my alumni experience

An Artist of Antiques

Antique Dealer Beverly Stearns Bernson '55

Beverly Stearns Bernson '55 has enjoyed a successful career doing something she loves, although it wasn't what she set out to do. As a young woman she was determined to be an artist. After graduating from Colby Junior College, she studied graphic design at the Massachusetts College of Art. Her dreams, however, collided with reality when she went to work as a graphic artist at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. This was not quite the artistic life she had imagined for herself.

Looking back on this period, she laughs, saying, “When you go to art school and find out that you're not the great artist you thought you were, you find something else.” For Beverly, “something else” turned out to be the world of antiques.

Beverly had long been interested in objets d'art, spending countless hours attending antique shows with her childhood friend Lorraine Altschuler. In 1963 the two women decided to become antique dealers themselves. Calling their business Any Old Thing, they began renting space at local shows.

Gradually they were able to expand their horizons, and by the time their children were grown the enterprising duo were displaying their wares at shows all over New England and New York City. They specialized in “smalls”—pottery, decorative arts, utilitarian items, essentially everything but furniture—and dealt strictly in Americana. All this changed, however, when they discovered London.

In the mid-1970s, the friends traveled to England to visit Lorraine's daughter, who was spending a year abroad. Here, they discovered some of the most impressive antique shows in the world, sprawling markets filled with treasures from all over. “The fun for us,” recalls Beverly, “was buying as much as selling.” And buy they did, acquiring items from across Europe, with a focus on English and French smalls. With their business now renamed Altschuler/Bernson, the duo developed a faithful clientele, managing to successfully navigate the market shifts in taste and trends.

They continued to visit England several times a year, attending a tremendous number of antique shows, including the fabled Newark Fair, which houses literally thousands of antique dealers. Beverly estimates she has made more than 60 trips across the Atlantic, often staying for weeks at a time as she made the rounds of antique fairs searching for collectibles. She jokes that their husbands, close friends, were never interested. “We could go off and travel to England. It gave us some independence.”

Sadly, Lorraine passed away in the early '90s, but Beverly has kept the business name as Altschuler/Bernson so that her friend “will be forever with me.” She has scaled back in recent years and no longer makes an annual pilgrimage to England, but you will still find her at Brimfield, the largest antique show in New England.

Reflecting on her career, Beverly says she is lucky to have been able to do something she loves. “The antique business, in particular, lets you meet people from anywhere, any age. You have instant friends—they're in the booth next to you. This business is a lot of work, but it's just as much fun.”

-Mike Gregory