Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Life in the Land of Vintage...The "Dearly Departed"

Over the course of a young lifetime, I was witness to an amazing array of furniture and glassware, as well as the odd, the unusual and the sublime. While both Mom and Dad bought things, it was Mom who got the "bizarre" items which included things that would raise most people's eyebrows...a taxidermied chicken (it did look cute nesting in a basket in her kitchen), a wall mounted pig castrator (she made it into a fun & kitschy flower planter), several life -sized "Johnny Walker Red" (Scotch Whiskey) plywood dummy boards ( in their red tailcoats & top hats, they DID work well in an outdoor Christmas display) and then there was the Victorian Flower Sellers Basket...

Mom came home one day all excited...she'd been to a "fabulous" sale at a local antiques mart and had made an incredible buy!

She had been nosing around the cob-webby & dusty booth (her favorite kind) of a new seller at Red Lion Antiques Mart. She found loads of ancient silk & velvet flowers, panels of ruched satin, yards of black bombazine material and bolts of wide ribbon (today these items would be called "shabby chic"...Mom always was ahead of her time). Underneath a bunch of medieval looking tools, she found a rather large, long, lidded wicker basket. Espying her rapidly growing pile of flowers and ribbons, the smooth-talking booth owner explained that he'd purchased all of the items in Chicago from the estate of a former British subject. He "believed" the basket to be that of a Flower Seller from Victorian London. It had been attached to the back of a horse drawn wagon to sell flowers on the street in the late 1800's. The wicker would allow air to circulate around the flowers and the lid prevented damage from the sun and wind. The strange tools were used in the production of the silk and velvet flowers. The price, while a little steep, was acceptable and she ended up buying it all and packed it into our well-used station wagon and carted it home. She just couldn't believe her luck in stumbling upon such wonderful items from the Victorian era, as well as all of the tools of the florist trade.

At an antique show a couple of weeks later, Mom bumped into a friend who was also a dealer in the area. They were discussing the latest gossip when Mom spotted the gentleman from whom she purchased the basket and related items. She asked her friend if he'd ever met the seller before. He admitted that, "No, I've not been introduced but I know OF him." He said, "You know that I'll purchase almost anything if it'll turn a profit, but that guy really goes beyond the limits of good taste. Just a couple of weeks ago, the owner of the Red Lion told me this guy had the entire contents of an old funeral and funeral arrangements, embalmers tools, shrouds and even a REPOSSESSED wicker CASKET in his booth. He fed some poor ignorant woman a story that it all came from an old florist shop in England and she bought every word and every danged item! Some people will buy anything if the story is good enough!"

Filled with righteous indignation and at the same time, thoroughly sick in the pit of her stomach, Mom asked, "What do you mean, REPOSSESSED?" Her friend admitted that he'd been to look at the lot of items to purchase himself (just a couple of towns over...NOT Chicago), but decided it was just too "morbid" for even him. The seller told him that his grandfather had been an undertaker and had performed a funeral, but when it came time to settle the bill, the family couldn't pay, so the dearly departed had been transferred to and buried in a less costly pine box. For some reason, he had never been able to re-sell the "slightly used" casket. Mom swears she doesn't remember much else about the conversation... I'm still not sure if this was due to the fact that she'd been "taken" or due to the true origination of her purchase.

This was long before collecting "Funary" came into vogue. Today, there are a vast number of collectors who seek out highly priced jet, onyx, celluloid or Bakelite Mourning Jewelry. The most elegant and well designed pieces contained garnets or amethysts which were popularized by Queen Victoria during her period of mourning. A lesser known classification, "Memento Mori," are pieces which are comprised of a deceased person’s woven hair and made into bracelets and watch fobs as well as gold filled lockets or watch-like cases with the hair preserved behind tiny glass inserts. Hair was even woven into art-like compositions of flowers, birds or sheaves of wheat and placed in a frame to be hung on the wall in remembrance. Multi-generational pieces containing contributions of several family members have the most stories to tell and thus, command the highest prices...

Yep, Mom always was ahead of her time...

