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Morris Finkel (1923-2011)

Morris Finkel, a Philadelphia antiques dealer who rose to national prominence during six
decades of business on the city’s Antiques Row, died Thursday, December 22, after a long
illness. He was 88 years old.

Since 1947, the distinguished, soft-spoken antiques dealer was a constant presence in
his corner store at 10th and Pine Streets, working with private clients, major museums and
historical societies to help form some of the most important collections in America.

Known first as M. Finkel Antiques, Mr. Finkel originally specialized in antique furniture
and period accessories from the 18th and 19th centuries.  In 1975, Mr. Finkel’s daughter, Amy
Finkel, joined him and they renamed the business M. Finkel & Daughter. From his original store
with its signature window displays, the father and daughter team expanded the business to
include what would become a nationally acclaimed selection of antique samplers, needlework,
quilts and silk embroideries.

"I was extremely fortunate to have had my Dad as both my mentor in business and my
father in life,” said Amy Finkel, recognized today as one of the country’s preeminent American
sampler dealers. “He taught me a great deal about antique furniture and decorative arts with his
daily, hands-on instruction on each object that came through our business. And together we
integrated a love of work, family and travel for over 30 years.”

Over the years, Morris and Amy Finkel exhibited at major antiques shows around the
country and collaborated on many important transactions. Amy Finkel specifically recalled their
sealed-bid purchase in 1987 of three highly significant late18th century samplers by sisters from
the prominent Cooper family of Camden, New Jersey. After M. Finkel & Daughter acquired the
samplers, two were purchased by Winterthur Museum of Wilmington, Delaware, and that made
by Mary Cooper in 1789 remains a cornerstone of the museum’s needlework collection. “It was
considered one of the most important needlework acquisitions at Winterthur, and it was thanks to
Morris and Amy,” said Linda Eaton, the Senior Curator of Textiles and John L. & Marjorie P.
McGraw Director of Collections of Winterthur Museum.

Born in 1923, Mr. Finkel was part of a family that counts three generations of antiques
dealers on Pine Street. His parents, Sigmund and Judith Finkel, operated Judith Finkel Antiques
and specialized in antique iron, cooper and brass while raising two sons in West Philadelphia and
Wynnfield.  A graduate of Overbrook High School, Morris Finkel graduated from the University of
Pennsylvania in 1943. He served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy in World War II and was
stationed on the USS Southerland, one of the first allied ships to enter Tokyo Bay after the
Japanese surrendered.

When he returned home after the war, Mr. Finkel started his own antique furniture
business just a few blocks from his parents’ store front on Pine Street. He soon met his future
wife, Miriam, on a blind date in Atlantic City, and they married in 1949.  In addition to their
daughter, they raised two sons in their East Mt. Airy home:  Kenneth Finkel, a Philadelphia
historian and a distinguished lecturer at Temple University; and Ned Finkel, a businessman in
Lancaster, N.H.  

“Dad knew every neighborhood of the city from experience, and he knew where the
treasures were,” said Kenneth Finkel, the author of several books on Philadelphia. “He
understood Philadelphia in terms of its grit and promise, and he believed that everyday things and
places were like books to be read, learned from and shared.  He was my teacher, guide and

The Philadelphia Inquirer interviewed Morris Finkel in 2006 for an article regarding
changes to the city’s Antiques Row. This area of Pine Street was at a turning point as many of the
antiques shops that populated it for decades had disappeared, with restaurants and boutiques
filling their spaces. He told The Inquirer that of course he remembered trucks loading from Pine
Street dealers and heading to many cities and regions throughout the country. Times had
changed and businesses must adapt he stated and cited that much of M. Finkel & Daughter’s
business was online through their website and through its catalogue, Samplings, which was
established in 1992. Most of their walk-in business at that point came from established clients.
“Although it is still called Antiques Row, it’s no longer an antiques district. We have to be realistic,”
he said.

Operation of the business was turned over to Amy Finkel about five years ago but Mr.
Finkel continued to consult up until very recently.

Throughout his life, Mr. Finkel also nurtured a love of travel, music and nature.  He
enjoyed worldwide travel and was a long-time subscriber to The Philadelphia Orchestra, with
recordings of his favorite classical music and his beloved operas always heard in his home.
Armed with an extensive knowledge of birds and plants that began while growing up and being a
dedicated Boy Scout, he was for years a popular volunteer guide at The Morris Arboretum. An
expert gardener, Mr. Finkel filled his yard with delightful varieties of hydrangeas, climbing roses,
exotic hostas and Asiatic lilies.

Mr. Finkel was a life-long member of Keneseth Israel Reform Congregation in Elkins
Park, serving on the Board and as Chairman of the religious school for many years.  In the 1960s,
he was instrumental in founding the synagogue’s museum, contributing an important 18th century
Jewish marriage certificate called a ketubah to anchor its collection.  

And Mr. Finkel was a founding member of the Antiques Dealers’ Association of American,
Inc., (ADA), an association founded in 1984 to promote professionalism within the antiques
business. “Morris Finkel was one of the most respected dealers in the ADA and such a dignified,
soft-spoken gentleman,” said Arthur S. Liverant, ADA founding Board member and third-
generation antiques dealer from Colchester, Conn.  “He was far from a withering rose and he
stood up for what he believed in, but he did so with such an old school, dignified manner,
something that we don’t see very often today.  And he always had a gleam in his eye, and
exhibited such enthusiasm for life. I never, ever heard anyone speak poorly about Morris Finkel,
and that is the greatest accomplishment I could ever say about anyone.”

Mr. Finkel is survived by his wife Miriam Lippman Finkel; sons Kenneth and Ned Finkel;
daughter Amy Finkel; seven grandchildren; and one brother, Edwin Finkel of Malvern, PA.  
Memorials and contributions may be made to the acquisitions fund at The Temple Judea Museum
of Keneseth Israel Reform Congregation.

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