As a flight attendant on American Airlines, Wisconsin-born Karl Sorensen used to spend layovers in Europe fossicking for china and glass in antiques markets: Bermondsey in London, Place du Jeu de Balle in Brussels, Porte de Vanves in Paris… “I have a European aesthetic,” he says, “and I just fell in love with all sorts of wonderful and extraordinary things I’d never seen back home. But there’s a limit to how much you can acquire for yourself.” The answer was to open a shop, an intriguing emporium specialising in what he calls “tableware that tells a story”.
Established in 1994, POSH occupies a prime site in Tree Studios in central Chicago’s River North area, an Arts and Crafts complex of artists’ studios built in 1894 now on the National Register of Historical Places. “The interior had been modernised by the time we moved in,” says Sorensen, “but we wanted to take it back to what it was. The floorboards we used came from a tobacco warehouse in North Carolina; the period cabinetry from a candy store in the Netherlands; and the pendant light fittings from a church that was being torn down on Chicago’s South Side. Finding new purposes for old things is very much a part of what we do.”
In the early days, much of the stock came from grand hotels (the Plaza-Athénée in Paris prior to its renovation in 2000 provided a rich seam, as did the auction of fittings from London’s Savoy before its recent reinvention), as well as restaurants, private members’ clubs and ocean liners. It changes constantly, but earlier this winter there was a silver-plate tureen, c1880, from the Victoria Hotel in Bradford ($395), a vintage silver-plate and glass pitcher from NYC’s Waldorf Astoria ($250), a cakestand from Chicago’s now-defunct Edgewater Beach Hotel ($595) and a Belgian bellhop match holder ($150).
That said, not everything in the store is vintage, and nor is it all tableware. There are wonderful toys – a set of fabric guardsmen skittles from Denmark ($80), for instance, as well as Sea Salt Soap from Sweden ($8), milk cans filled with salted caramels from France ($24) and reproductions of old US maps ($5)…
For in many ways the most intriguing items are what is styled Americana, artefacts that relate to the cultural heritage of the US, such as a consignment of box-fresh diner mugs bearing the 1920s logo – a stylised bison before a snow-capped peak – of the National Park Service ($12); a range of unused bowls from the now-defunct Shenango China Company in Pennsylvania, one of whose clients was the White House (from $5); 1930s engraved glass of the style now termed Elegant Depression (from $20); and durable, Jadeite and Roseite milk glass popular from the 1930s to the 1950s (set of three mixing bowls, $70).
Indeed, some of the best buys are glassware: a set of exquisite mint-condition hollow-stemmed 1940s champagne coupes, for example ($40 for four). As Sorensen puts it, he sells “things that speak to me, have a narrative resonance and that you just can’t find elsewhere”.