
Blum actually has items now that sell for as little as $30, but he has sold pieces for up to six figures. One of the problems with the pandemic, he said, is that while you can buy antiques through the internet, you may not get what you expect to. “You have to be able to see and touch it. When the internet started, they were selling a lot of stuff that turned out not to be what they were claiming, so I will not buy off the internet unless they will guarantee it in writing, and they will not do that. Most major dealers and buyers have been burned from online sales.”
After more than 50 years in the business, why does Blum not retire? “It’s a fun business,” he replied. “It’s not like working up on a roof in 95-degree heat. I get to buy and sell really nice things. It is one big treasure hunt. A lotta guys in their 80s are still in it … Today I had four or five people come into the shop. Some days, none. I normally get out-of-town people but not now because of the pandemic. But I have shipped stuff to as far away as Norway.”
In addition to his passion for antique American furniture, Blum has been a volunteer fireman for 40 years, and he still looks fit. “We get about 400 calls a year,” he said. “Some days there are no calls, but we had 12 calls yesterday because of the big storm that knocked lots of trees down. The guys had to pull one car out of the water.”
For more information, visit blumsantiques.com You can reach Len Lear at email@example.com
Please take the time to support our journalism. You can do that with a subscription or with a tax-deductible donation to the Chestnut Hill Community Fund, which launched a support fund for the Local to help us remain funded during this pandemic. Thank you for your support!