Owner celebrates 5 years back at Lafayette Mill

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  • PHOTOS BY LAURIE GORDON Linda Mariconda, owner of Whitney House Antiques, holds a Coopers barrel-making sun plane from the 19th century.

  • Some of Mariconda's 18th and 19th century tools

  • Some of Mariconda's 18th and 19th century tools.

LAFAYETTE — Linda Mariconda is celebrating five years back at The Lafayette Mill Antiques Center and 40 years in the business.

She's well known for her very unique craft, and is one of very few women who specializes in collecting, restoring and selling tools the quality and likes of which are exceptionally rare because they were designed centuries ago. When she talks about what she does, the passion in her eyes for her trade is undeniable.

“I was introduced to the antique business by my husband in 1978. Whitney House Antiques was established in 1982 and at the time, I specialized in restoring and selling 18th and 19th Century antique furniture,” Mariconda said. “In 1982 my business was located at The Lafayette Mill Antiques Center, Lafayette.

The genesis of the tool shop occurred almost unknowingly.

“I had stumbled upon an old antique tool chest, which I was going to restore,” Mariconda said, “But upon further inspection, I was greeted with a wonderful assortment, of what I believed to be, old carpenter’s tools. As I cleaned them up, I realized their beauty and began researching and learning about the function of these old relics. I started selling them in my shop and they were immediately my best sellers.”

In 1985, she bought a private collection of over 800 antique tools from a life-long tool collector, and this was a major boon for her business.

“It took me months to research, catalog, clean and price them,”Mariconda said. “ I was overwhelmed with the amount of interest from collectors and craftsman. My tool business immediately took off.”

In 1988, in order to make these items of Americana available to a greater number of collectors and users she published her first “Whitney House Antiques Tool Shop Mail Order Catalogue”.

“It was so well received that it was hard to keep up with the orders. I had loyal customers from all over the world. It offered well over 1000 plus tools, some of which the most sought after and extremely collectible pieces such as a signed 'Erlandsen' ivory bow drill, Ca.,1700 Austrian inscribed 'Sign of Trinity' Goose Wing Axe, a solid ebony horn plane, 18th Century Ebony and Brass Brace and a beautiful molding plane made by Cesar Chelor (born 1720 in Wrentham MA), a slave owned by the earliest American plane maker, Francis Nicholson. He was freed in Nicholson's will, in which he was also given Nicholson's tools and workbench. I don’t usually have an emotional attachment to my tools, but I am sorry now that I parted with this 18th century Chelor molding plane, as very few remain. Auction estimates now are $6,000 to $10,000.”

She said, as a tool dealer, she feels as though she is a preserver of American history.

"These are our roots, these are the tools that built our country," Mariconda said. "I am forever learning about our early tradesmen and their influence on American woodworking. When I discover these tools in dirty basements, garages or barns, all scuffed, scraped and discarded generations ago, I feel honored to be given the unique opportunity to restore them 'very gently' back to their original beauty, as they once were, many generations ago. I feel like I am giving them a new life to be used and cherished for another century or more. I like to think of myself as a preserver of our heritage. The quality and hand craftsmanship of these old tools cannot be reproduced today. This is the very reason why they are so sought after by woodworkers and collectors alike.”

Mariconda's main focus/specialty now is early 19th Century woodworking tools, trade tools and agricultural implements for the collector or craftsman. She is always on the hunt to find the best quality tools so that she can keep her Tool Shop at the Lafayette Mill Antique Center constantly fresh and restocked.

“I always have on hand a wonderful assortment of over 1,000 plus antique and vintage tools for the collector and user,” she said. “I personally select all items from private collections and estates. Many are from farmers, carpenters, descendants of 18th and 19th century coopers, farriers and carriage makers and tradesmen.”

Mariconda has a great assortment of quality user and collectible Stanley planes, molding planes, plow planes, braces, levels, calipers, drills, chisels, axes, draw knives, handsaws etc., as well as other specialty trade, primitive farm implements, machinist and iron tools.

Mariconda liked her location at the Mill, but after ten years she had the desire to move around. To this end, over the years, she has had shops in many different locations and states over a span of 40 years. Five years ago, she had done her traveling and realized that The Lafayette Mill Antiques Center was her home. I have many loyal craftsmen and collectors who frequent my shop now on a regular basis to see what’s new. She now combines having the physical shop there with a vibrant on-line eBay business.

“The two keep me very busy and I love it,” she said.

As to the name Whitney House Antiques, she said that it was the name of her street when she started the business so it was a natural to parley it into the name.

The economy has had ebs and flows in Mariconda's years in business.

“For antique business to remain lucrative and profitable, you really have to stay current on trends and styles and to listen to your customers," she said. "You always have to be one step ahead. The tool business is no different. I consider the following guidelines when pricing my tools: age, condition, rarity, type of metal, type of wood and origin. Many reference books are used, to research each tool as well as my friends and colleagues in the tool world. Sometimes, a tool made of an exotic wood, such as ebony, or trimmed with brass or a rare makers name will add value”.

She said that being a women in a predominately male-oriented field, is at times challenging.

“I do sometimes take some kidding about my unusual line of work," she said. "Sometimes people ask if the tools once belonged to my grandfather or father….I say no, I have a genuine interest in learning new things everyday about the tools. I like to read and research them. It’s like a history lesson, I am constantly learning about early tradesman and their influence on our cultural heritage. I find this enlightening and stimulating.”

Mariconda has many female and male antique dealers as friends and co-workers and in the business, but none that specialize in tools.

“I am considered the ‘expert” on tools, everyone always comes to me for advice or to offer to sell me their recent tool finds,” she said.

Mariconda has sold tools to thousands of collectors, users and tradesmen over the years. She also sells to women who are interested in building and construction or carving and sculpting and some people buy her tools for decorative purposes.

“I have always been treated with respect by my peers and as an equal in my field," she said. "You have to earn respect by being honest and knowledgeable in your field as in any profession of choice. I have made many friends in this business and we still collaborate with each other when faced with a query or interesting item. I always have been considered to be the largest tool shop in NJ and one of the premier tool dealers in the country. I am a long time member of the Crafts of New Jersey Collectors of Rare and Familiar Tools Society — A Premier Antique Tool Collector’s Club and “EAIA” Early American Industries Association.”

A few months ago, Mariconda opened an Instragram store @whitneyhousetoolshop and she already has close to 500 followers. She has also had an eBay store since 2007 and maintains about 400 items on-line at all times. The sells hundreds of tools each year through www.ebay.com/str/whitneyhouseantiques

“That plus my retail location is a full time endeavor,” she said. “I am so passionate about what I do and love meeting people in person and on line to discuss the various tools, their uses and their history. I am always learning something new everyday about our forefathers."

Mariconda always interested in buying early woodworking tools, one piece or entire collections privately, from estates or collectors. If you have tools to sell or for more information, email her at lmariconda@outlook.com.

The Lafayette Mill is open Thurs thru Mondays 10-5pm. www.millantiques.com

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