When antique dealer Tom Krenek holds forth in his 7501 Madison St. shop on Fridays and Saturdays, he’s always willing to take a look at an attic-found treasure and give an estimated appraisal for it.
“I don’t know everything,” he said. “I know what one guy knows – who knows a lot.”
Krenek spoke at the Forest Park Historical Society’s biannual public meeting Thursday night in the basement of their new digs at the historic St. Peter’s Lutheran Church.
A retired sixth grade teacher (who taught for 37 years), Krenek described how he caught the collecting “bug” after buying a glass creamer on a People-to-People school field trip to Budapest in 1986. He then purchased a sugar bowl to accompany it at the Kane County Antique Market, and discovered it was a piece of Heisey glass – with the distinctive tiny letter H inscribed in a diamond on the bottom.
“That was the beginning of the slippery road,” he said. “Now glass is my passion, but I don’t like new glass. I have 14 sets of dishes – many of them more than 100 years old. And one set has 700 pieces. I could hold a dinner party for 35 people.”
“Collect the things you love,” was the theme of Krenek’s talk. He described his own collecting manias: items from Chicago’s Edgewater Beach Hotel (a friend’s mother lived there for years), fringed souvenir pillow covers (they remind him of his uncle who served in the military), ethnic Czech and German embroidered linens. He also talked about the discovery of his first Bohemian-cased glass “friendship cup.”
“Now I have 83 pieces of cut-to-pink and cut-to-blue glass, which you can find at Berwyn garage sales.”
With two other retired teachers, Krenek rented his first antique spot in LaGrange and eventually made his way to Forest Park, at one time running three different antique locations on Madison Street, including Forest Park Emporium Antiques. Krenek said his grown children are puzzled by his second career.
“I’m not doing this to get rich,” he said. He advised collectors to make a careful record of what they have. “My collection is worth maybe college tuition for one grandchild.”
Displaying items by candle and flashlight during Thursday’s mid-town power outage, Krenek talked about some of the obscure Victorian table pieces he collects, including a sterling silver hooded asparagus server and an ornate sardine fork. He recommended keeping silver items in felt envelopes to reduce the need to polish them and warned about dipping items in silver cleaner Tarnex, which eats away the finish. Krenek also said he washes many antique glass items in the dishwasher.
He recommended using acid-free paper to store any paper items and to cover vintage clothing or furs with old sheets instead of plastic bags Ð “Plastic holds moisture.”
Cloth items should be washed, but never dried if a stain is still remaining. He recommends storing cloth items, such as Czech linens he collects, rolled on a cardboard tube, not folded, because the fibers will fatigue and rip.
Krenek said the internet is changing the world of antique shops. “What’s hot are vintage clothing and costume jewelry. Even furs,” he said. “What’s not hot is hand-painted china, chocolate sets, silver tea sets and cherry blossom Depression glass.” People are buying antiques at brick and mortar stores to “match the dcor of their homes,” he said. If they want to find a lost piece of Majolica glass, for example, shoppers are looking online.
Krenek said the Historical Society should be the top of anyone’s list when they’re dealing with an estate or cleaning out artifacts from a recently purchased home.
“It’s important to get the information out there. If you’re not sure what it is, or if you want it, before you throw it out, throw it our way first.”