Heirlooms and tokens

Steve Sylvester

Photo By larry dalton

The Antique Company is housed in a large, multilevel cornflower-blue building on the corner of 21st and X streets, and the proprietor, Steve Sylvester, keeps it well stocked with affordable antiques that he imports from Europe. Sylvester is gregarious and knowledgeable, always ready to hold forth in his crisp south London accent.

What’s your prized possession?

The thing I have at home, which turns out to be my prized possession, unknowingly. When I emigrated, you have to list out the things you will be bringing over, and one of them was this carved entry table, which my grandparents had bought when they were furniture hunting for their first house. It turned out after some research that this table was one of two made for a Burmese prince, and the other one is in a museum in England.

They thought the other one, which I ended up having, was missing. I then had to get written permission to bring this piece over to Sacramento. I’m not allowed to sell it. I’m not allowed to give it away. I’m allowed to pass it down to the family; it cannot go out of the family. If it does, it has to go back to the museum to make up the pair. So that’s my prized little treasure, because it was a lot of work bringing it over to America.

Do you own this company with anyone?

This is The Antique Company, and it’s all mine.

When did you become interested in collecting and selling antiques?

Way back in England, I was a fireman for 26 years, and part time I used to buy and sell antiques. That grew bigger and bigger in England, so I had my own store. And that’s what I wanted to do when I emigrated here in 1999.

What city in England are you from?

I come from south London—a place called Crystal Palace, which is the site of the old Crystal Palace Exhibition about 6 miles south of the River Thames.

How did you end up in Sacramento selling antiques?

I came here because of the “L” word, which didn’t at first work out, but now I’m here, and I’m here to stay and everything is wonderful.

Do you recall your first important antique purchase?

First purchase since I’ve been here in America was a cup and saucer that came in a box of about 12 others. We ended up putting the cup and saucer on eBay, and it turned out to be one of the first ever produced by the Belleek factory in Northern Ireland, and it went back to the museum.

How did you find it?

We bought the contents of a house, and it was in the china cabinet. They didn’t know anything about it—nor did I, at first. I think the whole box of cups and saucers was $25, and the Belleek items sold for $2,800, I think it was.

How do you decide what items to sell?

The antique market is driven by the Japanese, and we are, in California, a year behind. So when I go over to England, I’m six months ahead of the game. I will ask my buyers in England what the Japanese are buying, and then try to buy that stuff over in Europe. By the time it gets here and is settled into the store, we have about three or four months waiting before the trend hits.

Usually we’re lucky; we did this with the teak collection. When I started bringing over G Plan English teak [modular mid-century] furniture, everyone thought I was mad, and then six months later it became a very hot item over here, because it was just so different and so new. I always check with my English people [to find] the new trend. At the moment, it’s painted Victorian furniture and metal kitchen cabinets. I foresee in about six months’ time, it will be a new fashion over here again, for summer.

What’s the difference between selling antiques to the English compared to Sacramentans?

The big difference between selling antiques in England and selling them in California is, to me, an antique has to be 100 years old. In California, especially in Sacramento, there are not a lot of houses that are over 100 years old that need a piece that’s 100, 150 years old. So the pieces we have in the store that are 100-200 years old are very slow to sell. The stuff that we specialize in, which is the 70 to 80 [year-old] art deco, 1930s furniture, is extremely popular, because the houses in Curtis Park and Land Park were built around that time. The English furniture is smaller, so it’s very popular for the smaller homes in this area. I find that in the true sense of the word, I’m not selling antiques, because they’re not 100 years old, but I am selling a lot more stuff that was made between the wars.