Out Of the Past
Tucked on the outskirts of the central shopping district of Cape May sits a quaint antique shop, Out of The Past. The owner and operator of this hidden treasure is Jeanne Hermann, a woman filled with life who cherishes yesterday’s history.
It’s amazing how such an unimposing little (24’ by 24’!) shop can hold so much. Jeanne purchased the building in 1999, and although some people thought it was folly at the time it has proven to be a worthwhile investment. She carries this same vision when purchasing objects for her business.
Jeanne’s antique collecting began as a lark while she was furnishing her Cape May home. The collecting bug bit, so she began selling antiques and collectibles in Cape May and Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She acquires her merchandise at estate sales, auction houses, antique and collectible markets, and yard sales. During her travels throughout the US and Canada she visits antique and consignment shops. “I find fun in everything I buy and sell,” she said. Her eye for the unusual, particularly in ephemera, often snags her a bargain or two. Jeanne maintains a Facebook and eBay presence and advertises locally.
Previously she worked as a Library Director in Lancaster. Using this knowledge in library science along with her history major, she became a master of categorization with a passion for preservation. She divides her time between West Cape May and Lancaster. Besides running a shop, she finds time to travel and spend time with her family and seven grandchildren.
Her home here is not only old, but once belonged at Cape May Point. It was a Montgomery Ward & Co. kit home, located on Harvard Avenue, named the “Stubborn Cottage” because of its refusal to succumb to coastal storms and erosion. Many cottages that survived would be relocated inland, and Jeanne’s “Stubborn” now resides in West Cape May.
If you are a collector searching in a particular specialty, or looking for a certain piece, speak up, because she may just surprise you as she pulls out a drawer or stoops behind a counter to reveal a plethora of items in your particular interest.
Jeanne has a passion for hard-to-find ephemera, like handwritten deeds, postcards, trading cards, stamps, and maps. She has an extensive collection of metamorphic trade cards. Popular in the late 19th century and used in advertising, the pieces change form by folding, which repositions the image along with the message. Some examples are couples or children depicted in a state of dishevelment, then expanded to show them well-dressed. Her stock ranges in price from $8.00 to $32.00.
There’s even a collection of vintage Cape May beach tags, each individually priced, and a collection of seaside postcards on a table with Scrabble game pieces spelling out the beach town. Photographs are positioned near relatable items, such as a nurse in uniform next to medicine in its original packaging. Or a children’s book, A Visit to the Hospital, written by a doctor for a young patient.
Tiny dollhouse furniture is displayed, with more tucked away in a labeled drawer. Finely painted china, depression-era glassware, sewing items including ribbons, colorful thread on wooden spools, baskets, and wooden darning eggs evokes stories.
Jeanne’s customers range in age from 15 to 80 years. The 20- to 35-year-olds have an affinity for office supplies from the 1950s—staplers, rubber stamps, embossers, fountain pens, and ink bottles. She often sells ladies’ slips from the 1950s to 1970s and even old Girl Scouts’ uniforms to teenage girls to be worn as dresses. It’s difficult to say what will sell in vintage clothing but she has discovered a niche. New York costume designers have frequented her shop, searching for clothing and accessories to use as templates in their designs. Although Jeanne has vintage patterns for sale, the designers tend to create their own patterns.
There’s a medical section complete with vintage glass syringes, pill bottles, and even scarce poison bottles. Jeanne demonstrated how one could tell the difference, particularly if grabbing a pill bottle in dim light. You’d run your fingers over the sides of the bottle for the telltale ridges. If bumpy, the contents were toxic, to be used sparingly or not at all.
Years as a librarian give her an advantage in classifying items. File drawers are labeled in groupings with contents such as the “War” drawer or the “Peoples” drawer containing plastic dolls. Other categories include Military, Political, Black Memorabilia, and Dog sections. There’s even a Death drawer with funeral bills of sale, cards, photographs, and more. She says “Sometimes I feel like when I sell something, I’m building history again.”
She recalled a Christmas Eve, close to closing, when a fellow made a beeline straight to a scraggly Christmas tree filled with vintage ornaments. He offered to buy every ornament. As she began to remove them, he said, “No, I mean the whole tree complete with the ornaments.” He paid her and left the shop with his decorated Christmas tree in hand.
Summertime is especially busy. Jeanne said, “I call it cooperative shopping. It’s a matter of adaptation. Many customers will walk one way while others go in the opposite direction. This way everyone gets a look at the merchandise.”
If you have children with you, don’t forget to ask Jeanne about her book bin, if she hasn’t already mentioned it. Every child is welcome to a free book. “I scour libraries and sales to buy reading books for all ages,” she smiles.
Although Out of The Past’s hours fluctuate throughout the year, it’s best to call ahead before visiting. It’s usually open most days in the summer from 11am to 4pm, but Jeanne still hangs her whimsical sign on the door, “Hours by Chance.” This is a must stop and a fun place to visit while antique hunting here. It is located at 394 Myrtle Avenue, West Cape May.