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#Morgan #MacWhinnie #Antiques #Arts #Weekly

You would be hard pressed to find anyone on the New England antiques show circuit who does not know of or has not heard of Morgan MacWhinnie. The Southampton, N.Y., antiques dealer over the years has been as ubiquitous as the number of early New England highboys in his collection. MacWhinnie, like many in his demographic — he’s 88 years old, in the antiques business for 65 years — has been skinnying down his prodigious collection of late, selling his 5,200-square-foot store a couple of years ago and relocating merchandise to a small building at his antique home. It’s an appointment-only business now, so Antiques and The Arts Weekly made one to check in with him and listen.

Are you still doing some shows?

I did the big Hartford show for 30-something years, spring and fall, and then when that fizzled out I didn’t do anything for a couple years and got a little itchy so I started doing these little one-day shows up in New Hampshire run by Peter Mavris and the Gurleys.

You managed some shows, too, right?

I managed some shows here on Long Island — the Bridgehampton Historical Society show — and then I took over the East Hampton one and did that for four years. I didn’t fizzle, the show did. Couldn’t get people to do it. Most of the dealers were getting older and one of the partners had passed away, the other one couldn’t do shows by herself. Plus the cost of a hotel overnight in the Hamptons…And then of course there was the advent of the computer systems, so people could shop on their computer and dealers could stay at home and sell their small stuff online.

What was your childhood like?

I grew up in Old Town, Maine, and in Freeport, Long Island, N.Y. Old Town is where my mother was born and raised. We would spend our summers there. Up until I was about 12 or 13, I lived in Old Town, which is just north of Bangor.

Where did you go to school?

Just high school. No college. Two years after high school I went to work in the New York Telephone Company, which ended up becoming Verizon. I spent 30 years there and was part time in the antiques business all that time. I started when I was 18 or 19. My mother was an antiques dealer on Long Island. She would go up to Maine and spend her yearly allowance to buy all kinds of Native American goods. And then she’d bring them home and give them all away to her friends. She never sold anything.

So you caught the collecting bug from her. What were you first interested in?

Old furniture, nothing else. No smalls at all, just furniture. But today we collect a little silver, a little pewter, some Export porcelain and cooking and hearth accessories that would be used in Eighteenth Century houses. I’m also a collector, not only a dealer. I’ve got a house full of good, early New England, Rhode Island, Boston, Maine furniture. Just real New England stuff. Highboys, lowboys, good Queen Anne chairs. One of my specialties today is early American brass andirons.

What is your favorite item in your personal collection?

Ooh, that’s a good question. I love tavern tables. I love step back cupboards all filled with painted boxes. And I love children’s chairs, especially period high chairs. I never had one — or maybe a couple — but in the Windsor form. I just bought two at auction in the past year. One’s a bowback and the other’s a continuous arm highchair. I’d like to add that I was married on Valentine’s Day. Because of that, my wife Gerri collects early American heart-decorated items. We have about 40-50 of those kinds of items around the house.

Two recent acquisitions: Windsor highchairs, a bowback and a continuous arm example.

What spurred you into becoming a dealer?

When I first got married, I bought my first house. And most of the furniture, which wasn’t too much, I would get from my mother. It was country furniture, stuff of very little value. After a while, we looked at a few books and I took a liking to the forms of better things and I would give the earlier pieces back to my mother. I was now buying better things, making a few dollars with some overtime. I refer to it as a snowball going down the hill. Lo and behold, after 64 years of marriage, I’ve got a house so full that my wife wants to put it out on the street. I own about five Hudson Valley kas and I don’t have room for one in the house.

Any “holy grails” captured or eluded your grasp?

Years ago I bought right here in town a Wethersfield chest. I sold it at Christie’s for a lot of money after it went on loan to the Boston Museum for the exhibition “New England Begins.” They published three books to coincide with that exhibition and my chest was on the cover of one of the three books. I had no use for the chest. It was like a 1690s Pilgrim period chest, earlier than what I collect and it looked just a little bit out of place.

I bought a tiger maple Queen Anne chest on chest at auction in New York, and then three years later I bought from a private party in Vermont the identical matching chest. They are currently some of my very favorite items in my collection.

W.A. Demers

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