Sterling Glass has built a nice appraisal business in her small Virginia town. She's sought after to examine antiques, research their history, present her clients with approximate values, and help them distinguish good antiques from not so good ones. And when family skeletons are unearthed among the heirlooms, she is the soul of discretion. It's a world she navigates with ease.
But that's before she's called in to examine a diamond brooch found tucked inside an oven mitt over at the Salvation Army thrift store. And before the appraisal of an extremely modest estate turns up a tea urnhidden inside a basketworth at least fifty grand.
Things aren't adding up, and Sterling, never one to let go of loose ends, starts asking questions. It's not long before she uncovers an intricate plot involving a slew of antique pieces, the oldest families in Leemont, some sophisticated scammers, crooked antiques dealers, and shifty people at the best New York auction houses. Add to that one elderly man who's just trying to preserve his family's treasured collection of bronze and ivory Art Deco sculptures, and suddenly Sterling finds herself ensnared in a mystery laced with greed, deceit, and danger.
Stealing with Style, the first in the Sterling Glass series, introduces a writer of great wit who has a grand sense of the mystery hidden in our most treasured possessions.
About the Author
Emyl Jenkins is a longtime antiques appraiser. She has worked at two auction houses and has written numerous books and articles on antiques, as well as a syndicated column. She is the author of Emyl Jenkins’ Appraisal Book, Emyl Jenkins’ Southern Christmas, The Book of American Traditions, and From Storebought to Homemade, among others. She lives in Richmond, Virginia.
Read an Excerpt
I've made a lot of mistakes along the way because I've spoken first and thought second. Like when I agreed to write a column on antiques for a newspaper syndicate. Deadlines, questions almost impossible to answer in just a few words, plus all those letters about things that are no more than a few years old. Seems most people think anything that belonged to their granny is an antique. Not so. Any lawyer will tell you an object must be at least a hundred years old to be an "antique," and connoisseurs insist that true antiques predate the 1820s or 1840s when new machines and tools eliminated a lot of hand work. Yes, I should have thought first and spoken second.
But probably my biggest mistake was the time I said, purely matter-of-factly, "Invite me over to see your things one day and after about thirty seconds I'll know all about you."
I wasn't bragging or trying to be smart. Honest. I was just making casual cocktail-party conversation. But from the horrified look I got from the well-heeled couple I had hoped would be my clients, I knew that not only had I said the wrong thing, I'd scared them half to death. Every family has more than its share of skeletons, if not in their closets, then in their grandmother's trunks — skeletons they want to stay put. But, you see, I'm an appraiser. People not only invite me into their homes to look around, they pay me to tell them all about their things. Along the way, I can't help but uncover their deepest secrets.
I don't need to dig around in musty old trunks to learn about my clients, and I certainly don't need tarot cards. Just a glance around the room tells me everything — whether they're educated or self-made, if they've traveled or stuck close to home, if they're rich or poor. Where there's money (and there usually is in the houses I'm paid to visit), it's easy to tell if it's old money or new. The evidence is all right there. It's in the books people put out on their coffee tables, the pictures they hang on their walls, the lampshades they buy, the figurines they display in their corner cupboards. It's in their choice of the corner cupboard itself — antique or new, plain or fancy, traditional or modern. Yes, people lay their lives out in their homes, just the way Granny used to do when she hung her laundry out in her backyard for all to see.
In my profession I'm surrounded by lust, greed, envy, sometimes even malice — the latter usually when I'm not looking. But what do you expect when antiques bring such big bucks? Oh, those treasures from the past may exude an air of gentility and sophistication, but the truth is the antiques market is a lot like the stock market. Glamorous on the surface. Sizzling and seething just one layer down.
Think of it this way. Crime, they say, follows money. If crime can happen on Wall Street, and we know it does, then anything can happen just down the street from you in antiques malls and shops and auction houses. Money breeds greed, and greed lurks behind every door on every street in every town. I've seen it almost daily when doing appraisals for the rich, the very, very rich, the wannabe rich, and sometimes just nice, simple people who have watched Antiques Roadshow one time too many. What they all have in common is the hope that their things will be valuable.
Even my friends working at the auction houses and museums find it's hard to be around fabulous objects when they can't afford them. The waters get murky, malice sets in, and sometimes they take what they can't afford. I say they're just "stealing with style."
