The thrill of the hunt drives part of the appeal of collecting antiques. The chance to discover hidden treasures and explore scenic areas is especially rich in New Mexico, with its convergence of Hispanic, Native American, and Anglo cultural influences. Along the historic Santa Fe Trail even the most seasoned collectors can get their fill of quality antiques, as well as a healthy dose of history and natural beauty.
In the 1800s, the Santa Fe Trail cut a swath across the West from Franklin, Missouri, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, serving as one of the country’s most important trade routes. Today, the Santa Fe Trail is designated a National Scenic Byway, and the towns along this old thoroughfare boast many buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.
Not surprisingly, many antiques dealers have set up shop along the route, which snakes across northeastern New Mexico. For intrepid antiquers, the itinerary provides a chance to bring home unique pieces of Southwestern history…
Scouring Santa Fe
As a mecca of art and antiques, Santa Fe is hardly a secret for treasure-hunters. The joy of Santa Fe is that it offers one-stop shopping among all three historic cultures of the Southwest. No matter how specialized your interest—from Navajo rugs to Hopi kachinas to silver spurs and Mexican tinware—you’ll find a specialized dealer in Santa Fe.
If you are building or remodeling a home, a trip to Antique Warehouse (530 South Guadalupe Street, 505/984-1159, antiquewarehouse-santafe.com) will ensure that you pull off your project with authentic Southwestern spirit. This fascinating collection of old furniture, doors, shutters, wrought-iron gates, and other unique architectural pieces from Mexico and the Southwestern U.S. exudes quality and pure Spanish Colonial style. A trip to Peyton Wright Gallery (237 East Palace Avenue, 505/989-9888, peytonwright.com) offers hand-selected decorative items—perhaps an aged Hispanic retablo, a vintage Hopi kachina, or even a stunning abstract painting from the 1950s.
For beginner and more advanced collectors of Native American antiques, Morning Star Gallery (513 Canyon Road, 505/982-8187, morningstargallery.com) is a required stop. This Canyon Road institution is one of the country’s most reputable dealers of Native American antiques, showcasing museum-quality pottery, beadwork, baskets, and many other unique pieces from native groups across the United States. For Native American baskets, head to Kania-Ferrin Gallery (662 Canyon Road, 505/982-8767, kaniaferringallery.com), which specializes in this fragile medium. For Native American artifacts, try Sherwoods Spirit of America (1005 Paseo de Peralta, 505/988-1776, sherwoodsspirit.com). Adobe Gallery (221 Canyon Road, 505/955-0550, adobegallery.com) is another reputable dealer of Native American antiques.
Fans of Hispanic art will appreciate Móntez Gallery (125 East Palace Avenue, Suite 33, 505/982-1828, montezsantafe.com), which specializes in devotional art, wrought iron, from crosses to candlesticks, fireplace tools, and large-scale architectural work pulled from the Spanish and Mexican countryside.
In addition to the shops, keep an eye out for regional and local antique shows that occur throughout the year, several of which are hosted at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe (1615 Paseo de Peralta, 505/992-0591, elmuseocultural.org). Whitehawk Antique Shows (whitehawkshows.com) produce a series of antiques extravaganzas in Santa Fe each year featuring Native American and ethnographic art. More serendipitous treasure-hunters will enjoy the region’s flea markets. Not for everyone, these extravaganzas challenge you to quickly sort the treasures from the trash.
Taking the scenic route
From Santa Fe, the historic Santa Fe Trail leads to the northeast, toward the borders with Texas and Oklahoma. About an hour’s drive to the east, the dusty town of Las Vegas, New Mexico—not to be confused with the glitzy spot in Nevada with the same name—offers many antiquing opportunities around its historic old plaza. Las Vegas has been the scene of several Western movies and counts more than 800 registered historic buildings. Located in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the town was founded by Spanish settlers and became a bustling trading center in the 19th century.
About another hour’s drive to the northeast, the town of Springer, New Mexico, boasts the curious Santa Fe Trail Museum (614 Maxwell Avenue, Springer, New Mexico, 575/483-5554), housed in a former courthouse. Clayton, New Mexico, located further to the east near the Texas and Oklahoma state lines, has a few antiques dealers with a penchant for cowboy memorabilia. The Western Treasures Antique Mall (10 Main Street, Clayton, New Mexico, 575/374-5859) houses booths with treasures from the glory days of the Wild West.
Some people are intimidated by antiquing, unsure what to select and how much to pay. As a general rule, it’s best to be as focused as possible in your search. Keep your eyes peeled for a certain type of object that appeals to you—antique coins, Spanish Colonial furniture, Acoma pottery, Mexican tinware, cowboy attire. If you’re concerned about your ability to judge authenticity, spend time browsing the collections of New Mexico’s excellent museums to train your eye.
Once you’ve decided what you want to purchase, do some research. Price guides exist for many categories of antiques, like silver, coins, furniture, jewelry, and more. Check your local bookstore or online book retailer. It’s also a good idea to check eBay and other auction websites to understand the going price for particular items.
There’s no substitute for expertise in particular areas, so be sure to talk to dealers and ask a lot of questions. Where did the piece come from? What’s unique about it? How about its condition? An appraiser certified by the American Society of Appraisers (appraisers.org) or the International Society of Appraisers (isa-appraisers.org) also can help you interpret values and the finer points of an individual antique.
Certain categories of antiques, like authentic Spanish Colonial furniture and rare Native American baskets, can command high prices and warrant special consideration by a specialist. For smaller budgets, antique drawer pulls, small textiles, and wall art can be picked up cheaply, an easy trick for bringing Southwestern style into your home. Unattributed paintings and devotional objects are likely to cost less, but less costly by no means equals less value.
The most important rule: while the fun lies in the treasure-hunting, once you find your treasure and the price is right, grab it! If it’s truly one of a kind, don’t let that piece of the old Southwest get away.
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Have you discovered a treasure while shopping in the American Southwest? Drop a comment below. I love to hear your stories!