The Finest silver
An article in Milwaukee Home & Fine Living Magazine (August 2007)
by Shannon Jackson Arnold
Antique Cupboard buys and sells rare patterns, worldwide, from a little shop in Waukesha
Owner Phil Dreis provides everything from salt nibs and mustard ladles to vintage Tiffany pieces.
If you’re in the market for, say, one-of-a kind silver ice cream spoons or a salad fork to match the set of flatware handed down from your great-aunt Edan, a company located in a Waukesha office park might seem an unlikely shopping spot.
But Antique Cupboard, with some 170,000 pieces of sterling flatware and hollowware – more than 1, 000 patterns – and the largest selection of vintage Tiffany and Victorian-era sterling silver in the country, fits the bill perfectly.
Much of the company’s wares are rarefied pieces of breathtaking craftsmanship, with han-detailing and intricate designs – and equally rarefied prices. A set of Tiffany candelabra, made in the 1880s, can be had for $35,000, while a 1950s George Jensen service for 12, complete with demitasse spoons, salt nibs and chest costs $9,500.
These items, though, are small change compared to Antique Cupboard’s biggest sale thus far: $750,000 for an 1890 set of flatware owned by the King of Greece. Such a gem is exactly what owner Phil Dreis likes to sell. “That set was totally our kind of thing.” he says. “We try to deal in things that are unique – the rarest of the rare.”
Dreis’ grandfather started the business in the 1950’s. Dreis bought the business in 1991 and maintains family tradition in the 19-person company. “My grandparents worked here; so did my uncle, my aunt and my parents. Now, my children do,” Dreis says. “And my 4-year-old grandson filled his first order last Christmas.”
Dreis receives several hundred emails each day from folks looking to sell silver. Thanks to the reach of the Internet, Antique Cupboard has grown significantly in the past decade and now has an international customer base. Surprisingly, “very little of our market is in Wisconsin,” Dreis says. They sell mostly via their web site (antiquecupboard.com) and eBay, but they also do antique shows, and a few customers make appointments to visit the shop.
In addition to vintage silver, Antique Cupboard offers some current lines (often at rates cheaper than department stores) and provides custom pieces for nearly every imaginable serving possibility, from mango picks to olive spoons. Moser glassware and collectible plates by Bing & Grondahl are also for sale. China patterns include what the Antique Cupboard’s web site calls “the most distinguished and costly dinner service in the world” – Flora Danica – at almost $6,000 for a five-piece place setting. But not all pieces sold by Antique Cupboard will break the bank. There are plenty of forks and spoons to be had for under $40. And some might even be a good investment. “Buy some of the modern American patterns from the 1930s to 1960s,” advises Dreis. “Some of these patterns are from rare and famous designers known more for their sculpture, paintings and architecture, and the pieces aren’t terribly expensive.”
For Dreis, one of the joys of owning vintage flatware is functionality. “With stamps and coins, you purely collect,” he says. “With silverware, you actually use it.”
Delafield’s Shannon Jackson Arnold is the author of Everybody Loves Ice Cream (Emmis Books).