"We are only custodians for things of beauty. When we can place them where they belong, we are happy - in having done our job well.”
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The Kindig provenance is prevalent throughout many important public American collections including The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Colonial Williamsburg, Baltimore Museum of Art, Diplomatic Reception Rooms, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was not just business, but impeccable taste, intellectual curiosity and incontrovertible integrity that has made the Kindig name grace these major decorative art collections.
Joe Kindig Sr. followed into the family business as a coper
and became one of the leading dealers of horses and mules in the United States. He thrived until the 1920s, just when Americans were replacing their horse-drawn carriage with cars as their primary mode of transportation. While Joe Kindig Jr.’s career may have mirrored his father’s, it was Jr.’s aunt who initially molded his appreciation of antiques. The boy who would one day grow to be a collector, dealer, and - most significantly - an admirer of antique guns, came across the appreciation as a happy accident. His father forbade
the purchase of a modern firearm, and so Joe Kindig Jr. purchased a non-fireable antique - the first of a collection that would one day become the largest in the world. Remarkably, the man who amassed a collection of over 400 guns, never fired one in his life.
Later as a youth, Jr. would visit his father’s tenant farmers and take in trade for a few dollars of the rent their flintlock long rifles. It was extremely successful - he started a mail order business of selling guns. After graduating from Penn State Joe, Jr. had chosen to forgo the family business and become instead an antiques dealer. He voraciously read every book available at the time to hone his knowledge. In 1925, he opened his first shop at 304 West Market street. Soon, major New York dealers were in contact and looked to him as a source to replenish their inventory. The American economy was bustling, consumers developed a growing interest in material with significant ties to the American lineage, and scholars supported these changing tastes through expanded academic research. The business expanded and moved to the now famous 325 West Market Street, where it remained from 1934 until its relocation to Lancaster in 2010. The legend of Jr.’s business was not just in his acumen, but of his eccentricities.
Joe Kindig Jr., or “Old Joe” as he became known, was famous for being selective of his clientele. This exclusivity was not a demonstration of pretension or inaccessibility; Old Joe simply wanted his trade to extend only to those who would truly appreciate its worth. As Old Joe saw it, the passing of antiques from hand to hand is not only a service to each person who has the pleasure of owning it, but also to the item itself and the history it has lived through.
Old Joe’s business was one of the first to seriously consider the South as a place from which to source fine antiques. While demand for southern antiques did not match that of furniture from New York or Philadelphia, Joe Kindig Jr.’s eye for quality and interest in the budding southern scholarship opened the door to a new sector of the antiques market. In 1949, curator Joseph Downs made the controversial claim: “little of artistic merit was made south of Baltimore.” Whatever stance Kindig Jr. took, his business stood reactionary to the antiques discourse and whatever was piquing the collecting public’s interest.
It was not only the regional reach that fed into Joe Kindig Jr.’s success, but also that of the individual collections he cultivated and helped grow. His customers included Henry Francis du Pont, Wallace Nutting and Frances P. Garvan. It has been told that Mr. du Pont would buy nothing unless it had Joe’s approval. The Winterthur Collection was assembled in large part to this close relationship. When Joseph Downs was eventually hired to assist in the development of Winterthur Museum, Joe Jr. – having considered himself as du Pont’s preferred source of information and good taste - declared that he would no long grant Mr. du Pont a first right of refusal.
The heart of this business is how it remained in the family. Joe Kindig III, or “Young Joe,” was drawn to architecture and its construction at an early age. Having been raised in one of the earliest surviving Federal residencies in York without a doubt encouraged his passion. Upon graduating from Amherst in 1947, Joe III took courses in art and aesthetics at the Barnes Foundation. He considered becoming an architectural historian; during an interview he solicited advice from Dr. Charles Stewart, Dean of Arts at Yale, who told him: “Go into business with your father. You’ll find no better place to learn.” Thankfully, he heeded that advice.
When Joe III entered the business, his father declared in the December 1948 issue of The Magazine Antiques, “I believe that my son has an eye for line and proportion as discriminating as my own; that he is as keen a student of antiques as I have prided myself in being.” He joined as a partner, and the business’ name was changed to “Joe Kindig, Jr. & Son.” Together as a team, their personalities were well known throughout America. Their immense intellect and knowledge along with their willingness to explain and discuss the Americana field inspired many of the 20th century’s leading collectors.
Father and son worked together for two decades: Joe, Jr. manning the top floor, Joe III on the ground floor. Joe III once recalled, “If a prospect seemed genuine, dad had me send him up. He didn’t care if you didn’t buy, but you had to be serious about learning.” Joe III became active in the Historical Society of York County, now known as the York County Heritage Trust. Over two decades, he served on the society’s board and chaired pivotal committees of the dynamic institution. He also curated a number of exhibits, including: Four Hundred Years of Domestic Lighting; Folk Art in York County; The Pennsylvania Rifle; The Pennsylvania German Influence; and The Philadelphia Chair: 1685-1785.
During this time, Joe III’s love of architecture never waned. He collected eighteenth and early 19th century architectural woodwork and installed some of it in his 1787 stone farmhouse. In 1966, gazing upon the façade of a building Joe Kindig III recognized an unusual arrangement of wrought nails. With an expert glance, he discovered the remarkable half-timber construction of the 1741 Golden Plough Tavern in York, Pennsylvania now owned by the York County Heritage Trust. In his effort to restore the building with the help of Edwin Brumbaugh, he was awarded the Pennsylvania Distinguished Citizen Award in 1981. His passion for historic preservation continued with his decade’s long guidance of Wright’s Ferry Mansion. He assisted Richard von Hess in properly furnishing the home by assembling exemplary examples of Philadelphia furniture, English ceramics, textiles, metals and glass dating prior to 1750.
The Kindig legacy extends beyond the multitude of masterpieces that have crossed their threshold: they will also be remembered for the passion they had for teaching and spreading knowledge for the material in which they were experts. The Kindigs were stewards of history with the obligation to ensure these historic objects found homes filled with heart and soul.