Vintage printing press block letters, all manner of retro glassware, collectibles from the Princess Diana era, and sepia-toned photographs of nameless people who likely died years ago are among the items arranged on age-old furniture inside Dale Buckley's Midtown antique shop.
And by December of this year, all those items and the rest of Buckley's hodgepodge of antiques must go. After 38 years operating his shop out of a historic home at 1965 Madison near Overton Square, Buckley is calling it quits. He's selling his inventory at half-price through the end of the year or until it's gone — whichever comes first.
"I will be 83 in September, and I've decided it's time to close it up," Buckley said. "I figured I'd be in a better position to close it myself than to leave it for my children to deal with. The business isn't as profitable as it once was, and most of my kids are out of Memphis and making more money than the shop makes."
Buckley had become known among local collectors for his focus on European antiques. In the shop's heyday, Buckley traveled to Scotland or England yearly to purchase antiques to stock his store. He'd fill a 20-foot container with furniture, silver, and other vintage goods.
"The quality of the furniture over there was outstanding. Everything about [European antiques] was appealing — the price, the quality, the quantity — and Americans have always had a love for English and Scottish antiques," Buckley said. "What I was buying overseas was from the early- and mid-1800s, while stuff available in America was more 20th-century stuff."
After he made his purchases overseas, they'd be shipped to the States by boat. The shipments came into a New Orleans port, and then they'd have to be shipped to Memphis. The whole process would take a couple of months. Buckley said his loyal customers eagerly awaited those shipments.
"It was better than Christmas when it arrived. I had customers who would call everyday and say, 'Is it here yet? Is it here yet?'" Buckley said. "I had customers who would come in and help me unpack everything, because if they unpacked it, they got the first choice."
Buckley's interest in English and Scottish antiques was piqued after his family moved to Scotland in 1959. He was doing missionary work there through his church, and he and his wife discovered that Scottish antiques were really cheap. So they furnished their home there with antiques.
"Victorian stuff was considered secondhand junk over there," Buckley said.
His family returned home to Henderson, Tennessee, in 1962, and Buckley opened a little antique shop behind their house to supplement his teaching job at Freed-Hardeman University. Eventually, Buckley retired from teaching and moved to Memphis, where he opened Buckley's Antiques in 1978.
Buckley said, as far as he knows, he's never stumbled onto an item of extraordinary value, or if he did, "I sold it and didn't realize it." But his favorite finds have always been the grandfather clocks.
"I've bought beautiful clocks of all styles and kinds and lots of great Victorian furniture," Buckley said. "And I've always loved the English Staffordshire pottery dogs and such. They're the most popular of all the decorative things that come out of England."
As for what he'll do after retirement, Buckley said he hopes to spend more time with his family.
"I don't have any plans beyond just retiring," Buckley said. "I have seven kids and 16 grandkids, so I'll be enjoying my family and traveling out of town to see them."