As published in the October 13, 2018 issue of the
Antiques expert treasures his experiences heading into big auction
by Rick Shrum
Pete Chillingworth’s home was erected in 1859, two years before cannon fire at Fort Sumter kick-started the Civil War.
“Samuel and Matilda Ross built it,” Chillingworth said from the living room of his North Bethlehem Township abode. “It’s been a very comfortable house.”
Although family residences do not fall into the traditional category of “antique,” he and his wife, Cappy, occupy a home that is just that. It dates to the James Buchanan administration. And what better designation for a location that is dominated and complemented by antiques – about 1,300 of them, collectively, in the house and shop standing 60 feet behind it.
Chillingworth, 83, is an antiques connoisseur, an expert renowned locally and nationally. He has been collecting old stuff for nearly eight decades, since he was a kid in Wilkinsburg, and has adorned his property with paintings, tall clocks, cameras, tools – including 274 wood-working planes – and other items.
“My inventory is all over the place,” he admitted.
Now, he plans to sell much of it. Chillingworth, an experienced auction manager, will host “The Chillingworth Auction” Thursday through next Saturday on his property and online. He and Cappy live along Daniels Run Road, just off the National Pike – an antique among highways.
The event is scheduled to run from 10 a.m. to about 6 p.m. each day. Tools, lumber and workshop contents will be up for bid Thursday, with inventory and personal collection items available Friday and Saturday.
Many of the auction items were produced and/or sold in this region, which is not a coincidence. “I’m a Western Pennsylvania chauvinist,” Chillingworth said. “I’m particularly interested in things indigenous to this area, usually within a 150-mile radius.”
He is hoping to mostly clear the shelves, walls and cubbyholes this weekend.
“The entire contents of the shop and 75 percent of the contents of the house” will be up for auction, said Chillingworth, who tends to the 1,300 items with assistance from Joe Csolka, a Cokeburg resident who has worked on the property for nearly 15 years.
Then, at some point soon, another sale will begin: of the house, shop and 19 acres where they have resided since 1985.
“This place has been so personal for us. It’s the best place for the auction,” Chillingworth said. “I’m not willing to give up the place, but it’s tougher to take care of.”
“The place” will be the site of a major auction next week. Chillingworth will be at the center of it, of course, but not as an auctioneer. He doesn’t do that. The duty will fall on a team of three: Amelia Jeffers, a longtime friend from the Columbus, Ohio, area; Jim Frio; and Shane Stack. Two local auctioneers, Steve Yilit and Randy Shook, will be on hand to fill in, if needed.
“This is too big of an auction for one auctioneer,” Chillingworth said.
Dealing in antiques appeared to be his destiny as far back as the late 1930s. Chillingworth, who was born in Pittsburgh, visited antique stores with his parents as early as kindergarten. As a teen, after his family relocated to Beckley, W.Va., he assisted his mother while she managed antique shows. Pete eventually graduated from West Virginia University, where he met Cappy, a nickname derived from her mispronunciation of her birth name, Kathryn.
They married shortly after graduation and moved to Carnegie. Cappy, now 81, secured a teaching job in the Washington School District. (She ultimately retired from the McGuffey district.) Pete worked at several jobs, including J.C. Penney in Washington, before opening an antiques store in Scenery Hill in March 1961. The couple bought a nearby house soon afterward.
“I could walk to work,” he quipped. “Poor souls here were taking Route 40 or (Interstate) 79 to work, while I was enjoying my third cup of coffee.”
Not all of Pete and Cappy’s treasures are antiques. They nurtured two daughters and a son, all adults now and living out of state, and have three grandchildren.
Their house is easily identifiable by the appealing wooden sign out front: Peter W. Chillingworth Antiques. Tripp Kline is familiar with the Malcolm Parcell artwork, ornate clocks and other antiques inside the walls, along with Chillingworth’s expertise. Kline was a longtime auctioneer, and has known his peer and pal for two decades.
“Peter is part of a breed of antique dealers who work from their home,” he said. “That used to be a common way for antique dealers to ply their trade. They are disappearing with the internet and changes in demographics.”
Kline lavishly praised Chillingworth for his work at the Bradford House Museum in Washington. “He was instrumental in helping to outfit, decorate and furnish the museum. Pete devoted a lot of time and energy to getting the right antiques. The way the Bradford House sits today can be credited to Pete Chillingworth.”
This week’s auction, Kline predicted, “probably will be huge, one we haven’t seen in Washington County in a decade. Western Pennsylvania will see an influx of dealers and collectors who not only know Peter, but the quality he represents.”
The auction may be viewed as a last hurrah for Chillingworth. That would be fake news.
“I will keep antiquing, but on a more limited basis,” he said of his lifelong passion. His vocation/avocation hasn’t made him a zillionaire, but the experience has enriched him.
“The antiques business is a full-time job, which a lot of people don’t understand,” Chillingworth said. “I made up my mind when I was 25 or 26 that I wanted to do this.
“It’s not been as successful as I wanted it to be, but it’s been a wonderful, wonderful vocation.”