Published: April 28, 2020
As Mother’s Day approaches, Antiques and The Arts Weekly is starting a new annual feature of paying tribute to women antique dealers by speaking to their sons and daughters for memories, anecdotes, words of wisdom shared and lessons learned. The name “Berdan” is one with whom anyone who has been in the antiques business for any amount of time will be familiar. Charles “Butch” Berdan, is in partnership with his husband, Tom Jewett, at Jewett-Berdan Antiques in Newcastle, Maine, while his mother, Betty Berdan Newsom, is co-owner of Newsom-Berdan Antiques in Thomasville, Penn with her husband, Michael Newsom. We reached out to both of them to reminisce.
How did your mothers get their start dealing antiques?
CB: My mother got started in antiques as a young girl. Her mother, my grandmother, Marjorie McLean started a business in Hallowell, Maine, in the 1950s. My uncles, Christopher McLean and David McLean have also been in this business forever…so you could say it’s in our blood.
BBN: It goes back to my father’s family. My grandmother was born on Mount Desert Island; she used to go back in the summer and antique in Bar Harbor. When my mom and dad were married, that interest transferred to them. They loved antiques, they did love Americana though, they did buy and sell other things, like Victorian glass. My mom had a shop at her house and we had lots of the early dealers come by. On the weekends, she went with my dad, who was a lawyer and used to work with estates…but he said he couldn’t let her buy those things from those estates.
Betty, what do you remember about being a woman in what was then an even more male-dominated field than it is now?
BBN: My first husband, and Butch’s father, Charles Butch Berdan, was a really good picker. A lot of men liked to deal just with men. We had one customer, a really good customer. He would ask about prices but he would never buy from me, he would wait until my husband was around to buy from. I started quoting prices that were lower than what my husband had said, and eventually he started buying from me.
How old were you when you first started working with your mother? What were some of your earliest jobs?
BBN: I did work with her a lot. I used to go to her shop after school and I enjoyed the antiques but I didn’t work on a regular basis. She was a very capable mother and kept regular hours. I first took Butch to the shop when he was a week old. We had an old cradle in a warm spot that I put him in. People would come in to look around, see him and say, “Oh, that’s a real baby!”
CB: From the age of 12, I worked every summer in Berdan’s Antiques until I was about 21. When I first started working in the shop, I helped by sweeping sidewalks, dusting, washing windows, washing the floors and selling comic books…and quickly graduated to waiting on customers.
What was the best piece of advice your mother gave you?
CB: I think the best advice I received from my mother and grandmother was be honest and buy what you love. I am incredibly grateful for the life lessons I learned from both women.
BBN: My mother always said to represent things as they should be represented and to never be dishonest. She and my father were wonderful mentors.
If she were still alive today, how would she adjust to the market in the current pandemic era? What would she say about it?
BBN: She would definitely have had an opinion! She was very laid back; I had three brothers and sisters and she handled all kinds of situations with integrity. She always seemed to be calm about everything; I think she would have been great. She would have loved it that Butch was involved in the business.
Do you have a favorite memory you can share with us?
BBN: In the late 1960s, my mother had a customer – he was also a dealer – who used to come to the shop. She told him she had a sleigh he might like to buy. Well, he came and bought it, and it turned out that he became my first husband, Butch Berdan.
CB: My best memory is in 1977, when my mother purchased a wonderful folky Nantucket sleigh ride and whale weathervane from a lady who walked in to our shop. My husband and business partner, Tom, later reacquired that weathervane. It is a prized possession on so many levels.
Betty, is there a piece with special memories for you?
BBN: When I was young, I was out with my mother; we saw a rag doll with a picker that cost 50 cents. It was one of my favorite things and when Butch was older, he said he would buy it if I ever wanted to sell it. I ended up giving it to him for Christmas one year.
-By Madelia Hickman Ring
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