“I don’t really believe in reincarnation, but maybe I was Asian in a former life,” said Anne Peacock-Jacobs, attempting to justify her fascination with all things Asian. “I even raise Shih Tzu dogs, and they’re from China! I don’t know when or why I became so interested in that breed.” (She’s first generation American of German descent, by the way, and grew up in Naples, New York.)
And then there’s her name. “Asian cultures have featured peacock motifs for centuries, and the color ‘peacock blue’ is frequently used in Asian art,” she said. “The peacock is symbolic of beauty and grace and in some cases, has spiritual significance.”
We were discussing the 700-plus Asian antiques Anne has amassed over a 50-year period, everything from porcelains and woodcarvings to clothing and baskets. Except for some bigger pieces that remain in her Honeoye Falls home, the collection is on permanent display at The Peacock Oriental Antique Museum. Admission is always free.
The museum encompasses five rooms of the historic Lower Mill on Main Street. In addition to Anne’s office and a reference library, there’s the Chinese Room, the Japanese Room, and the Peacock Room. “People get as big a kick out of the Peacock Room as they do the other rooms,” she said. “Basically, it features all the peacock items friends have given me over the years. My children’s things, too. I have four Peacock kids who said, ‘Here, take this for the museum,’ when I opened it in 1995.
“Visitors come from all over the U.S. and Asia, and it’s amazing how many tell me that they collect peacocks, too,” she added. “I have five or six signed guest books now, and people leave me fabulous comments. They’ll leave me notes written in Chinese and include the English translation. They call my museum a ‘hidden treasure.’
More than a hobby
According to collections expert Susan Pearce, author of On Collecting: An Investigation Into Collecting in the European Tradition, one in three Americans consciously collects something. Anne Peacock-Jacobs collects everything. Her current fascination is with Lucite furniture (“I’m redecorating our home in Florida in retro!”) and she met her husband, David Jacobs, by way of her antique car collection (they both own 1957 Thunderbirds).
“Some people collect doorknobs, and they’ll collect every doorknob they can find,” she said. “My collecting is different. I look at it from the perspective of educating others. Chinese cloisonné comes in a variety of forms, and I have pieces of every one of them because they help to represent the culture. We have a lot of children’s groups come through the museum because Asian studies are part of the middle school curriculum. I love that I have all of these examples to show them.”
Anne’s Asian collection began with a gift from a friend who returned home from the Korean War. “He brought me back a set of lacquer sake cups,” she said. “I still have them.”
Her first love was Asian furnishings, which she saw in California when she was 16. “My mother moved there, and when I visited her she took me to her friends’ house. They owned the Ralphs Grocery chain and had a daughter my age. The whole house was decorated in Asian, and I had never seen anything like it! Everything in the western United States is way ahead of where we are in the East, and this was especially true in the 1950s. I vowed then and there that when I got married and had my own home, I would decorate it in Asian, and I did.”
In 1969, her home’s decor was considered somewhat of an oddity. A reporter from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle traveled to Honeoye Falls that year to find out what the Asian style was all about, and to write a story about it.
“In the East at that time, you couldn’t even find a reproduction ginger jar,” Anne told us. “On my search for accent pieces for my home I sort of stumbled onto Asian antiques. I bought my first piece from a store called Mah-Jong on East Avenue in Rochester. It was a very prestigious store, very high end.”
She continued to collect in some of the world’s largest cities. “My husband traveled a lot with his company, and I would go with him,” Anne told us. “The joke was that he was out making money and I was out spending money because I would go straight to the antique districts to shop. There are also shows for Asian antiques only, in London, Los Angeles and New York City. I go and I’m like a kid in a candy store.”
She is drawn to pieces that best represent Asian culture, that showcase how people live and what they’re all about. She is particularly fond of Chinese Peking Glass, known for its beautiful colors, but her collection also includes porcelains, ivories, bronzes, precious metals, baskets and lacquer ware.
Research: collecting’s cousin
“I bought a few more antiques then I’d find another and think, ‘Ooooh, this is even nicer than the last one I bought,’” Anne said. “At the same time I thought, ‘Gee, if I’m going to invest in all this, I should know more about it.’”
She borrowed books from all over the Monroe County Library System until she read everything that was available. She started borrowing books from the colleges’ systems, but could only keep those books overnight. “Some of them were worth $5,000, sometimes $10,000! I would return one, then run across an item when I shopped and think, ‘What did that book say about this again?’ so I started buying my own books.”
Today, Anne owns over 500 books on Asian antiques, which she keeps in a resource library at the museum. Visitors cannot take the books home, but tables and chairs invite readers to stay and peruse.
Research is a process that she loves, although history was never a favorite topic in school. With the right inspiration though, Ann could write a book and she has. Scenes of Monroe and Ontario Counties: Past and Present, was published in 2003. “I wanted to share my collection of artwork depicting Canandaigua Lake and other spots in the area,” she said. “It’s important that future generations know about these remarkable artists. I thought I would put little brass tags under each painting, but discovered that the information I needed wasn’t readily available. I started researching each artist and then I really got into it! The next thing I knew, I was publishing a book and hosting an art show at the Historic Lower Mill. It was all so interesting. People came from all over, and the show was extended from one month to two.”
Anne’s Asian antique collecting has tapered off, mostly because the pieces she has cannot be bested. “Now I only buy things that I haven’t seen before, or that are extremely rare,” she told us. “My latest purchase was a piece of Peking glass; it comes in so many different forms that there are still styles out there that I haven’t seen.”
As television and the Internet have made the world smaller, all things Asian have become high style, in everything from fashion and jewelry to home furnishings. “I think I’m a trend setter,” Anne commented. “I call myself an interior decorator without a degree. I’m renovating my home in Daytona Beach around the furniture – glass and brass, chrome and Lucite. You watch; Lucite is going to come back.” On its journey, Anne will collect the best examples.
by Tina Manzer
Tina Manzer is the editorial director at Fahy-Williams Publishing. She and her family live in Canandaigua.