60 years of fascinating finds by Shadyside antique dealer on the block


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As she began shuttering River House Antiques, a business that filled three storefronts on South Highland Avenue, Lillian Goldsmith was philosophical about her career.

"Ten shares of Apple stock 20 years ago would have done it instead of all this clutter," she said as workers hustled past, carrying furniture, gilded Regency mirrors, lamps, china and prints.

If you go

Where: Constantine & Pletcher is at 1306 Pittsburgh St., Cheswick.

When: Previews for next Saturday's auction are noon to 5 p.m. Friday. On Saturday, the uncataloged sale begins at 9 a.m. and runs through noon. A cataloged sale starts at noon and goes until 3 p.m. Previews for the March 2 auction will be held noon to 5 p.m. March 1. On March 2, an uncataloged sale will be held from 9 a.m. to noon; a cataloged sale starts at noon and runs until around 3 p.m.

"She had a fine eye for French and German and Asian furniture and antiques before everybody else knew that that was going to be in vogue. I always thought she was one step ahead of the game," said Dan Pletcher of Constantine & Pletcher. The Cheswick auction house continues its three-part sale of Mrs. Goldsmith's large collection next Saturday and again on March 2. Mr. Pletcher said an additional sale of Mrs. Goldsmith's holdings may be held on March 16.

The daughter of a doctor and the youngest of four, Mrs. Goldsmith grew up in New Orleans. She recalled her education in the social graces at the women's division of Tulane University, where she earned a degree in business administration.

"I went to Sophie Newcomb [H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College]. Two lumps or one?" she said, smiling. Besides tea, a little bourbon was imbibed occasionally, too.

She found her passion in the antique shops on Bourbon and Royal streets in the French Quarter. One of her earliest influences was Henry Stern, who was considered a dean among New Orleans antique dealers. Mr. Stern often sold French country and French provincial furniture.

"The French used tin plate. He could tell, by the way the rim was turned under, the age of the plate," Mrs. Goldsmith recalled.

She began collecting in earnest in 1953, the year she moved to Pittsburgh after marrying Ken Goldsmith, a successful real estate developer. Her son, Frederick Goldsmith, now a Downtown attorney specializing in maritime law, often accompanied his mother on buying trips when he was a boy.

"He knew not to touch anything," Mrs. Goldsmith said. "He was very obedient."

The future attorney began buying glass and ceramic insulator caps used on utility poles. Back then, the caps cost 25 or 50 cents apiece. Fifteen of them are arrayed on a ledge near a kitchen window where they reflect the light coming into his Squirrel Hill home.

"He told me he didn't need any more, so I started buying him ships," Mrs. Goldsmith said.

Her son's law office is now filled with distinctive furniture, including an imposing carved Asian chest.

To decorate the family home on Aylesboro Avenue in Squirrel Hill, Mrs. Goldsmith hired the renowned Arthur Stanley, then Louis Talotta and finally, Arthur Dimling. Mr. Dimling's preferred drink was grapefruit juice and vodka, she recalled, adding "He was a good gent." One day, Mr. Dimling helped her choose a Queen Anne-style English breakfront and secretary through French & Co. The piece still stands in her living room. "I was just a client. He was fun."

Her son acquired his eye for quality from his mother and their many visits to antique shops. "You learn to appreciate things that aren't mass-produced, that have some character, that have a story behind them," Mr. Goldsmith said.

Even while vacationing in Provence, France, Mr. Goldsmith recalled, his parents would go to flea markets and "come back with something on the roof of their station wagon."

His mother was lucky, Mr. Goldsmith said, because her late partner, Mark Di Vittorio, served as her loyal, dependable business manager. Mr. Di Vittorio, who died Thursday, also painted the trompe l'eil parquet pattern on the shop's floor and made and decorated the carved niches in which he displayed colorful vases.

If Mrs. Goldsmith bought something he did not like, Mr. Di Vittorio would tell her, "Take that out. It looks terrible."

Mrs. Goldsmith sold real estate during the 1980s for Howard Hanna, Kelly Wood and Northwood, but she never stopped loving antiques. "I just love to buy," she said.

She picked up items at everything from garage sales to estate auctions at Dargate or the Royal York Auction Gallery. She traveled through India, Morocco, France, Italy, Vietnam and England, where she bought Minton china, Davenport stone china and lacquered, painted tea trays in places such as Portobello Road and the Bermondsey Market in South London.

"You had to go at 5 in the morning," she recalled.

When her cell phone rings, Ella Fitzgerald sings "April in Paris." "That's where we honeymooned in March 1953, in Paris. It will be 60 years next month," she said.

The ringing phone means a conversation with Will, the eldest of three grandsons. He's getting his first New York apartment and asks his grandmother to save some china for him. There's no shortage of that.

Mrs. Goldsmith, who turns 83 next month, still enjoys object lessons.

"What I love and have not studied are old master prints. I hope to learn more about them," she said, stepping into a part of her shop filled with prints of heraldic shields.

A woman with a sense of humor, Mrs. Goldsmith once sent a large sterling silver spoon to her friend and internist, Dr. Frank Kroboth at the University of Pittsburgh. The spoon had the letters F.K. engraved upon it.

"This replaces the one that fell out of your mouth when you were born," she wrote.

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Marylynne Pitz: mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648.


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