Replacing Lost Treasures
North Carolina company specializes in tracking down china, glassware, flatware and other items.
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When a disaster such as a wildfire or hurricane strikes, homeowner's insurance can help rebuild the home and replace many possessions. But what about the "irreplaceable?" The china handed down from a great-grandmother, or maybe the flatware you collected decades ago as a young couple starting out?
"Our business is built on 'replacing the irreplaceable,'" says Liam Sullivan, manager of public relations with Replacements, Ltd. "China, silver, crystal and collectible patterns that are no longer made or very difficult to find."
Founded in 1981, the Greensboro, N.C., company claims to hold the world's largest selection of dinnerware. Their inventory is vast, 10 million pieces in 200,000 patterns, and fills 300,000 square feet of warehouse space. Each week, an army of independent suppliers scours flea markets and estate auctions across the country and sends back approximately 70,000 pieces.
"The customers we hear from after a storm are looking to replace items they can't replace at the local department store. These items almost always have a greater emotional value than a monetary one," says Sullivan. "Dinnerware or silverware passed down through generations, wedding china and crystal stemware and other items.
"We were able to help thousands of families after the Northridge Earthquake in California and many more after the wild fires devastated Southern California and Arizona. Today, we are starting to assist the families of Florida after the hurricanes."
One of those who lost treasured mementos was Beverly Barr of Phoenix, Ariz. She was caring for her husband, who was suffering from terminal illness, when their home was destroyed by a wildfire in 1988. But it wasn't an expensive set of china or crystal that she lost, but rather a collection of Oneida teaspoons she collected while in college in the early 1960s. Barr got the teaspoons by saving box tops from General Mills products and ordering them from the company's catalog.
"I would save 50 coupons and send them away with 10 cents and get a free Oneida teaspoon, which was a very nice thing back in the late 1950s and 1960s," Barr says. "Little by little, week after week, I would save my little treasures. It took me 15 years and a couple of degrees later I finally had the complete place setting. Oh I was so happy."
Unfortunately the fire melted the collection, and though State Farm Insurance took care of getting them back on their feet, Barr was at a loss over how to replace her collection of eight dinner piece settings.
"Somewhere along the line, we found out about Replacements, Ltd., and I thought 'no one will have any of this stuff after so long,' but they did," she says. "They not only were able to replace all that, they were able to obtain and send to me even more. So I came out with a complete service of 16 place settings."
Sullivan says it is not unusual for Replacements, Ltd. to handle 100,000 phone calls a day from people searching for lost pieces of their past. Customers can also search for items with the company's website or send them an e-mail.
"We have a dedicated group of Internet customer service agents that will assist you in your search," he says.
"Typically we have the piece you are searching for in our warehouse, but if we do not have it we take your information and enter it in our database and begin a search. We have about 900 'dish detectives' around the country that search for missing pieces at estate sales, antique stores and other places. We never stop looking, so hope is not lost."
From simple teaspoons and collectibles to rare china patterns, Sullivan says they find it all.
"One of the most expensive china patterns we are asked to locate is Flora Danica by Royal Copenhagen. The china was first produced in the late 18th century for the Queen of Denmark," Sullivan says. "A five-piece place setting sells for $2,500 and a soup tureen alone sells for $9,000. Carnival Cruise Lines came to us to locate several pieces for them to be used in decorating the dining room of one of their cruise ships."
A $9,000 soup tureen is certainly expensive, but according to Barr, memories are infinitely more valuable.
"The little things that add up and mean so much," she says. "Whenever I use a little teaspoon I have such memories."
Trash-to-treasure expert Robb Whittlef shows host Joan Steffend how to turn salvaged metal pieces into home accessories.