Over Forty Years of Experience

The Philadelphia Show Virtually is now open, through April 30th! Visit our booth, here.

One of the questions David is frequently asked is “how did you get started as a dealer?”.

Coming from a family of collectors, in David’s case it’s less about how and more about when he began his career. Shown below is a 13-year-old David Schorsch at the 1977 Philadelphia Show, then known as the Philadelphia Antiques Show, holding a Columbia Hose Company fire parade hat and wearing a businesslike plaid jacket and expression to match.

13-year-old David Schorsch with his parade fire hat at the
1977 Philadelphia Antiques Show

When David was just six-years-old, his mother, Marjorie “Peggy” Schorsch (1930-2007), gave him a labeled Hannah Davis band box, inspiring him to collect early hats and hat boxes (it’s 10pm, do you know where your children are?). David recalls one of his earliest childhood memories being a trip to the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, a short drive from where he and his family lived at that time. Among the numerous of fascinating objects on display, his young eyes spotted a group of brightly painted top hats that, he learned, were worn by firemen in Philadelphia parades. From then on, he hoped that he might one day acquire an antique parade hat for his collection.

David during a visit to the Mercer Museum in 2015.

Up until the late 19th century, firefighting was a volunteer response performed by members of a community belonging to various fire companies. Beginning in the late 18th century, some volunteer firefighters in Philadelphia began to wear hats painted with their company’s name to identify themselves at fire scenes [1]. While they were primarily used in Philadelphia, other nearby cities such as Baltimore and Washington adopted them as well [2]. By the mid-19th century, these fire hats had become very ornate, showing portraits of historical figures, patriotic scenes, allegorical images, and company icons and mottos. They were made of pressed felt and featured the owner’s initials in paint on the top of the hat. Although they were in fact worn at fires, they were also worn by fire companies marching in the many parades of the period and for that reason, they are commonly known as “parade hats.”

Daguerreotype showing a volunteer firefighter in a Columbia Hose Company belt and hat.
Image courtesy www.luminous-lint.com.

Several years later, David received an unexpected gift of $500 from his great aunt—an enormous sum of money to a kid, especially in the early 1970s. There was one proviso set by Aunt Mollie: she insisted that David spend the money and not save it—she told him to “to buy something you like.” No problem!

Soon after, our young protagonist found himself in the cavernous shop of the late Philip H. Bradley in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. Lo and behold, peeking out from the top of a tall Pennsylvania corner cupboard was a blue fire parade hat painted with an American eagle. His heart pounding, he asked Mr. Bradley the price: $350. Sold. With the extra $150, David purchased a nice coaching scene bandbox from a dealer named Herb Schiffer whose shop was nearby.

Columbia Hose Company Fire Hat, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, circa 1810-1860. National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection, #2005.0233.

Similar to the hat owned by David is an example now at the National Museum of American History, also belonging to the Columbia Hose Company and used in Philadelphia during the first half of the 19th century. The imagery on this hat is similar to others in the Smithsonian collection as well as David’s example, suggesting a single artist or a local artistic style [3]. The company’s initials “CHC” are painted in gold calligraphic script on the back of the hat and the owner’s initials “J.M.I.” are painted in gold on the crown of the hat.

Back view of Columbia Hose Company fire hat, Smithsonian Institution.

Although Peggy Schosch had dabbled with antiques dealing for a number of years prior, she formally entered the business in 1975. This was also a turning point for David. Not yet a teenager, he had already experienced the thrill that comes with buying and selling a wide range of objects as opposed to collecting just one thing, such as hat boxes and hats. By 1977, David was working with his mother and decided to offer his Philadelphia fire parade hat in her Philadelphia Antiques Show booth that year. Although the hat didn’t sell initially, David learned a cardinal rule of the business: when selling, it is important to have patience and believe in your merchandise. The following year, David returned to the Philadelphia Antiques Show with his mother and this time displayed it on top of a corner cupboard, an homage to his first encounter with it. It sold for $4,000. Several years later, by then fully engaged in his mother’s business, David was contacted by the woman who had purchased it. She was interested in selling it. David gladly bought it back for $5,000 and sold it again at a modest profit, this time to an advanced collector of fire memorabilia. Today that same hat would be valued into the tens of thousands of dollars. But David doesn’t regret selling it. From one antique hat he learned a great deal about the antiques business. 

Below are some of the highlights from our Philadelphia Show booth this year.

The William Snidow Farm
Giles County, Virginia, 1855
Oil on canvas, in a period veneered frame, 20 x 29 inches
Standing Angel Blowing A Trumpet
American, Possibly New York, circa 1890
Eastern white pine (by microanalysis), sheet iron horn, original metallic gold paint, on a custom-made museum base
with hidden wheels for ease in moving. Angel: 65 x 23 x 31 in, length of horn 48 inches
Queen Anne Easy Chair Of Rare Small Size
Rhode Island or possibly Massachusetts, circa 1760-1780
Cherry legs and stretchers, maple frame, expertly upholstered
in reproduction flame stitch fabric, 49 x 25 ½ x 19 inches

Visit our booth, HERE

By Laura Cunningham, Research Associate, and David Schorsch

[1] “Columbia Hose Company Fire Hat.” Smithsonian Institution. Accessed April 22, 2021. https://www.si.edu/object/nmah_1318658.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.