Treasures on the Eastern Shore

If you love antiques, come to Crumpton Auction. Then follow our small-town shopping trail to great finds big and small.
Les Thomas

If you're looking for a used traffic signal or a folding bathtub, too bad. "Going once. Going twice. Sold." Those two oddities have already gone to winning bidders this morning at one of the largest weekly auctions in America in tiny Crumpton, Maryland.

"You see almost everything here," antiques dealer Paulette Lawing says as she walks across the vast auction grounds at the edge of the Eastern Shore town, which claims only one blinking traffic light of its own.

Something for Every Bidder
Stacks of silver cutlery. Piles of pocket watches. Lunchboxes. English coins. Irish crystal. Stained-glass lamps. Three simultaneous auctions start at 9 a.m., and auctioneers on golf carts keep the pace moving at a frenzy. Bidding starts at $10 in the lowest price outdoor area, where there are random flea market-type items from tools to televisions. Everything inside the football field-size building and spread across 15 acres outdoors will be sold today.

"It's sometimes hard not to bid on things that you see," says Paulette. She and her husband, Al, own Easton Maritime Antiques and attend the Wednesday auction regularly. They made the 35-mile drive from Easton this morning to give me an insider's view. The Lawings recommend that you get here early (the grounds open at 6 a.m.), pick out thingsyou like, set a limit, and don't overbid.

"The bidding goes fast," Paulette says. "Once Al and I found ourselves bidding against each other." Although many of the buyers and sellers are dealers, anyone can bid, and individuals are often winners.

A History of Auctions
Rows of corn and soybeans cover the fertile farm country of Maryland's Eastern Shore, but Crumpton's fields have been sprouting chests, tables, chairs, and thousands of other household goods since the auction started in 1945. Norman Dixon bought the business in 1961 and runs it with his son, Jesse, and grandson "Little Norman" Gustafson, who are both auctioneers.

Norman advises newcomers to watch out for damaged items and reproductions and tells them "they shouldn't spend too much money unless they've got somebody to give them some advice."

Although the only thing I buy today is a tasty breakfast prepared by Amish cooks at a restaurant on the grounds, the auction is fun to watch. I'd come back at the drop of an auctioneer's gavel. Other travelers are drawn to the area for the sailing and the salty crabs fresh from local boats. But to me, some of the true treasures of the region are the antiques, collectibles, and folk art that fill shops in almost every town. They are clustered like pearls along the edge of the Chesapeake Bay in Talbot, Kent, and Queen Anne's Counties.

On the Trail of Antiques
From Crumpton, I spend two days traveling through Chestertown, Centreville, Easton, Oxford, St. Michaels, and Queenstown. I overnight at The Inn at Easton, then browse among shops downtown.

Brass telescopes and navigation instruments gleam throughout the Lawings' shop. A pond model sailing ship built in the early 1900s graces the front window, and an 18th-century English swivel gun sits among books and paintings.

Many of the shops line Harrison Street, and antiques aren't all you'll find there. Mason's restaurant is popular for corn-and-crab soup and other seafood specialties served outdoors in a garden. Locals also like Legal Spirits Tavern. After lunch, head to Goldsborough Street to check out the painted furniture at Pauline's Place.

At midday, I take the short drive to Oxford to see the shops there and have crab cakes at the antiques-filled Robert Morris Inn. At Americana Antiques, Rusty Donohue shows me the amazing carousel horses, ships' figureheads, and other carved figures that he's spent a lifetime collecting. I catch the Oxford-Bellevue ferry, and then it's on to St. Michaels. While there, I drop in at Keepers, the local Orvis shop that also features some of the rarest carved waterfowl decoys on the Eastern Shore. Prices here can range from $80 to $10,000. If you're looking for something a bit less expensive, Albright's Gun Shop, the Orvis dealer in Easton, sells good quality reproductions by renowned carver John Clark of Havre de Grace for less than $100.

On Friday, before I cross over the Bay Bridge, I visit Chesapeake Antique Center, Inc., in Queenstown, the largest antiques store on the Eastern Shore. One of the items for sale is a $14,500 Baltimore table made in the early 1800s. Handwritten descriptions accompany every piece. "Our specialty is furniture. We go by the 100 years rule, except for Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Arts and Crafts," says owner Stephen Leocha.

I stop for lunch at Chesapeake Chicken & Rockin' Ribs, a restaurant that Stephen and his wife Kathleen run in nearby Grasonville. The couple also owns an adjoining antiques shop named Chauncey B's. Don't let the name throw you. Stephen explains, "It's named for the trash collector in my wife's hometown."

Tips for the Trail
Crumpton Auction: Dixon's Furniture, Inc., P.O. Box 70, Crumpton, MD 21628; (410) 928-3006. Held year-round on Wednesdays, except the weeks of Christmas and New Year's. The auction starts at 9 a.m. and continues until everything is sold. Winning bids have to be paid by cash or check approved in advance, and purchases must be picked up immediately. The auction site is at the corner of State 544 and State 290.

For information on Easton, Oxford, and St. Michaels, contact the Talbot County Office of Tourism, 11 North Washington Street, Easton, MD 21601; (410) 770-8000 or www.talbotcounty.md.

To find out more about Chestertown, contact the Kent County Office, 400 High Street, Chestertown, MD 21620; (410) 778-0416 or www.kentcounty.com.

This article is from the August 2002 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.