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Merritts History

The beginning...
While the actual Merritt's Antiques company history begins with the opening of Mary's Antiques on Mulberry Street in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1938, the seeds of what was to become one of the largest antique suppliers in North America can be traced to a physician and his antebellum home in Weavertown, Pennsylvania.

In 1857, Dr. Elias Carey Kitchin had a three-story home built on Weavertown Road halfway between Weavertown and Amityville. He and his family lived there and, as one of the few physicians in the rural farmland of the time, cared for the health of the families in the surrounding countryside. As a leading member of the community, he was involved in the political structure of the area as well as recruiting able bodied soldiers as the American Civil War began. In 1863, as word spread across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that the Confederate Army was posturing to invade Pennsylvania, Dr. Kitchin traveled to Harrisburg, the State capitol to enlist in the Union army. Then Pennsylvania Surgeon General King offered Dr. Kitchin a commission so he could serve the Union Army in the capacity of a unit assistant surgeon. During a campaign near Petersburg, Virginia in 1864 , Dr. Kitchin set up his field hospital so close to the battle lines that several of the horses in his group were shot. The close proximity of his hospital to the action resulted in the saving of many soldier's lives. As a result of his bravery and devotion to duty, Dr. Kitchin was promoted to the rank of Major. During the war ending confrontation at Appomattox Courthouse, under a flag of truce a Confederate corps commander asked if the Union Army could send a physician to help treat his soldiers. Dr. Kitchin volunteered and crossed behind the Confederate lines to provide medical treatment for ailing Confederates. Just a days later, on April 12, 1865, General Lee surrendered the Army of northern Virginia. Dr. Kitchin then returned to his Weavertown home and resumed his practice of medicine until his death in 1909. He is buried less than a quarter mile from his beloved Weavertown Road home in Amityville Cemetery.

In 1933, Robert Merritt was in the produce business along with members of his family. He purchased Dr. Kitchin's former home and the land surrounding it. The home was so very large that Robert was barely able to furnish the house with the sparse collection of furniture he brought with him to his new home. In a quest for additional furnishings, Robert began to go to farm sales and local auctions. It was during this time that he met Mary Lesher Zerbe who had owned an antique store and was also searching the sales and shops of the area for antiques for her business. The two roving antiquers were destined to be married in 1946 and Mary subsequently moved her antique business to the front parlor. Rough furniture, was housed in the old wagon shed of their home in Amityville. Later, as their stock of antiques increased, smaller items would be moved to the basement of the house and to the barn.

A momentous decision...
One day, the exact date is lost to memory, Robert had an entire truckload of potatoes spoil, resulting in a considerable loss of income for the family. When he came home and told Mary about this "disaster", she told him that several antiques had sold that day. The profit from those sales was more than Robert had lost in the spoilage of the potatoes, not to mention the considerable effort that had gone into digging the potatoes and packaging them. Robert decided to abandon the produce business and join Mary in the antiques business, and Merritt's Antiques was on its way just as World War II was drawing to a close.

After the Berlin crisis of 1948, Robert and Mary began making what would be regular visits to Germany, England, Holland, Scotland and France. Robert often related that this was primarily Mary's idea. Now, in addition to purchasing antiques, sometimes in entire estates, they traveled abroad and had marvelous antiques shipped across the Atlantic to their growing business. They incorporated as Merritt's Antiques in 1957 and began a building project on some of the land around the house that would continue for a decade, housing the mounting inventory of antiques as they were acquired. Throughout the period of the 1960's and early 1970's Merritt's Antiques was listed in many journals and magazines both in and out of the trade as one of the largest, most unique antique dealers in North America.

Merritt's inventory grew and amazed people in its scope as the stock grew to include a diverse selection of antique American and European furniture, clocks, china, glassware, metal and bric-a-brac. Antiques were continuously purchased from a multitude of sources in the United States and abroad. It was often advertised that "...one piece or a truckload, Merritts has what you are looking for!" Anyone who found their way into our shop realized that this was no idle boast as they strolled through aisles and aisles of antiques displayed on the two floors of the main sales building.

Unplanned growth....
Eventually, several specialized branches of Merritt's arose from the needs of our customers. The Clock Shop was the first to develop as a separate entity. From it's creation, this shop has housed a wonderful selection of wall, shelf and grandfather clocks from the United States and Europe. Clock collectors, dealers and decorators can always browse through an inventory that reflects the many clock styles produced by Seth Thomas, Sessions, Junghans, Gustav Becker, Waterbury, Gilbert, Ingraham, New Haven and other prominent manufacturers during the last 250 years. With the advent of the computer and Internet sales, Merritt's adapted to the future and has proven to be a reliable and trustworthy source of clocks for collectors around the world. Monthly sales flyers now routinely offer fifty or more antique clock each month to our valued customers around the world.

The Clock and Watch Repair Supply Department was the next to rise to a prominent position in the company. This department grew from a single steel shelf holding a hand full of replacement clock parts and now encompasses the endless rows of bins and shelving that hold the thousands of parts, tools and materials required to carry out clock repairs and restoration. From hands, dials, weights, gears and pulleys, to complete mechanical and quartz clock movements, repairmen can quickly find the supplies they need to make one hundred year old timepieces tick and chime as though they were made only yesterday.

The Gift and Furniture Department spawned from the public's desire for antique reproductions as "repros" became universally popular. Thousands of items were offered to satisfy this demand for new furniture, china and glassware. Initially, these replicas became popular as an economical way to enhance home decor with an antique flavor. The Gift and Furniture inventory rapidly evolved to include a wide variety of iron and brass items, along with unique garden accessories.

A new path...
In 2009, the shape of Merritt's was redirected when it was decided to restructure in response to the rapidly changing patterns of the American economy and the dwindling availability of quality antiques. Following several months of discounted sales and other promotions, five days of auctions were held to close out Merritt's remaining inventory of antiques and Gift & Furniture stock. Today, antique clocks and the clock/watch repair supply departments remain as the core of Merritt's business.

Members of Robert and Mary Merritt's family continue to be active in various phases of the family business, taking over increasing responsibilities after the passing of Robert in 1987 and Mary in 1994. These descendants of the founders have proudly supported and fostered the enterprise of their parents and grandparents through the expansion, evolution and the modernization of the business to the present day. Advancing the content and visibility of Merritts.com is one example of that modernization, poising Merritt's Antiques to grow and provide another generation with the best variety of quality antiques clocks and parts available

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