Buying and selling antiques is in Jack Kleczkowski’s blood. His father was in the business back in their hometown of Tykocin, Poland. At age 15, Jack got his first metal detector and went “hunting” with his father; he was hooked. “My peers went out and had fun; I went out in the field, next to an old castle or place of historical import, and hunted,” Jack recalled warmly. He grew to love the thrill of hearing a beep and digging to discover treasures like old coins.
When the family came to the U.S. about 25 years ago, Jack pursued a college degree in environmental sciences and geography while his dad continued to sell antiques in his new country. Although working in his chosen field, Jack realized that antiques were his real passion. He began frequenting flea markets and antique shows, and hunting for good finds on the internet. With his wife feeling that the growing collection of Judaica, coins, watches, art, figurines and jewelry were encroaching upon their space, Jack made a decision to turn his hobby into a business. He still has a personal collection at home. But now the goods he will part with are on display and available at his store: NJ Antique Buyers, 3 East Pleasant Street in Maywood (www.nj-antiques.com).
Tykocin, Poland, is a small town but it was a center of Jewish life before the Nazi destruction. Jack said as a child he used to visit the one remaining synagogue, restored to its original beauty, which also contains a museum with pictures and exhibits. He developed a keen interest in collecting Judaica and has many candlesticks and Kiddush cups.
Jack’s Judaica collection is a trip through East European Jewish history. A Torah crown with engraving on the bottom, made in Poland by the silversmith J. Szekman, is one of his favorite pieces. Items with original Hebrew engraving are rare and twice as valuable as pieces without any. He has a pair of candlesticks made by the silversmith Fraget in Warsaw when it was under Russian occupation in 1880. A single candlestick was brought in by a seller who wanted to melt it down but instead sold it to Jack, who admits he paid more for it than he will most likely sell it for. Jack can frequently estimate the age and origin of an item from the craftsmanship. He can tell that two salt dishes he owns were made by a Jewish silversmith in the 1780s from both the style and the number engraved on the bottom. Guarding the back wall is a pair of hand-carved lions, painted in gold, bought from a New Jersey family who got them from an old synagogue.
Buying antiques and vintage collectables is an art in itself. People bring their items to Jack for an evaluation, and he travels to families moving or getting ready for an estate sale. His business associate, Gordon Breslow, who also works in the store, helps with appraisals, especially American antiques. Now 62 years old, he has been a collector since his teens. The two became friends after meeting in a Paramus antique shop five years ago and went into business together as NJ Antique Buyers in November of 2015.
Jack is often called upon to appraise artwork. “Sometimes I have to do a little research if I’m not familiar with the artist,” Jack explains. “Some people know what they have. They bought a painting at an auction 20 years ago and they want to see if it is still valuable today or if it has dropped.” An undiscovered Picasso has yet to fall into his lap, but Jack said if he came across something very valuable like that he would refer the owner to a big auction house.
Jack’s customers are collectors and people shopping for unusual gifts or interesting pieces they can use. Today, the mid-century look is very popular—acrylic, Lucite and Danish 20th-century modern. To be considered an antique, an item has to be from the turn of the 20th century or older.
With Chanukah approaching, you may find the one-of-a-kind gifts you’ve been searching for at NJ Antique Buyers. Or maybe you’re ready to have Jack look at the boxes of family heirlooms that have been taking up too much room in your basement. “I have gone to people’s houses to help them and they go through their things and cry,” he said. “They’ll say ‘I haven’t seen this uniform or that collection for 10 years!’ It can get very emotional. But when they sell to me, they know their things will find a new home, and someone will cherish them a little more.”
By Bracha Schwartz