James Eham – “Pioneer Antique Dealer”

Passing the so-called Dirty Frank’s Bar, an amble down Pine Street soon becomes unremarkable. That wasn’t always the case.

1237 Pine Street, August 1983. (

A century ago, 1237 Pine Street, also known as James Eham’s Antique Store, formed a distinctive western anchor on what would become known as Philadelphia’s Antique Row.

Junk Shop at 13th & Pine Streets, ca. 1920. Alfred Hand, photographer. The Library Company of Philadelphia.

Eham’s eclectic tastes were on full display here. As the Library Company captioned one of its two photographs of the Eham’s façade, he “heavily adorned” his emporium “with antiques and curiosities, including cigar store Native Americans, ship models, a rooster weather vane, and a ship’s helm. Posters, including a playbill for a production of “Our Colored Boys Over There” at the African American playhouse, the Royal Theater (opened in 1920), cover an adjacent building.” Eham, we learn, was “born enslaved in Virginia, settled in Philadelphia in 1876 and soon after became an antiques dealer. By 1927, he owned two antique stores in Philadelphia and one in New York.”

Antique store, Pine Street East. of 13th St. George Mark Wilson, Photographer, ca. 1923. The Library Company of Philadelphia.

When artist James Horsey Fincken chose Eham’s shop as a subject for one of his etchings, he provided a title that can only be described as dismissive. Fincken’s “Negro Junk Shop” might have seemed a charming moniker to the artist and his following, but it denied the greater story of Eham’s role in Philadelphia’s antique trade. According to Eham’s obituary published in The Philadelphia Tribune on December 11, 1930 he “had been in the antique exchange and collection business since his arrival in Philadelphia in 1876.” The headline of that obituary labelled Eham as nothing less than a “Pioneer Antique Dealer.”

“Negro Junk Shop.” Etching by James Horsey Fincken, ca. 1930
(Gift of Josephine Wood Linn / Atwater Kent Collection at Drexel.)

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