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Legacy of quality

The Elephant’s Foot marks more than half-century of selling high-end antiques.

Marvin Ray and Ronald French have nearly a century of combined experience in the antiques business.

That experience shows in the care they lavish on the furnishings and accessories that fill the 6,500-square-foot showroom on Antique Row that’s home to their store, The Elephant’s Foot.

“At age 12, I was exposed to good things and that’s been my passion ever since is to be surrounded by quality furniture,” said Mr. French, who entered the antiques business 54 years ago.

The Elephant’s Foot is filled with furniture made a century ago and more that glows with the patina of decades of use and polish.

Back in the day, collectors filled the aisles of The Elephant’s Foot and other shops across the country.

“No, there are no collectors anymore,” said Mr. Ray.

Well, not in the traditional sense.

So, who’s buying?

“Baby boomers, who either acquired a new condo or have moved,” said Mr. French. And where collectors used to spend months or years looking for that special piece.

“Now, sales tend to be for several items, particularly when you’re dealing with furniture,” he said. “People tend to buy multiple things now.”

Antique Row increasingly has become a hub for designers, but they don’t represent the bulk of customers along the row.

“We still do 50 percent designer business, though it used to be higher,” Mr. French said.

The demographic skews older in South Florida, and that translates into business for The Elephant’s Foot.

“The collectors are getting rid of their things because they’re at the age where they have to,” Mr. French said. “Where they’re downsizing, simplifying,” Mr. Ray said.

English sideboard dates from around 1800. English sideboard dates from around 1800. “The families don’t want or the spouses don’t want it,” Mr. French said. “What do you do with all that stuff?”

“The children don’t know what to do with it. They’re more interested in their machines,” Mr. Ray said, laughing.

The Elephant’s Foot buys merchandise directly and takes items on consignment.

“Every circumstance is different. Sometimes, it’s a lot of things, sometimes, it’s a few things. Sometimes they want to settle an estate quickly,” Mr. French said.

The men place a premium on quality antiques — better examples of furnishings from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Translated: They sell objects that are not mass-produced. The market for Victorian furniture essentially is dead, especially in Florida.

Antiques are more affordable than ever, the men said.

A Dutch walnut and marquetry slant front desk dates from the 19th century. A Dutch walnut and marquetry slant front desk dates from the 19th century. “The prices have come down,” Mr. Ray said. “You can buy an antique for less than you can buy new furniture in many cases. And it lasts.” They pointed to an Ethan Allen catalog, which listed a chest for $2,799. “These antiques by the door are $2,900,” Mr. French said, gesturing toward a pair of Hepplewhite-style chests.

“Right now, it’s all out of whack. People don’t realize the great value now is in quality antique furniture,” Mr. French said.

That has been across the board.

The Elephant’s Foot still has large selections of English china — think Royal Crown Derby and Spode — and lots of silver — there was a spectacular 18th-century Paul Storr samovar sitting in a case during a visit early this summer.

This English tea caddy is clad in tortoise shell. This English tea caddy is clad in tortoise shell. And there will be collectors for those — after all, the best of the best still sells.

So what if you have Mother’s Rosenthal china or her Rose Point sterling?

“If you have it, use it. If it breaks, then so what?” Mr. French said.

After all, as they pointed out, prices are down.

People tend to be more casual these days, too.

“They don’t want dinner services, they don’t want crystal. They don’t want anything that can’t be put into the dishwasher,” Mr. Ray said.

And, unless that silver is Tiffany, Georg Jensen or some great antique, in all likelihood, it will be scrapped the next time it goes on the market.

“If it’s good quality, good lines, it’s going to sell,” Mr. Ray said.

“Functionality is a big deal, too,” Mr. French said.

This Biedermeier buffet was built around 1850. This Biedermeier buffet was built around 1850. But so is beauty.

“It’s amazing how many people come in here and when they leave, they say, ‘I feel like I’ve been in a museum.’ We get so many compliments on the merchandise we have,” he said.

And sometimes, those compliments translate into cash.

“The public is all over. Everything is cyclical. Staffordshire, chandeliers, Rose Medallion. It’s just this business is not predictable anymore. We don’t know what to present to our customers,” Mr. French said.

Maybe all that matters is offering the best.

“We’re still enthusiastic, we still enjoy what we’re doing. We’re optimistic that it’s going to continue,” Mr. Ray said.

Trust your instincts, they say.

“If it sings to you, then you know you like it,” Mr. French said. ¦

— The Elephant’s Foot, 3800 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach 561- 832- 0170 or

Meissen figures were made by one of Europe’s finest porcelain factories. Meissen figures were made by one of Europe’s finest porcelain factories.

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