I'm no goody-goody myself. I have expensive taste in clothes, jewelry, and, of course, choice antiques. Occasionally I, too, lust after something I've seen and can't afford, or can't have. But a little lusting is as far as I go. I have a perfectly good life as an appraiser tucked away in Leemont, Virginia. Anyway, I don't think I'd be a very good thief.
I've learned, too, that if I wanted to stay in business, I had to keep the deepest, darkest secrets to myself, especially since I ran in the same social circles as my clients, thanks to my former husband. Which also explains how I got my name, Sterling Glass. I know the chance of an antiques appraiser having such a name is a stretch, but I came by it honestly. I was born to older parents who figured there wouldn't be any others, and they stuck as many names on me as they could, including my father's. I was christened Clara Elizabeth Sterling Smith. Then I married Hank Glass, listed in the First Families of Virginia as Henry Ketchington Glass V. Twenty years later, when the marriage shattered (no pun intended), I kept the Glass name, partly for my son's and daughter's sake and partly for my own. In Virginia, giving up the Glass name would be like giving back Kennedy in exchange for O'Malley. And I rather like my name. Those who get it, never forget it.
But there have been times when I've wished my name wasn't so memorable. Just as I've wished that people weren't quite so greedy. Maybe that's why I feel compelled to tell this story — a story that began on a late January day that started full of promise but turned into one of those days. A day that began unraveling my trust in human nature right in my own hometown and in the very heart of the antiques world, New York. A day that turned my nice quiet life into a mess that I've never quite recovered from.CHAPTER 2
Dear Antiques Expert: My grandmother has an old quilt from the 19th century. It doesn't look like the ones I usually see with various patterns all mixed together. Some of its squares have birds and one even has a house on it. Does this make it more or less valuable than those patchwork quilts?
You have an album quilt. While the majority of Victorian quilts were "crazy" quilts, made of fabric scraps randomly pieced together, album quilts were carefully designed and skillfully executed. Their squares often depicted objects and scenes native to the particular region — flowers, birds, and log cabins, for example. Whereas a crazy quilt usually sells for a few hundred dollars, much rarer album quilts often bring tens of thousands of dollars.
I'd just e-mailed my column off to my editor and was three-quarters out the door to do an appraisal when the phone rang. Any sensible person would have let it ring, but since my next job usually comes from the voice on the other end of the phone, when Ma Bell beckons, I hop-to. I had bought one of those little black boxes that flashed the caller's name and number across the screen. Trouble was, some of my best clients lurked under the pseudonyms "Unavailable" or, my favorite of all, "Personal Adviser." This time the caller ID said simply "Private."
"Sterling Glass," I said impatiently.
"Ms. Glass, you don't know me," the man on the other end of the line began, his thick Brooklyn accent unmistakable. If I hadn't been in such a rush to get to my morning appointment, I might have been tempted to tell him that lots of people I've never met call me for professional reasons.
"I'm not looking for the usual sort of appraisal, the kind where you've got an antique and you want to know what you can sell it for," he said. "I've got these old molds that can be used over and over to make new stuff." He stopped and took a rattling smoker's breath. "I need to know what they're worth — commercially. In commerce," he repeated.
"As much as I'd like to help you, I'm not sure if I can or not, Mr. ..." I paused, thinking, in my rush, that I'd missed his name.
"Hobstein. Solomon Hobstein," he said, wheezing.
"Mr. Hobstein. It'll depend on what kind of molds you have."
"They're wonderful molds. Beautiful molds."
"I'm sure they are. But what were they used for? Or are they still being used?"
"I'd rather not discuss that over the phone," Hobstein half-coughed, his voice now little louder than a whisper.
I glanced at my watch. Mrs. Markus was known for her promptness and I had no intention of being late. And I wasn't sure that I really wanted to hear any more from someone who sounded as if he might expire at any minute.
"Mr. Hobstein, I'm really sorry, but you caught me on my way out the door. Could I call you back later in the day? Or ... you could call me."
"I should be back around one, maybe one thirty."
"Okay," he said, and without as much as a good-bye hung up.
For the second time that morning, I started out the door.
True to her word, Mrs. Markus wanted only three items appraised.
