In the almost 500 years since a group of Englishmen in Norfolk started riding to the hounds, there have been few technological advances in the sport. While the breeds may have been refined, horses still jump fences, hounds still give chase in full voice, foxes are still sly, and riders in the hunt still saddle up and don red. In that classic environment, vintage gear and tack is a booming business—especially across the Mid-Atlantic states, where fox hunting and competitive riding are so popular.
Most items would qualify as antique, but many could easily be classified as vintage. “We sell 40 to 50 English tweed coats a year on consignment (especially those of Melton wool) and about 350 saddles annually,” says Kerry Foster, who works at Maryland Saddlery, which has three locations, including a store in Hockessin.
And merchandise goes quickly. “In essence, we have a new store every 90 days,” Foster says.
Middleburg Tack Exchange’s Norma Thompson points out that selling riding tack and associated gear on consignment is nothing new. “We’ve been around since Jo Motion founded us in 1992,” she says of the Virginia shop. “We have used custom saddles that cost around $7,000 new, and we can broker them at half the price.”
Younger people readily flock to recycled gear. “It’s become a form of ‘green,’” Thompson says. “And it certainly is helpful for folks on a limited budget.”
Foster agrees. “This generation has figured out that reusing then reselling by consignment is one way to keep from destroying the planet,” she says.
Clothing and saddles are the largest draws in the resale business, and some can be quite old. “When spring comes, we sell tons of show clothes,” Foster says. “Kids use them, keep them in shape, then bring them back.”
There’s also a market for vintage books, prints and photos, original maps, riding accessories, and “hunting appointments” like flasks and sandwich boxes. A stroll around Maryland Saddlery’s Hockessin store offers a case in point. Among the Melton jackets and saddles, a flask from early in the previous century looks well used by its former owner, but it’s certainly worth the asking price of $52. A venerable saddle bag is $64, and one can find a seven-volume set of John Leech’s hunting novels for $131. “People love old books,” Foster says. “It gives them a feeling of what it was like to hunt back then.”
Both consignment companies report that vintage whips with antique handles, hunting horns, silver sandwich cases, and even old china are in demand. “We have people who are horn collectors who’ve never blown one,” Thompson says. “There are also hunt button collectors who look for unique insignia and design, especially those from Canada and England.”
A local button from Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds shows the face of a placid-looking fox. “Another item that some people collect doesn’t have anything to do with fox hunting, and that’s the annual Preakness glasses,” Foster says.
“This generation has figured out that reusing, then reselling by consignment, is one way to keep from destroying the planet.”
Middleburg Tack Exchange caters mainly to the English disciplines of riding. “Dressage, jumpers, fox hunters,” Thompson says. “But we also get a number of people who ride Western, especially in the online business.”
Most consignment items come from owners who are simply recycling their clothes and equipment. “We sometimes get the contents of someone’s entire tack room if they’re retiring from riding or have passed away,” Foster says.
Those who gravitate to vintage clothing and tack often have an interest in riding and hunting lore. To that end, there are several museums that celebrate such history. The National Sporting Library & Museum in Middleburg houses 20,000 books and historic periodicals dating back to the early 19th century, along with antiquarian titles published as early as 1523. The museum has a collection of 1,300 objects, including paintings, sculptures, works on paper, trophies, weather vanes, dog collars and other ephemera. Located in Lexington, Kentucky, the International Museum of the Horse has a broader reach. And for those who love the thrill of the wager as well as the ride, there’s the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville and the Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame in Goshen, New York.