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Antiquing in New Oxford, Pa.

In with the old: a purple divan in one of New Oxford, Pa.'s numerous antiques shops.
In with the old: a purple divan in one of New Oxford, Pa.'s numerous antiques shops. (Ellen Perlman)

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By Ellen Perlman
Friday, May 7, 2010

In the back of the Center Square Antiques shop in New Oxford, Pa., my friend Paula examines a yellow wooden box near an intricate birdhouse. She admires the dovetailing that substitutes for nails and guesses that the painted design is original. She points to another feature. "It's got great hinges."

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Great hinges? Not something I've thought much about. But I do know one thing: $4,900 for an old box is out of my price range and beyond my comprehension.

I favor contemporary furniture and accessories. If I'm going to shell out hard-earned cash, I want the goods to be shiny and new. No cuts, cracks or chinks. If I find that something I've bought is peeling or chipped, I return it for a new one.

To me, therefore, antiques stores look like junk shops. Places that charge astronomical prices for dusty used stuff.

So when Paula suggested that I spend a weekend antiquing in a little town called New Oxford, home to 500-plus antiques dealers, I told her that she had to come along. Someone was going to have to explain what I was missing.

That's how we ended up in "the little town with the beautiful circle," as the Chamber of Commerce Web site calls it. We pulled into the one-horse town, nine miles east of Gettysburg, on a sunny Saturday via a two-lane road and parked in the circle, the town's center.

An orientation walk had us gazing up at the clock tower of the 1887 Emory United Methodist Church and peeking into the windows of the historic 1763 Kuhn Tavern, the oldest building in town. When we reached Center Square Antiques, Paula's heart melted at the sight of two of her loves: antiques and garden supplies. And we hadn't even gone inside yet. The grounds were filled with fountains, sculptures, trellises and large pots.

Paula exclaimed over the treasure trove. She loved a stone rabbit, among many other things. "It's somewhat realistic, but quirky," she said. "Which I can be." For a brief moment, I thought about pricing a metal trellis and plant holder for my balcony. But it was rusty.

Some people scrape off the rust and repaint, Paula explained. Others leave it as is. "If it's cheap enough, who cares? Some people really love rusty," she informed me. Hmm. Where I grew up, surrounded by Danish modern furniture, the only thing rust indicated was time for a tetanus shot.

Inside the shop, we walked among the fine furniture, clocks and stoneware. Paula pointed to a folding "tilt" table that she described as being good for small rooms. She called a metal-bar structure near the door a towel rack. "It could be," she said. "That's how I see it."

It was clear that, like the young boy in "The Sixth Sense," Paula could see things that I couldn't.

Before I knew it, we had spent almost an hour at the shop. Shockingly, I wasn't bored. But I was ready for a rest after our drive. We commandeered a booth at a restaurant called On the Square. Despite the fact that it's On a Circle. Almost as perplexing as antiques shopping.


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