Most people would tell me they just had a handful of pieces and that it wouldn't take me more than an hour. Then once I was in their homes they began pulling out things that hadn't seen the light of day for a decade or more. I called these the "mightaswells," as in "While you're here, you might as well look at ..." Add a few mightsaswells to the mix and the hour-long job quickly became a full day's work. Chipped china, faded samplers, torn maps, broken furniture — there's no end to what people have. And there is no end to where they hide the things they think are valuable — in empty egg cartons, behind TV sets, underneath radiator covers, stuffed down in the toes of old shoe bags, even taped inside the bathroom commode tank.
Then again, there was the time I found the family cat eating her Meow Mix out of a Steuben bowl worth upward of a thousand dollars. And the day that I found an exquisitely beautiful 1708 Queen Anne sterling silver teapot being used by the five-year-old at her dolls' tea party. It later sold at auction for something around eighteen thousand dollars, dents and dings and all. No, people have no idea what they have.
But Mrs. Marcus belonged to that rare breed of woman who threw the morning paper away the minute she finished reading it, whose hair was always in place, and who meant what she said. Of the three pieces she wanted me to look at, her four-poster mahogany bed and drop-leaf dining-room table were fine-quality old reproductions, the kind lots of people would already call antiques even though they were made in the 1920s. The walnut corner cupboard was a good mid-nineteenth century antique. All were simple, straightforward pieces that only needed measuring, describing, and valuing for insurance purposes before being shipped off to a niece out in Oregon.
I was in and out in an hour and five. That left plenty of time to make a quick run to the Salvation Army's Ye Olde Thrifte Shoppe and still get home before the one or one thirty time I'd mentioned to Mr. Hobstein. Very best of all, I'd been paid on the spot. I had unreportable cash in hand.
FRIDAY MORNING WAS the best time to drop by Ye Olde Thrifte Shoppe. By then the good things that had come in during the week had been tagged and put out for the weekend shoppers. Since most folks didn't start wandering in the store until at least noon, there was plenty of good picking. But it was also the best time to catch Peter Donaldson at work. He was seldom to be found after one or two on Friday afternoons, and he rarely showed up on Saturdays — especially if he'd been to an estate sale early Saturday morning. I had a feeling that many Friday nights Peter never got to bed. Crowds started gathering as early as 2 or 3 A.M. for the very best Saturday morning house sales, and Peter was usually the first in line.
He had been my dearest friend since he moved to town about three years ago — just about the time my divorce came through. I called him my salvation, and with good reason. Peter's deliberate ways and calm nature slowed me down. And he was terribly attractive.
Peter Donaldson was not your usual store clerk. He'd inherited money and land from his grandfather and married a socialite, Emily Butler, finished Yale Divinity School, and had become an assistant rector at an old Episcopal church down in Charleston by the time he was twenty-seven. The congregation was so fond of him that when the church's pastor retired, Peter took his place. Then one day Peter Donaldson showed up in Leemont. Gossip had it that he'd left the church when his wife's untimely death shattered his faith. He was, they lamented, only in his early fifties.
Others, less kind, said that the Virginia aristocrat who was accustomed to getting everything he wanted, became disillusioned when he learned, secondhand, that he was not going to be nominated for bishop coadjutor of the diocese.
I came to know Peter about six months after he moved to town. We had met earlier. Every meddling matchmaker in town had tried to pair me with this pleasantly attractive man with no children and courtly manners who was five years my senior. Sounded perfect. But it went nowhere — until the day I was going into Cotswold Antiques and Peter was coming out. Left to our own devices we struck up a conversation and continued it at Rumors, famous for its delectable bread pudding doused in strong whiskey and topped off with rum raisin ice cream. Soon we were chatting like lifelong friends. Looking back, I can say that. At the time his forthrightness caught me by surprise.
"I had to leave Charleston after Emily died," Peter said in his unhurried Virginia drawl. "I was already questioning how much longer I could remain in the church. Emily's death threw me over the edge."
"Charleston's so beautiful, though," I said, trying to make the conversation a little less personal.
"True. And at times I miss it. But even before the flowers on Emily's grave had withered up, it seemed that every available, or soon-to-be-available, woman in town was inviting me to dinner or a concert or an art exhibit. Under the circumstances it was pretty unnerving, especially since it was my money, not me, they were after," he said with a quick shrug.
