It is probably the only place in the world where shoppers can find a gold leather chaise lounge from the 1980s sitting next to a 2,300-year-old bronze censer.
The owners of a new Greenpoint store called Alluvium House, which opened in late October, prefer not to think of it as an antique shop. Instead, they describe it as a home decorating store that just happens to have items from the days of Caesar.
“We might put some beat-up jeans or something Roman next to a pink guitar,” said co-owner Walter Baker. “It’s blending antiquity with the contemporary to make something striking and beautiful.”
Baker stocked the store with many items that he scored in a huge estate full of antiques seven years ago, he said. That estate included a well-heeled elderly couple’s collection of very, very old things, including the aforementioned censer, a 2,000-year-old Roman water jug, and an ancient Egyptian scarab, according to Baker, who claims to be an expert in household items of yore and says he can vouch for all the items.
The musician and metalworker says he picked up the art of antiquing from his mother and grandparents, but that he never meant to go into the business himself. His winding path to the store in Greenpoint led him to name it Alluvium House, he said.
“Alluvium is a shallow bed of gold that has traveled a long way,” Baker said. “It was a good way to represent a conglomeration of things that have come from all different parts.
To help make ends meet, Baker and his partner Amanda Risch say they plan to make jewelry and hock it in the store.
Not having an archeologist on staff, this paper cannot validate the ancient origins of Baker’s items, but we can provide a quick primer on buying and selling really old stuff. The federal Antiquities Act makes it illegal to remove prehistoric items from federal or tribal land and many countries have similar laws, but antiques dealers are not regulated in the United States and the government only scrutinizes pieces that are being imported or exported.
Trading in super-ancient goods has been the subject of ethical soul-searching among museums in recent years. In 2008, directors of the leading American art museums agreed to limit their acquisitions to works that had left their country of origin before 1970 or been exported legally, effectively ending their interest in most of the timeworn goods currently on the market.
But say you do want to buy a big Roman jug to put above your counter. The tricky thing in smart shopping — and in historic trade enforcement — is figuring out where the jug actually came from. For that, you would have to hire your own personal Indiana Jones.
Alluvium House [209 Franklin St. between Freeman and Green streets in Greenpoint. (917) 371–0448]