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Life in the Land of Vintage...A Name is a Name is a Name

When I was growing up, one thing I noticed about my family in comparison to others was that almost all of our furniture and accessories had "Names". NO, REALLY! Everyone else I knew had "the couch in the family room" or "the chair in the hallway." Not us! We had, among others, the "Windsor Chairs," the "Queen Anne Tall Boy" and the "Kerr Sterling Vanity Set." If it wasn't named after someone, then it was referred to based on its construction..."The Walnut Pie Safe," the "Cherry Thread Chest," or the "Oak Dry Sink."

Occasionally, we also had (I hope I don't offend) a "Dammed (Something)," which was a moniker reserved for pieces that quickly fell out of favor...A couple of these were pieces that were either damaged during acquisition or they were found to be "codgered," (more about that another day). Most frequently it was something that my parents disagreed on...Mom loved it...Dad hated was destined to be "dammed" until Mom sold it for a tidy profit, then it was "cannonized" (Saint Oakchest of Three Drawer) and foreverafter fondly remembered by its correct furniture name.

It really wasn't such a big deal sharing the same living space with furniture whose names sound far more "pedigreed" than your own, but you must realize how awkward it was to tell your 12 or 13 year old friend, "please don't sit on the Duncan Phyfe (couch)." Talk about strange looks. I tried to explain style and design to a couple of them, only to receive that "I've gone somewhere else" vacant stare or some really dramatic eye-rolling. I finally just settled on, "It's reserved for our Minister or for Insurance Agents." One does what one must to survive the intricacies of friendship during early puberty.

It's funny now, but Mom would get mad at one of us kids for some indiscretion. In her fit of pique she would stammer through not only our dogs names, several horses & the cat before finally choking out the offenders name, but, I swear, there were a couple of occasions I even heard her throw in some furniture names as well...i.e., "Sissy! Sassy! Snoopy! Staffany! Tiffany! TERRI!!! Get over here!" I believe it's an obscure form of turrets syndrome and you get it from your kids, I am told.

We even had some pieces that had three couldn't simply be called a "Tiffany" lamp, it was the "Louis Comfort Tiffany" lamp. OH, Brother! I admit, all this always felt a little pretentious to me, but in reality, even back then, they were teaching me about their part-time business and full-time passion...collecting glorious pieces of history, elements of meticulous craftsmanship and creations of enduring value...ANTIQUES

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Life in the Land of Vintage...Lessons Learned When Very Young...

I'm in the season of my life when childbirth is almost certainly out of the question and I've been advised that mood swings, night sweats and temporary insanity figure heavily in my near future. I can't remember a time when items of antique and vintage origin weren't an integral part of my existence.

I was raised by two wonderfully creative parents who also happened to be lifelong antiques collectors, dealers and appraisers. I remember my young life as a succession of antiques shows, auctions and thrift shops, yard sales...and yes, even the occasional back alley dumpster.

While most other children were raised with gentle admonishments like, "Say Thank You" or "Please play nicely," the phrase I most remember hearing was, "Don't Touch Anything!"

My folks were particularly fond of antique cut & art glass. I remember learning, at the tender age of 4 or 5, to fold my arms or put my little hands in my pockets the minute we entered a shop full of those glittering fragile objects of their desire. I thought this solution was rather inventive. However, when one trips over an untied shoelace, it prohibits them from adequately catching their balance, thus propelling them forward into the very thing which they most wanted to avoid. In my case, a small display of 19th century French perfume bottles. After that episode, I believe I next saw my parents about 18 months later, once my term of indentured servitude was completed, the broken bottles having been paid for.

To this day, I'll chuckle when I find myself hunting through the glassware sections of antique shops or thrift stores and look down to see my arms firmly entwined across my chest. Ahh, the seeds sewn earliest have the deepest roots!

What a Wonderful Way to Make a Friend!

I just joined the wonderful world of Vintage Village this afternoon. A few minutes later, I received a nice email that notified me that VintagePal (fictitious name) just asked me to become a “friend.” Click here to accept… I clicked “accept” and it says, “VintagePal is now your friend.”

If that doesn’t beat all! I can just click a button and make anyone who asks (and hopefully those I invite) my friend! Life would be so much simpler that way! Do away with all the posturing and preening, time spent trying to “impress” (and the awkward possibility that we don’t). All of the things that so many use as a measuring stick today…gender, race, creed, color, religion, money, politics don’t even enter into it…Just click here…you have a friend! And, isn’t that the best of all genders? F-R-I-E-N-D Works for me!