Underground Antiques 101

Photo by Roosevelt Mansfield

I have a confession to make. It is an honest response to the idea that Mad Van deals in antiques. 

Just to note, the following statement does not reflect the significance of the items, the value, the historical importance, or the great people who preserve and cherish them. I respect it all.

I have no interest in the vast majority of antiques out there. 

They bore the stuffing out of me. I experience the limited ratio factor every time I'm out hunting. Unless I'm checking out places like Anastasia's Antiques in Philadelphia, I'm only interested in the occasional lot (auction) or a burning coal amidst a sea of antique clutter (flea markets and estate sales). 

 "So what's your thing?"

I tried out a few categories but nothing seemed to work. 

  • Oddities - Definitely in the ballpark but the experts will refute this, rightly so.

  • Vice Antiques - Love them but they are very defined and specific.

The reality is we're likely dealing with a personal preference instead of a collecting category. Yet the hamster wheel continues to spin:

"Ok. So what are your personal preferences?"

Back at square one.

Time to put a stake in the ground.

I venture forth using a term that makes sense to me:

"Underground Antiques"

Common themes rise up when it comes to the underground world I seek and peruse. Here are a few.

Sordid History

Rare Fencing Girl Print on Silk

Here is the piece that started it all for me. It's a rare Fencing Girl printed on silk from the early 1900s. Original framing and everything.

So the piece looks old, with a woman posing, and the scene is a bit unusual. Nothing too over the top. But this piece comes directly out of the secret erotica underground, right in the heart of the Victorian period. 

Take a look at the image again. She's not a fencer. Everything is placed strategically. No accidents with this one. 

Now the fun part. Where was this hanging? And who was hanging it?

I know where it's hanging now. 

Classical Demented

Classical Roman Print of Funeral Procession

Several years ago I was talking to my grandpa about the Villisca Axe Murders of 1912. As I described the events he didn't bat an eye, even though he felt it was a terrible tragedy.

"That kind of thing happened back then."

He then told a story from when he was a boy in rural North Dakota.

A local farmer went off the deep end and killed his entire family. An angry mob of locals gathered outside the small jailhouse. They hauled him off to a remote area and threw him off a bridge.

"Where was the sheriff?" I asked. 

"He was in the mob," he calmly replied. 

In the 1700s, art featuring pleasant views of serene landscapes populated the land of Europe. Then the above print shows up with a woman stabbing herself while her husband's body is placed in the funeral pyre. 

Phoenix Rising

Bauhaus Style Table Lamp with Shade Knuckle Adjuster

The designer of this Bauhaus table lamp spent a good amount time mixing up a new style with unique functionality. It's a killer piece in its own right. But a long time ago, this table lamp fell underground, completely cut off from light and the naked eye.

Decades later it rose up out of the ashes and dirt as something completely different. It has scars, tattoos, an eye patch and brute strength...and the original unique style and functionality.

Now it's a whole new beast.

It's as much about the rigorous journey as it is the design. Even more rare and unusual.

WTF Factor 

Creepy Vintage Face Sculpture Made of Bronze or Brass

Occasionally you come across items of curiosity and confusion. Check out the bronze (or brass) plaque with the creepy face sprouting out at you.


If it was crudely made, I might understand. But this creepy sculpture has a lot of work and detail. The artist wanted this fella to look just right. And that's just wrong. 

WTF.  Yep.

Final Thoughts

Many paths lead up from the old underground to the wicked mountain top. If you merge multiple paths, then you're really cookin' with hot sauce.

So get cookin.'

Mad Van