Cape May Antique Center

The Cape May Antique Center, located on Rt. 109, on the approach to Cape May after the big bridge, has plenty of parking on a crushed seashell  lot. ANTIQUES and COLLECTIBLES, in three-foot- high letters, appear on the front and side of the battleship-gray building, itself an antique at over  100 years old. It has been a hosiery factory, a machine shop, a dry dock boat repair, and a marine supply business. Thirty years ago, it became the antique mall, and Debbie Brown, the fourth business owner, took over in June 2013. With over 70 vendors, covering 6,000 square feet, it’s difficult to leave empty-handed. There are finds for any budget, from under $20.00 to over $1,000.

There are several maritime and nautical-themed shops here. Among the treasures are ship wheels, a carved wood marlin, a lead sinker in the shape of a writhing fish, a vintage life preserver, and ship models. Pictures include the inaugural voyage of the Queen Mary II in 2004 and a painting of sirens on the rocks luring sailors with their sweet song.

Naturally, the local teams like the Phillies and the Eagles take precedence at the sports memorabilia shops. There are 1942 St. Louis Sporting News newspapers encased in plastic, and an affordable pair of Castello fencing foils accompanied by dueling masks. 

A signed and dated 1797 land grant with Thomas Mifflin’s official seal and signature is for sale. Mifflin was a signer of the United States Constitution. This item was particularly notable and priced accordingly. Yet, there are affordable ephemera, including sheet music ranging from the 1910s to the 1960s in plastic sleeves and organized in bins, perfect for browsing, along with postcards, comics, books, and more.

Colorful stained glass hangs in the windows. Seascape pictures and model ships are scattered about, and a vintage pair of water skis. There’s a whimsical collection of various cow creamers and 1950s pottery, Fiestaware and Pyrex, along with cookbooks. As you stroll, music from the 60s to the 80s plays overhead with an occasional 50s tune, setting a nostalgic mood. There’s a life-size Elvis, strumming his guitar and gyrating. Movie memorabilia, posters, CD’s, and vinyl records from every era are available. A limited-edition Darth Vader bust of the dastardly villain, complete with battle scars, is available. 

For your home bar, a basket offers beer tap handles with names like Hop Phanatic, High Point, Nut Brown—some straight out of an English pub. There’s a scatter of heavy furniture but smaller pieces are plentiful, too, and several beveled mirrors in oak frames. Then there’s the booth dedicated to experimental design with an array of melted LP albums made into “record bowls.” They are certainly unique and make a great conversation starter—or buster.

When a booth becomes available, Debbie interviews new vendors on the type of merchandise they plan to sell to prevent any overlap.  “Vendors come from all over,” she said. “Mostly Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. There are locals,  many transplants who have moved here or retired here.

If you’re looking for long-lost relatives, there are plenty of antique photographs of distant relations, some snapshot size, others enlarged to take precedence over a mantle—like one labeled, “framed picture of my mother.”

If you want to study the fashions of an era, photographs are a godsend. There were plenty of mid-century hats, gloves, even a pair of never-worn high-waisted women’s “Rogers Run Proof” panties. There are collections of Lionel trains in original boxes, college banners and vintage Christmas ornaments that evoke warm memories. There are cases filled with political buttons of smiling candidates including Goldwater, Nixon, Kennedy, and Carter. 

Jewelry is plentiful, including ropes of chunky turquoise necklaces, silver bangles, and costume jewelry. The fine jewelry includes diamonds, rubies, and sapphires, and cameos delicately carved out of shell and set in gold, some with diamond chip inserts. All are priced accordingly.

There is also “Memorial Art’’ or “hairwork” in pristine condition. Centuries ago, the practice of placing a deceased loved one’s hair into a picture or jewelry was common. Pins and rings containing the departed’s hair were painstakingly woven and sealed in a locket, bracelet, or ring. There’s a rectangular-shaped 19th century memorial-mourning picture here with an unusual application of concave glass set into a matching frame. The detailed workmanship is amazing.

Debbie sees current trends as “Anything mid-century or Art Deco. The 60s and 70s items are especially popular with people in their twenties and thirties. The Victorian and Depression-era items are out of favor, and sales on those are flat.” Although the Victorian hairwork pieces may be classified under this umbrella, many are so unique that they are quite marketable. The sleek lines and functional design of Art Deco is very similar to mid-century modern. 

When Debbie sells an item, she heads to the vendor’s booth to ensure there aren’t any gaps. “Keeping booths filled in and neat is not something most antique malls do but it’s something we’ve always done. It makes the store look better overall and even though it’s challenging  in the summer, it only takes a few moments. Since many dealers don’t live here and can only make it here about once a month, it would mean that the empty space or items on the floor that were on a sold piece of furniture could remain that way for weeks.”

 Among the most unusual items sold according to Debbie were an enormous steer made from a heavy resin and a phone booth from the 1970s that came from Mayer’s Tavern, in its former infamous old fisherman’s bar life, known then as now for scallops. But the oddest item was a Victorian electric chair used in prisoner executions. In a town riddled with Victorian ghosts, juxtaposed against opulent Victorian architecture, a macabre item like this seemed fitting.

The center is located at 1228 Route 109, Cape May. Phone 609-898-4449, email, and find them on Facebook. Hours of operation are June–
September daily from 10am to 5pm. October–May, hours change. Call or check Facebook for off-season hours.