Published: January 3, 2012
Morris Finkel, who rose to national prominence during six decades in business on Philadelphia’s Antiques Row, died Thursday, December 22, after a long illness. Finkel, who lived in the city’s East Mount Airy section, was 88.
Since 1947, when he founded M. Finkel Antiques, the courtly, soft-spoken Americana specialist was an enduring presence in his corner store at 10th and Pine Streets, working with private clients, major museums and historical societies to help form important collections. His first passion was for American furniture and clocks.
“He loved to take a piece apart and show you its construction. He believed that to see was to know, and to know was to love,” said his daughter, Amy Finkel. The business was renamed M. Finkel & Daughter Antiques after the Syracuse University graduate joined him in 1975.
“He encouraged me to take advantage of every educational opportunity. Memorably, we studied together with Violette de Mazia at the Barnes Foundation. After I had been with him for a short time, he suggested that I pick a specialty and make it my own. Women’s studies were in the forefront and I gravitated to antique quilts,” said Amy. By the early 1980s, M. Finkel & Daughter had shifted its emphasis to antique samplers and silk embroideries, its best-known specialty.
In 1987, father and daughter purchased three important, late Eighteenth Century samplers by Mary Cooper of Camden, N.J., reselling two of them to Winterthur Museum. “It was one of our most important needlework acquisitions,” said Linda Eaton, the museum’s senior curator of textiles and the John L. & Marjorie P. McGraw director of collections.
Though he dealt in historic objects, Finkel embraced technology and never forgot that he was a merchant.
“Last month, M. Finkel & Daughter made a major sale to the Art Institute of Chicago. I called my father to let him know. First, he told me that he was very proud of me. Then he asked, ‘How long are they going to take to pay?'” Amy recalled with a smile.
During his half century in business, Finkel watched as boutiques and restaurants replaced Pine Street’s shops. In 2006, he told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “Although it’s still called Antiques Row, it’s no longer an antiques district. We have to be realistic.” By then, much of M. Finkel & Daughter’s business was conducted online, through its catalog, Samplings, first published in 1992, and at shows. Established clients accounted for most of company’s walk-in trade.
Morris Finkel was a charter member of the Antiques Dealers’ Association of American, Inc (ADA), formed in 1984.
“He was one of the most respected dealers in the ADA and a dignified, soft-spoken gentleman,” said board member Arthur S. Liverant, himself a third-generation dealer.
Morris Finkel was born in 1923 to Judith and Sigmund Finkel, antiques dealers who sold iron, cooper and brass from their Pine Street shop, Judith Finkel Antiques. He graduated from Overbrook High School and from the University of Pennsylvania, receiving his degree in 1943. As a lieutenant in the US Navy, he served in the Pacific aboard the USS Southerland, the first American man-of-war to enter Tokyo Bay after Japan’s surrender.
He met his future wife, the former Miriam Lippman, on a blind date in Atlantic City. The couple married in 1949. In addition to their daughter, they have two sons, Kenneth, a Philadelphia historian and a lecturer at Temple University, and Ned, a businessman in Lancaster, N.H.
Finkel continued to consult after retiring from the antiques business about five years ago, finding time for gardening, travel, concerts and the Morris Arboretum in Chestnut Hill, where he was a volunteer guide between 2001 and 2004. A longtime member of the Keneseth Israel Reform Congregation in Elkins Park, Penn., he served on the board of its school and was a founder of its museum.
Ken Finkel observed, “Connoisseurship is too fancy a word for dad’s kind of recognition and appreciation. Morris was not into fancy. His interests were broad, but no one would ever call him a dilettante. He weathered the Great Depression and World War II. He got from those events and from others a matter-of-factness, an understated toughness and a gratitude for the character-building qualities of challenging, unpredictable times.”
In addition to his wife, children and their spouses, Richard Braemer, Margaret O. Kirk and Tawnya Finkel, he is survived by his brother, Edwin, and his grandchildren Kirk, Ben, Mack, Liz, Kate, Abby and Molly. A memorial service was held on December 26. Contributions in his memory may be made to the Temple Judea Museum at Keneseth Israel, 8339 Old York Road, Elkins Park, PA 19027.
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