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...


  1. I am ROFLOL! That has got to be one of the best "antique" stories yet!

  2. I think I would have loved your mother!

  3. Love your blog and your stories too!

  4. Just popping in via another blog - lovely spot in blogatopia you have here

  5. Queen Victoria was one interesting historical figure! Love this story & your mom!!
    Lovely weekend to you dear~