|By Eric C. Rodenberg
ORANGEBURG, S.C. — Thieves made off with $300,000 to $400,000 worth of antiques early July 29 after they stole a van and trailer from a Florida antique dealer enroute to New Hampshire Antiques Week.
Antiques dealer Michael Whittemore reported that his van and trailer filled with more than 100 antiques – including several valuable weathervanes – were stolen in the early morning hours from a parking lot of Country Inn Suites, off Interstate 65.
“Man, this could be a big hit on my career and my life,” Whittemore told AntiqueWeek. “I don’t care if they catch the guys or not; I just want my stuff back. A lot of it is one-of-a-kind stuff.”
Included among the stolen items is a cow weathervane that Whittemore, a Porta Gunta dealer for 35 years, said he bought for $28,000. “I’d be just sick if that – and a lot of this other stuff – ended up sold for scrap.”
Surveillance video at the inn showed the thieves coming from the rear of the building and driving off after allegedly hot–wiring the van. The vehicle is a 2010 E-350 white Ford club wagon van with roof rack, pulling a 2013 “Covered Wagon” 16-foot dual–axle white cargo trailer.
Whittemore said he believes the heist was a “local job.” Police told him, he said, the thieves probably had no idea what was in the van and trailer. “More than likely they were looking for televisions, electronics, you know, stuff like that,” Whittemore said. “One cop told me that it’s likely once they see this stuff, they’ll dump it in a ditch. That’s what is sickening. This is one-of-a-kind stuff that I’ve taken my whole life to collect.”
Whittemore said insurance might cover a “small fraction” of value of the stolen items. The theft is nearly three-quarters of Whittemore’s inventory, and the most valued part of his merchandise.
“I really try to load up for the New Hampshire Antiques Week, it’s a real important show,” he said. “I also do a Mid-Century and Modern show in Atlanta; but, that stuff doesn’t have near the value of the Americana I was hauling.”
Police, he said, are not accustomed to recovering stolen antiques, he said.
“They can list – and target – things like guns, electronics, things that have serial numbers on them,” he said. “But, they’re not used to Americana weathervanes, cast–iron garden pieces, and old advertising pieces … they tell me they can’t list the items on their network because there are no serial numbers … they know nothing about these items.”
Whittemore said he puts more than 65,000 miles on his vehicles going to shows each year. He has stayed in the Country Inn Suites before without any problems.
“I try to be careful,” he said. “I stay in the nicer inns – no truck stops or anything like that. I try to park where it’s lighted. But the cops say, this is the kind of place the thieves look for.
“It was a perfect set–up, the cops say, the local guys look for nice vehicles, out-of-state plates, thinking that whoever owns this is moving. The thieves target these kinds of places, police told me. It’s getting really bad; now, you have to start thinking like a thief.”
The Orangeburg Sheriff’s Department is investigating the case. Anyone having information is encouraged to call (803) 531–4647.