Preservation Artisans Guild has a long and enduring relationship with the folks at Old Portland Hardware and Architectural, owned and operated by Bret Hodgert. We recently sat down with Bret to learn more about how he got started with this unique and much beloved local business, what his favorite items in the expansive shop have been, and what his personal collections include.
How did you get into antiquities?
When I was a kid, I really wanted to be an archaeologist. They were always digging up strange and cool stuff! There was just something awe-inspiring about investigating mysteries from the past and unlocking their secrets! Today I enjoy digging through old house and barns to discover antiques tucked away for years. Almost every day I’m struck by awe and wonder over something I’ve never seen before, whether it is an unusual rusty wing nut or a cut-crystal window refracting rainbows across the room.
Where do you get the items you sell at Old Portland Hardware and Architectural?
When I first opened the store I traveled across the country a couple of times with a box truck to find things. However, that’s no longer necessary. Now, we get most of our items within 50 miles of Portland. I get invited into a lot of attics, basements, barns, garages, etc. People send us pictures of things they have that they think we might like. Sometimes people show up with a small box or pick-up truckload of things at the store.
How do you figure out the value of historic items?
Multiple ways, every piece is different. Historic items often have a different value versus worth. Value is a varied monetary, historic, and/or nostalgic aspect of the item. While worth is really more about what someone is willing to pay for it at this time in history.
What era of items do you sell?
Most items we sell are from 1875-1945, but we also have some older antique or newer vintage items. Occasionally reproduction items come through the store, but we clearly mark them “Not Old” on the price tag.
What kinds of things do you buy?
We specialize in old house hardware and lighting, but we also purchase old industrial items and some furniture. There are always items in the store that are unique oddities that caught my curiosity.
What are some of your favorite items that have come into Old Portland Hardware and Architectural?
That’s a good question…since I’m the primary buyer for the store, I appreciate pretty much everything that ends up on the floor in the store. I can be fascinated by an unusual old plumbing part just as much by an expensive turn of the century light fixture.
A full mount taxidermy hyena, we named Terrence was definitely a favorite. He was a resident of the shop for 11 years. He has finally found a new home in the new McMenamins Elks Temple, located in Tacoma, Washington. He is one of the very few purchases I ever made at an auction house. It was a huge taxidermy collection. Out of all the taxidermy there, he was the one that most looked like he belonged in the Addams Family house. Terrifyingly cute!
Also, the 1915 Campbell “SureX” x-ray machine is one of my favorites. I love anything that has a Frankenstein, mad scientist look. It was originally ordered by an Albany, Oregon chiropractor at the 1915 San Francisco Pacific Exhibition.
Folks will notice there are a few things in the store that are not for sale. Why is that?
The name of the store is Old Portland Hardware and Architectural. It is fitting for us to have a few permanent pieces that are part of Portland’s history. These items are not for sale because we would like to ensure these pieces stay in Portland for Portlanders to enjoy. (Like the 1870’s First National Bank hand-cut oak screen pictured below.)
Do you restore antiques?
We do not do so as a service for customers. We do light restoration on some of the pieces we sell. Our standard is not to polish or do full restorations, we think items that are old should look old. We believe if you over-restore something then you might as well be looking at a reproduction.
What do you collect personally?
For years, I have been collecting small holophane lighting shades. Most holophane shades are for large industrial or commercial applications, the smaller ones often had 2.25” or 3.25” fitter necks. They are a simple shade that was amazingly well made and part of their beauty is their simplicity. In the 1912 Illumination Engineers Journal, they were advertised as the “scientific glass” because they calculated the pitch and angle of the ribs on the glass to achieve different light functions.
At home, our drink of choice is whiskey. So, my wife and I also have a small collection of pre-prohibition and vintage whiskey related items.
Your staff doesn’t come across as the typical antique store staff. How did come about?
Well, the antique world has a lot of variety and unique items, It’s only fitting that our staff fit that trend. They have a strong passion for antiques, they absolutely love antiques and the stories behind them. They all have hardware backgrounds and are very knowledgeable about our areas of expertise.
What is Old Portland Hardware’s primary focus?
We specialize in antique hardware and lighting for old houses. At Old Portland, you will find a wide variety of antique interior door plates, knobs, and mortise locks. It’s often difficult to find matching sets, however, we are able to keep several sets in stock. Our team has an in-depth knowledge of antique door hardware mechanisms and can offer installation advice. We also have a wide variety of lighting from different time periods.
The store is always so organized, tell us more about how you display the items you sell?
It’s more about how we don’t display. We’ve been to several architectural and antique stores around the county and noticed the industry standard seems to present a chaotic environment. We seek to avoid the chaos and disorganization. We believe if people can see an item clearly then it will be easier for them to visualize what it will look like in their home or business.
Visit Old Portland Hardware and Architectural, an eclectic emporium for antique lighting, vintage hardware, stained-glass windows & other funky finds at 1667 SE Tacoma Street in Portland, Oregon between the hours of 10 am and 6 pm Tuesday through Sunday (closed Mondays).
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