“I bought a taxidermy dog yesterday,” Christopher English says, his voice rising with excitement. The King Charles Spaniel isn’t a first for this New York collector. English recalls a long-ago purchase: a chihuahua posed inside a glass dome with its favorite plush toy. “It was so damned charming,” he says. “It really makes you think back to how much the owner loved their pet — and, of course, the owner has probably been gone 70 or 80 years.”
The spaniel that long ago panted his last won’t wait for his new “forever home” at the pound, but at Antediluvian Antiques & Curiosities in Lake Placid, N.Y. English, 48, owns the store on Main Street with his life partner of 15 years, Stephen Dori-Shin. After a 28-year career as an international ballet dancer, Dori-Shin has joined the business of buying and selling unique antiques.
Antediluvian is not a place for tourists to find inexpensive Adirondack knickknacks. The unapologetically high-end store keeps its focus squarely on the unusual, with wares ranging from early 20th-century taxidermy to an early 18th-century Swiss cowbell.
The couple opened Antediluvian over Memorial Day in 2011 — making the name unintentionally prophetic of the subsequent ravages of Tropical Storm Irene. English says he merely meant to take the opposite tack from most business owners, who choose the easiest names to spell, pronounce and remember. “We didn’t want it to sound like just an antique shop,” he says.
The store itself is certainly memorable. And merchandise turnover is fast: English says he has regulars who come in every two or three weeks and are shocked to see a largely new selection. In six months, it’s likely to be entirely transformed — but, no matter when shoppers visit, they’ll be treated to an unusual treasure trove.
On a recent Saturday, two albino taxidermy peacocks gaze at customers from a white column. In the window sits a saddle by Edward H. Bohlin, priced at $55,000. The price may sound steep, but English explains that Bohlin designed saddles for all the cowboy-film greats, from John Wayne to the Lone Ranger, aka Clayton Moore. It’s not uncommon for one of his sterling-silver-inlaid beauties to go for as much as $750,000 at auction.
English says that, while his prices are high, his wares are not a tough sell. Luxury products are selling well across the marketplace, he notes. Better education and the internet have made it more difficult to profit from antiques, but plenty of people are still willing to drop serious bank on a relic that speaks to them.
With a devoted clientele of summertime inhabitants of the great Adirondack camps, English sees plenty of customers in search of rare finds. “Some people are eclectic,” he says of wealthy camp dwellers. “And we are definitely the extreme.”
It doesn’t hurt that English plays matchmaker for his clients. For instance, if a customer collects black Americana (common among African American buyers, he says), English might email him a photo of the giant portrait of Al Jolson that currently claims a place of honor at Antediluvian behind a mated pair of taxidermy parakeets near the sales desk.
More conservative Dori-Shin balked at the idea of displaying the controversial painting of the minstrel performer. But English says he believes it has historical value as a piece of vaudeville memorabilia. “I appreciate that it makes you back up and think. It’s an educational tool, too,” he says of the skillful portrait of a broadly smiling Jolson in full blackface. “I wouldn’t like it if it wasn’t well done. And the photographic quality is extremely well done,” he adds.
English does draw boundaries. He says he will not purchase Nazi memorabilia out of respect for the lives lost in World War II. And he doesn’t deal in preserved human body parts, the bread and butter of New York City’s Obscura Antiques & Oddities. (English has been asked to appear on “Oddities,” the Discovery Channel’s reality show about the comings and goings at that store, with which he does some trade.) While he’s not personally opposed to selling human remains, “That’s the kind of thing that Stephen would be like, ‘I don’t want that in the shop. You can’t have that,’” says English.
English doesn’t just sell antiques; he surrounds himself with them. The couple tries to make the store look as much as possible like their own antique-filled camp on a nearby lake, English says. One of his current favorite oddities at Antediluvian is an antique Coco de Mer seed. Prince William and Kate Middleton received one of these as a gift on their honeymoon in the Seychelles, the only country in the world where the plant grows. The heavy, coconut-like pods, which resemble a woman’s posterior, can’t leave the islands without a special, infrequently granted permit and can fetch up to $13,000.
Not all of Antediluvian’s merchandise is quirky, though it can be difficult to spot more prosaic items amid the vast sprawl of hanging antlers, antique razors and artifacts such as a Victorian-era elephant’s foot hollowed out to hold alcohol bottles or glasses. One of English’s favorite pieces is a painting of Samuel de Champlain “discovering” the lake. Adirondack artifacts include an early 20th-century picnic set made for a local family by Abercrombie & Fitch. A Roosevelt-era teddy bear, mechanized to make its head bob, is currently in need of repair. English and Dori-Shin also sell fine home furnishings, which they incorporate in their home-design business.
Though Antediluvian remains open year round, English and Dori-Shin split their time among the Adirondacks, Dori-Shin’s native Toronto and Florida, where Dori-Shin worked until recently as development coordinator for Ballet Florida. The pair also travels around the country to attend antique shows, buying and selling treasures.
English embarked on this lifestyle as a teenager when he began attending flea markets and auctions. “I had no intention of being an antique dealer all my life,” he says. Today, the trade reminds him of being an artist, English adds, because he deals with beautiful things every day. There’s an art, too, in distinguishing the rare and valuable from the merely unique — though the latter may still be rare and valuable to someone.
Those someones in search of a match are the customers who make English’s job special. Because Lake Placid is home to Olympic training facilities, people from all over the world wander into Antediluvian, not sure what to make of the peculiar shop signaled from the street by a chair made of fur and horns. “We’ve met some wonderful people who walked into the store,” says English. “We like them even more as friends than as customers. Not many people do what they want in life,” he goes on. “We sell beautiful things that we love to live with, and we meet great people. There’s no better combination of life.”
And the dealer will never drop his hunt for the special, uncommon and downright bizarre. Somebody has to keep the world of antiques interesting. “There’s enough normal crap out there,” English says. “How many spinning wheels and rocking chairs can people look at? It gets pretty boring pretty fast.”
With Antediluvian on the main drag, Lake Placid is unlikely to get boring anytime soon.