Some objects are more than just objects. They can be talismans of memory and history, imbued with emotional energy, dark or light. Antiques collectors know this well, and seek out items that transport them back to a specific time in their own life or a bygone era. According to Dan Simic, the founder and owner of Rum Runner’s Antiques in Nokomis, that emotional pull is what feeds people’s passion for old objects and keeps the antiques industry alive.
Simic, who formerly practiced as a dentist, calls his antiquing a “labor of love” for which he has harbored a deep passion his whole life. A history buff, he has handled old objects since he was 12, when he worked at restoring furniture in Germany, his home country. For Simic, it is not just the acquisition and collection of old items that sparks joy, but the journey. He enjoys researching the background of the objects and learning their stories, which means everything in Rum Runner’s is a carefully curated and verified slice of history.
Rum Runner's, which Simic opened in 2010, emphasizes the difference between "antique" and "vintage"—"antique" referring to an item that is at least 100 years old, while "vintage" generally refers to an item at least 50 years old. The shop currently displays items from 17 antiques dealers (Simic one of them), who each rent their own space in the store to display and sell their artifacts.
Simic also has a personal collection housing some of his favorite treasures. In the past he has collected antique lap desks and old boxes, but he is currently interested in collecting coconut cups, which were popular for centuries in Europe and South America as a fashionable way to drink beverages such as hot chocolate. Antique coconut cups can be elegantly engraved and gilded with silver, and the properties of the coconut shell were often believed to serve as a natural defense against poison.
According to Simic, there are generally two types of people who collect antiques—aesthetically motivated individuals who want to decorate spaces with well-crafted old objects, and those who have simply caught “the bug,” as Simic describes it. The latter are usually people who love history and are interested in the items’ backstories.
Trends in the antiques industry change with the passings of generations. Simic compares it to changes in the vintage car market. Demand for classic cars of the early 20th century has decreased, he says, while demand for the muscle cars of the 1960s and '70s has increased. Why? Members of a new generation of vintage buyers are hoping to evoke positive memories of when they drove those vehicles—or wish they were one of the cool kids who did drive them.
Since every generation of buyers has different tastes, Simic emphasizes that those with a passion for dealing antiques must be willing to adapt. "The human mind is cyclical," he says. Tastes change, and an antiques store is not a museum. The items are not intended to sit in the shop forever.
Rum Runner’s has sold many coveted pieces by the Florida Highwaymen, an iconic group of African-American painters who began selling their landscape paintings along Florida roadsides in the 1950s when they were not allowed to display their work in the stores and galleries of the segregated Jim Crow South.
Simic also sells more arcane items—like an old witch’s box from Salem carved with runes, once used for holding spells, or a rare cannibal skull from Indonesia that “spoke” to a customer. Simic has known Sarasota residents with vast antiques collections filled with precious objects that “can’t be found in a museum,” from old music boxes to gramophones to historically charged World War II memorabilia.
The antiques business reached its peak in the 1980s and '90s, says Simic, but today it is a more difficult enterprise to sustain. Simic would like to see more young people begin to cherish objects from the past. Simic says it is normal for a young person to start out with Ikea furniture, but anyone can learn to appreciate what he calls the “quality and craftsmanship you find in antiques that you can’t replicate with a machine.”
"The warmth of old wood, the smell of it, has to be introduced to the younger generations that did not have the chance to experience it," he says.
Rum Runner’s is located at 106 E. Pocono Trail, Nokomis, in a historic Sarasota home built in the 1920s. It is part of an “antiques village” that includes several businesses. On the third Saturday of select months, local artists host an art market on the property to showcase their work. For more info, call (954) 854-1991 or visit the store's website.