"I doubt that," I said, forcing myself to take my eyes off his melancholy brown eyes and sandy blond hair thinking how many a woman would've jumped at the chance to support him.
"No," he said. "I was pretty dark back then."
"But why move here?" I asked.
At the mention of Leemont, Peter brightened. "I've always loved Virginia, but I didn't want to go back to Lexington. This is a beautiful area, and without any family or close friends here I figured if things didn't work out I could leave. Anyway, Leemont's large enough to get lost in — but it isn't Atlanta or Houston."
Leaning across the table and flashing a wry smile, Peter said, "Bet you don't know what my day job is." He dropped his voice. "I don't tell many people."
I thought for a minute. "Haven't a clue," I said.
"Come on. Guess. You're an appraiser." He waved his forefinger to make his point. "Sometimes antiques need rescuing the same way people do."
Peter settled back in his chair and waited patiently while I tried to imagine what he might do.
I tried to think of a witty answer, but still nothing came.
"Okay. I give up."
"Not even a try?"
I shook my head no.
"Then come over to the Salvation Army shop. You'll find me in the back room sorting through things."
"You're kidding." I was too surprised to make a more intelligent comment. "Ye Olde Thrifte Shoppe? Why? I mean, why there?" No sooner were the words out of my mouth, though, than I could have crawled under the table.
Peter chuckled, obviously amused at my reaction.
"Let's get something straight first. The name, or actually, the pretentious way it's spelled," he said. "I didn't add those unnecessary es and that extra p. Somebody else did that long before I arrived." He stopped and smiled. "But you know what? That silly spelling draws folks in. I've gotten so I kind of like it. Now back to your question of why there. Not too long after Emily died, I was on my way to my office at church as usual, but I was so distracted." Peter paused. "More than distracted. Consumed, really. Consumed by my own thoughts. Anyway, I stumbled, actually, fell is closer to the truth. I fell over an old black gentleman huddled in the doorway of the Sunday school building. I don't know which one of us was more startled. We must have made quite a sight as we struggled to our feet. That's when I realized the poor fellow was wrapped up in an antique quilt. At first I thought it was just a typical Victorian crazy quilt, though even that would have been quite a surprise. But on second glance I realized that I was staring at the most beautiful album quilt I'd ever seen."
Peter put down the piece of bread he had begun buttering while talking. His hands freed up, he drew the quilt in the air.
"In one square was a tobacco leaf outlined in gold thread. In another was a log cabin that was so carefully stitched that the strips of brown cloth looked more like half-timbered wood than scraps of homespun cotton. I was speechless."
"What did you do?" I asked, secretly impressed by his knowledge of quilts.
"First I did the Christian thing," he said straightforwardly.
"I found Miss Fanny, the church's housekeeper, and we fixed Charlie, Charles Dunlap was his name, some coffee and toast and eggs. Then I asked him about the quilt. 'That old thing?' Charlie said. 'Got it over the river at the army building. Didn't half keep the wind off.'"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Stealing with Style"
Copyright © 2005 Emyl Jenkins.
Excerpted by permission of ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILL.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
"Miss Marple wears Prada! In THE BIG STEAL, Emyl Jenkins again unleashes the scintillating skills of Sterling Glass, the sexiest, savviest senior ever to sleuth her way through the intricate labyrinth of the antiques world. And when Sterling opens a musty attic trunk, romance spiced with a little mayhem is about to blossom."—Katherine Neville, author of The Fire
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Great book! I'm on a long waiting list at the library to read the next one.
I find myself looking at the antique world with different eyes. Great characters that I continue to think fondly of. This book has everything you look for in a good mystery!!!!!!!! I am looking forward to the nextt one!!!
I have to say that I was not terribly impressed with this audiobook. The premise was promising: an antiques appraiser inadvertently drawn into not one but two mysteries involving valuable silver pieces, jewelry, figurines, etc. Unfortunately, it meandered all over the place and by the time the "mystery" was solved, I couldn't possibly have cared any less. I found the most interesting part of the book to be the little "Dear Antiques Expert" questions at the beginning of each chapter. The narrator was quite annoying and I am certain her reading did not help. She. Was. Dramatic. With. Pauses. So. Pregnant. I. Smelled. Baby. Poop... Ack. Get on it already.
Sterling Glass is a sweet southern lady who makes a living appraising antiques in small-town VA;