If you secretly suspect (as I do) that the compulsion to antique is actually, well, something of a sickness—all right, an addiction—then don't go to King Street in Charleston without your primary caregiver. Antiques shops line the sidewalks here; for two splendid blocks, they're packed so closely together (hang on, now) there's no room for trees.
A good choice of styles, periods, and specialties prevails, too, although Charleston is surely Great Britain's last American outpost. (The very name, King Street, should tell you something.) To call this city conservative would be to indulge in very British understatement. Imagine hordes of Staffordshire figures, mountains of Sheraton chairs, Georgian silver as far as the eye can see—and every piece painstakingly labeled as to date, style, and origin.
Despite all the dignified merchandise, however, even the priciest spots have back rooms with enough leftover auction lots to tempt the most discerning of junk pickers: a $12 piece of beaded fruit, for example, or a $35 tumbler from Wendell Willkie's presidential campaign. Here, then, the compulsive antiquer's guide to seeing it all in Charleston.
154 King St.
The land of Greek key and acanthus-leaf motifs: American 18th-century serpentine sideboards, George III architect's tables, Charles X ormolu candelabra, plus achingly tasteful architectural and landscape prints. Classical, down to the background music on the stereo.
179 King St.
Exactly that: mahogany linen presses, chests on chests, and tea caddies, as well as staid polished-brass candlesticks and Staffordshire dogs. Toward the rear of the store, check for the odd Edwardian table or silly birdcage.
155 King St.
Very choice, very pricey late-18th- and early-19th-century American designs—be prepared to write that check for upwards of $7,000. But for that you get furniture, especially the Southern sort, in glorious condition.
GOLDEN & ASSOCIATE
206 King St.
Specializing in huge gilt mirrors, brass and crystal chandeliers, brass andirons, and paintings and prints of Charleston—all from local houses. The look here is exceptionally Southern.
HELEN S. MARTIN
169 King St.
Don't be fooled by the ladylike name. This shop bristles with firearms, wicked-looking swords, and volumes on military history. There's also an autographed sepia photo of tenor Lauritz Melchior, in full armor, holding the Grail—yours for $195.
16112 King St.
A combination English furniture and china shop, crammed with sets of Chinese export porcelain—Rose Medallion, Canton, and Fitzhugh—all exhaustively labeled.
194 King St.
The buyer for this little jewel turns up wonderful decorative objects that veer from the classical (a pair of gray-and-white striped marble obelisks, $590) to the never-before-seen-in-the-South (a Dogon granary door carved with ancestor symbols, $485).
204 King St.
Medical antiques predominate here: you'll find enough scary 19th-century syringes, saws, glass eyeballs, and metal pincers to make you sincerely glad to be alive now. There are also plenty of easy-to-live-with objects, such as apothecary jars and postal scales.
190 King St.
Your New Age guy store—no dead animals or guns allowed. Plenty of crusty old fishing reels, lures, nautical items, and hunting relics, though, to distract the sportsman while his wife shops the rest of the street.
JOINT VENTURE ESTATE JEWELERS
185 King St.
800/722-6730 or 803/722-6730
A showcase for jewelry, old and new, all on consignment and bearing both an appraised and a "liquidation" (selling) price. You can find Victorian gold and seed-pearl pins ($135) or a 1920's mine-cut one-carat diamond and sapphire ring ($3,400). Overheard sales pitch: "There's nothing wrong with this stuff. These sellers are just really, really motivated."
RIDLER PAGE RARE MAPS
205 King St.
Neatly Velcroed to the walls are scores of unframed maps, some old and rare. As you might guess, geographical divisions tend to emphasize North-South distinctions. Civil War buffs, get your battle plans here.
funk for sale
If it was made before 1960, has three out of four legs, and hasn't been washed, repainted, or dusted, it's just right for this group of stores, which manifest a very loosey-goosey definition of antique.
152 King St.
Gently flaking painted furniture, screens made from old fabrics, and empty gilt frames leaning moodily against the walls—a decorator's delight.
ARCHITRAVE 153 King St.
Some of the sale old same old here (a clunky American Empire stenciled chest with Sandwich glass pulls goes for—whew!—$15,000), but also a big stash of painted furniture from the forties and fifties.
200 King St.
The walls are deep pumpkin, the sophisticatedly shabby goods look old but may not be, and the young owners pride themselves on turning over their inventory every few weeks. They're having fun, and the shop looks it.
159 King St.
A spiffy Bohemian sky-blue-glass chandelier lords it over a clutter of textiles (old chintzes, damask curtains), bamboo furniture, and iron urns and other Charleston garden flotsam.
201 King St.
Itching for that flea market feel?Here are the beaded bags and Vargas girl illustrations you long for. All color-coordinated, too, in case you specialize in orange or turquoise.
VERDI ANTIQUES & ACCESSORIES
196 King St.
A distinctly feminine selection of French prints, tortoiseshell boxes, and ormolu candlesticks.
off king street: the best antiques mall
2037 Maybank Hwy.
A rarity—a clean and quiet group shop of 40 or so dealers selling actual antiques, carefully arranged in roomlike groupings. Be sure to make a pit stop at the nearby ST. JOHNS ISLAND CAFE (3140 Maybank Hwy., Johns Island; 803/559-9090) for burgers served with "sodbusters," huge slices of nicely fried potatoes. And don't drive away without some fresh cinnamon rolls and chocolate truffles.
other malls worth checking out
These are mostly stocked with the usual repros and kitsch, but time your trip right and you could uncover greatness.
GREY GOOSE ANTIQUES MALL & AUCTION GALLERY1011 St. Andrews Blvd.
803/763-9131 Forty-five dealers.
401 Johnnie Dodds Blvd.
803/849-1744 Sixty dealers.
2241 Savannah Hwy.
803/766-8899 Eighteen dealers.
Welcome to Othello and Desdemona's palace. At CHRISTIAN MICHI (220 King St.; 803/723-0575), women's fashions of the most sophisticated sort—designs by Barbara Bui, Karl Lagerfeld, and Ann Demeulemeester—share space with Venetia Studio silk chandeliers, Carlo Moretti glassware, and Anachini Italian bed linens.
For men (and tweedy women), BEN SILVER (149 King St.; 800/221-4671 or 803/577-4556) has an amazing assortment of veddy, veddy British blazers, blazer buttons, and club ties. Catalogue available.
To refuel without leaving the playing field, try BAKERS CAFE (214 King St.; 803/577-2694; lunch for two $20), which offers that increasingly rare edible, eggs—Benedict or poached a dozen other ways. There's an old-fashioned Monte Cristo sandwich, too, as well as salads, scones, lemonade, and iced tea.
For dinner, head to ANSON (12 Anson St.; 803/577-0551; dinner for two $35) to eat Low Country barbecued grouper with grits, fresh pear, and sundried apricot chutney, or to CAROLINA'S (10 Exchange St.; 803/724-3800; dinner for two $45), home of Jamaican jerk pork with plantain jam, and crawfish tails over linguine. Book early; it's always busy.