by Karen Murray

     I think it is safe to say that most of us in the field of appraising have a profound curiosity and appreciation for the things of our past; the stories they tell; the lives they were a part of.

     I was very fortunate to grow up in an area rich in history and abundant with antiques and artifacts that illustrated that history. The Northeastern Region of the U.S. has been a treasure trove of early furniture, folk art, stoneware, fine art, and so much more thanks to the abundant manufacturing and craftsmanship of the region. All 11 of the Northeastern states were part of the original 13 British colonies before the U.S. won its independence in the American Revolution. It’s no wonder, then, that the quality and quantity of antiques in this area demonstrate this heritage.

Recently, I moved to the northern panhandle of Florida, and I’m realizing I know very little history of the area. It may not be the birthplace of our country, but every place has its history; it’s beginnings; it’s stories. So, I decided to learn more about my new home and how it may relate to my profession.

Rendering of Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon

     I knew Florida was “discovered” by explorer Ponce de Leon (1513) while he was searching for that oh so elusive fountain of youth, naming the land “the flower” in Spanish. However, I learned he was under the impression that this land was part of the Bahama Islands so made no attempt to settle (until years later when he arrived near Fort Myers, where he was mortally wounded). St. Augustine was founded in 1565 as a Spanish colony. Many, many years before, though, the land was inhabited by various tribes of Native Americans. At the time of European contact in the 16th century, a population of several thousand Native Americans lived in Florida, where they hunted, fished and farmed the land (until they were forced out or died from disease or warfare). There were a few disastrous attempts to settle the area due to struggles and clashes of the European powers (namely the British and French), conflicts with the Native people, and a few nasty hurricanes that ruined the best laid plans for colonization. Much of Florida remained undeveloped and uninhabitable for many years. But, alas, to the pride of many Floridians, St. Augustine, hails as the oldest continuously occupied city in America. Folks in my area of Florida will remind you though, that Pensacola is just a bit older. Spanish explorer Tristán de Luna arrived in Pensacola six years before Admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded St. Augustine. This colony endured, whereas Luna’s did not fare as well. A powerful hurricane sunk all but three of his remaining ships. Spain retained control over the territory for 200 years.

Over the next century, this area was captured, surrendered, and recaptured by competing powers. Pensacola is sometimes referred to as the “City of 5 Flags” (Spanish, French, British, Confederate and American), having changed ownership several times. During the time of British control, it is said that Daniel Boone traveled from North Carolina through St. Augustine to Pensacola, where he found a place to settle. However, his wife refused to leave her family in North Carolina and that plan was supposedly abandoned (happy wife/happy life). In 1818, Andrew Jackson captured Pensacola during the first Seminole War and the Spanish ceded Florida to the United States in a treaty that was ratified in 1821. Jackson was then appointed Governor by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. During this time, the Seminole Indians were forced out and relocated to Oklahoma. Those that refused faced many conflicts with the Federal Government over the years. In 1845, Florida was finally admitted to the Union, becoming the 27th state.

     This general timeline illustrates a very mixed and diverse cultural heritage, which is evident in many parts of Florida today. Native American town names and city streets, Spanish influences in architecture and language, Latin and Caribbean Culture in the arts and music, Cuban food, French Mardi Gras celebrations, African American cuisine, the list goes on.

Here in the panhandle, we have a rich military history as well, from Fort Pickens (completed in 1834 and one of the few Southern forts to remain in Union hands throughout the Civil War), to the Naval Air Station in Pensacola (constructed in 1914, the “cradle of naval aviation” and home to the Blue Angels) to the numerous military bases in the area. Many begin their military careers here, and many return after retirement. The beautiful “Emerald Coast” beaches may be part of the reason why. But Florida, as a whole, attracts many visitors to its coasts (with more than 8400 miles of shoreline) and to its many attractions, theme parks, fresh seafood, flora and fauna, and warm climate.

Beginning in the late 19th century, Northern states flocked to Florida to escape harsh winters (and still do). The first vacationers were predominantly wealthy travelers who stayed in luxurious coastal hotels via railways established by Henry Flagler along the east coast and Henry Plant on the west coast. The rise of the automobile made Florida available to many more folks, not just the wealthy. So, the state evolved and transformed into a melting pot of visitors, residents and passers-through.

Flagler’s Ponce de Leon Hotel

     So, how does all of this relate to antiques and appraising today? Well, in my limited time in this place, I’ve met people who have come from all over the country and people who have stayed here all their lives. Military families who have traveled the world to folks relocating or retiring here. The point is, the mix of people translates to a mix of “stuff”. I may not run into many early American Colonial furniture pieces, but I have seen relics from Japan and Africa. So, yes, it is a different mix here in the Sunshine state, but as such, I believe my experience as a generalist appraiser will prove useful.

Image from furnishmevintage.com

Specialty items you might find in Florida include oriental rugs, art deco (big in Miami), mid-century modern art and furniture (particularly with the downsizing elderly population), sports memorabilia, Japanese prints, autographed books, militaria, nautical artifacts, early souvenirs and collectibles, and more.

A wide variety of antiques and collectibles requires the expertise of a generalist appraiser (NAC has those) and an extensive network of associates and specialists (we have that too) to identify and value unique and diverse pieces. So, if you are in need of a personal property appraisal in Florida, please call appraiser Karen Murray at (610) 914-4951, and I will point you in the right direction.

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