As some of you may know, I have a small obsession with the picturesque seaside town of Portsmouth, NH. With its amazing restaurants, coffee shops, and independent bookstores paired with some fantastic colonial history and real estate – it’s kind of a dream. There is also a nice little cluster of antique shops in the surrounding area to explore. I took a day trip up to Portsmouth a couple weeks ago, and stumbled upon a newer antique vender, Old as Adam run by Adam Irish, right in downtown Portsmouth on Ceres Street. I was immediately impressed by his aesthetic, as well as his collection of unusual finds. What’s more, he’s a young proprietor in a stereotypically graying industry.
We were so impressed that we asked Adam to share a bit about himself, his business and his passion for antiques.
Proprietor of Old as Adam
I’ve been collecting since I was a kid. Bottle digging especially captured my imagination as a boy; I found some amazing things digging on old farms and estates. For better or for worse, I am almost entirely self taught and have hardly studied antiques in any formal sense. My knowledge came from years hitting the yard sales and antique shops every weekend, countless hours watching the hammer fall at auctions, and many, many mistakes. My advice to someone interested in antiques or the antique business is just do it. Unless you have a specific interest (say eighteenth century American silver or turn-of-the-century art pottery), books are of little use. Get up early for the flea market and stay late at the auction. Don’t be intimidated. Buy what you like. Once you refine your tastes, study away (I’m currently enmeshed in a tome about the evolution of 20th century clothing labels).
How would you describe your store, your aesthetic and your target client?
I describe my store as a “Vintage Haberdasher & Cabinet of Curiosities.” I’ve always loved the aesthetics of turn-of-the-century shops and the elaborate signage that often festooned their storefronts. The sadly antiquated term “haberdasher” also conjures the 19th century, and so I decided to make my shop in the spirit of that era.
Old as Adam specializes in vintage menswear, from top hats to overalls. I try to be fastidious about keeping my stock true vintage, and have pieces dating from the 1960s back to the 18th century. Dapper is the word (although I stock the humblest vintage workwear as well). Suits, ties, vests, hats – I try to revive the great sartorial traditions of yesterday one sale at a time.
In the store, I favor late Victorian and early 20th century pieces, of both high and low origins (for example, you’ll currently find both a fine 19th century Parian bust and a caged 1920s utility light in stock). I also have a penchant for the quirky and strange, things that delight or dumbfound (in the past pieces of this nature have included 1920s clown shoes and a Victorian child’s coffin fashioned into a bookcase). I also favor fun and funky mid-20th century miscellany, but I haven’t found that these things fit comfortably in the store.
Who is my target client? That’s hard to say. I am always surprised at the variety of folks who appreciate what I’m trying to do. The one thing they all have in common is that they appreciate the past. They marvel at the quality of old things. They wonder at the stories, the history, the people these objects can embody. They share my joy in discovering something wonderful. That’s all you need to enjoy and collect antiques.
How did you start with your business?
I began selling when I was 8 years old and since then, I’ve always nominally been in the business (it supported me through college). Transitioning to full-time was something else, however. I became much more serious about online sales, but did most of my business while renting a space in an antique coop as well as selling to other dealers and at shows. I still do all of these things in addition to running the shop.
What do you love most about running Old as Adam?
I love it because it’s not work. It’s fun. I’d be doing all these things if I had different job. Since this is my full-time gig, however, I get to do even more. Sure, there are times when it’s painful to sit through a ten-hour auction, but most of the time I’m having a ball (even when getting on the road at 3am for the flea market).
What are some of your recent picks?
I love this pair of toy airships. I found them independently, but they look great together.
I recently acquired this marvelous Victorian coffee grinder. It originally would have held a place of honor in a general store.
Last week I came upon a large collection of antique clockfaces belonging to clock tinkerer. I find their weathered faces and fragmentary nature beautiful. In fact, I have a large iron clock face on the door to the shop. For me, it symbolizes the timeless nature of old good things and the illusory, consumption-driven idea that the passage of time leaves in its wake only the outmoded and undesirable.
What is your dream find, a specific item or elements of a favorite collection?
My dream find is discovering an old family menswear shop that was shuttered, say, in the 1960s. I know one is out there. I came close a few weeks ago, but most of it had been thrown out. In this case, they still have a 1950s “Adam Hats” neon sign which I feel I am obligated to acquire.
In reality, however, I have no idea what my dream find is. I will come upon it one day at the bottom of a dusty trunk or in some ramshackle barn. Discovery makes this profession a constant pleasure. You never know what you’ll find next.
Most importantly, how can our readers find you and your shop?