photograph by Stacey Van Berkel

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was originally published in April 2016 and updated in April 2018.

A collection begins simply, with a memory of a cold drink fished from a deep metal cooler, or the salt-and-pepper shakers from Grandma’s table. One Nehi bottle, one pair of piglet shakers becomes four, and soon a shelf, a windowsill, a corner cupboard, is full. We North Carolinians are seekers of sentiments and preservers of the past. This month, the Liberty Antiques Festival makes sure we find those treasures.

wooden soda crates

“Because you can’t find it anymore,” is the number one reason for collecting — like these wooden soda crates.

liberty antiques festival

Liberty Antiques Festival

Twice a year, in April and September, 400 dealers from 25 states set up shop in the field of a 100-acre family farm outside Liberty, in Randolph County. The rules for vendors here are simple: no reproductions, no crafts, and nothing made after 1975. From clocks to shawls, farmhouse furniture to military equipment, buttons to decoys, milk glass to metal signs, this event has everything you’ve ever dreamed of, forgotten, or never knew existed.

April 27-28, 2018. 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: $7. Parking is free.

antique aprons

From the ’30s to the ’60s, aprons were found in every kitchen drawer.

metal lawn chairs

Sit a spell

Once upon a time, metal lawn chairs were unremarkable, purely practical. To a collector, they’re a beckoning rainbow for a patio or backyard fiesta, a screened-in porch or chili cook-off. Sit, lean back, bounce. One thing hasn’t changed, though: Blue or yellow, they’re still metal. Watch the sun. Don’t burn your backside.

antique quilts

Bedtime story

Old or new, faded or bright, handmade quilts and coverlets have long been a household staple in North Carolina. Feed sacks, farm clothing, dish towels — whatever hadn’t fallen apart was snipped and sewn into a thin or thick quilt. Folded at the foot of a bed, within a cedar chest, or on the back of a chair, stitches and squares and downy batting are the stuff of warmth, comfort, and history.

church hats

When is a hat more than a hat?

Antiques markets aren’t just for collectors and decorators. Theater groups and drama departments come to expand and fill gaps in their costume rooms. Young clothing designers and fashion-forward individuals rummage through racks for the one-of-a-kind article of clothing that completes their look. Milliners, embroiderers, and textile artists know “church-lady” hats are always in style.

tobacco tins

Put that in your pipe …

In a state whose history is inextricably linked with tobacco, old tins of golden leaf products invariably tempt collectors. Bearing the names of Sir Walter Raleigh and George Washington, Big Ben and Dill’s Best, the dented, dinged, colorful, and colorfully named containers hark back to bygone days. Do you have Prince Albert in a can? Then you’d better let him out!

flower glasses

You didn’t even know you needed it

… until you spied that set of glasses that held Boscul peanut butter in the ’40s and ’50s. Some can be had for as little as $8. The most expensive one purchased brought a record $3,800. How does your garden of glasses grow?

porcelain brooches

Portraiture in porcelain, pearl, shell, stone, and ivory

Before updos had a name, jewelers were fashioning profiles onto brooches and pendants. The delicate, intricate artistry speaks to a genteel era of manners and propriety. Encircled in filigree or gold roping, the cameos are beautiful on a bed of velvet, framed under glass, or worn precisely as they were originally meant to be: pinned to a collar, fastened to a lapel, or dangling on a chain.

• • •
steel toy trucks

They don’t make ’em like they used to

Before there was plastic, there was pressed steel. The Buddy L line of toys started in 1921 and, because they were virtually indestructible, they kept children enthralled for generations.

antique flags

Ev’ry heart beats true ’neath the red, white, and blue

For collectors, flags with fewer than 50 stars are prized. (And don’t bother looking for ones with 47 stars; they are extremely rare.) Flags come four ways: entirely printed; a blue field with sewn stripes; both stars and stripes sewn on a blue field; or — the most time-consuming — the stars embroidered with thread. Surprisingly, perhaps, the smaller an antique flag is, the more valuable it is. Long may it wave, whatever its age.

This story was published on

Susan Stafford Kelly was raised in Rutherfordton. She attended UNC-Chapel Hill and earned a Master of Fine Arts from Warren Wilson College. She is the author of Carolina Classics, a collection of essays that have appeared in Our State, and five novels: How Close We Come, Even Now, The Last of Something, Now You Know, and By Accident. Susan has three grown children and lives in Greensboro with her husband, Sterling.