At Wonderland, we love questions. We get all kinds, and not all of them are “Do you have a restroom?” or “Can you do any better on the price?”. Earlier this month I got a question that took me quite off-guard. The question came from my brilliant, thoughtful, and often insightful niece. I shouldn’t have been surprised. She asked “What is it you love about doing this?” The question gave me pause. For several moments I was at a loss for words. Those of you who know me know – rendering me speechless is no mean feat.
Once I recovered myself, I suspect I gave a rather lame answer such as “I like the history of the things.” or “It’s fun to meet people.” or “I like to make money. Ha ha.” All of those things are true to a greater or lesser extent. All of those things are part of it. But the question stayed with me, and here, weeks later, I find myself blogging about it, and wondering if my reasons will resonate with the reader, the collector, the antiqueophile. (For those of you plagued with the desire for grammatical correctness in all things, I admit, I just coined the word antiqueophile. I rather like the way that sounds, in fact. Perhaps you, gentle reader, can help me make it part of the vernacular? But I digress…)
What IS it that I love about doing this? I have always appreciated antiques, I think. Even back when I was a young girl asking Mother about some cool thing that she had in her attic as we were cleaning it out. Her response was invariably “That old junk? Throw it away.” I didn’t believe it was “old junk” then, and I certainly don’t believe it now. There was a story there, and I wanted to know – or imagine – what that story was.
Sometimes I’d find something that did evoke a memory for her. I remember finding an old photograph of her once. She was with her two oldest children sharing my oldest brother’s 6th birthday cake around the kitchen table. I asked her if it was, in fact, my eldest brother celebrating a birthday with his kid brother next to him, and she confirmed that it was. Then she noticed something else. On a shelf above the table was a radio. An old Philco, if family history serves, and most likely with a Bakelite case. That triggered a story.
That radio, she told me, she had earned picking up potatoes on the farm near where she attended boarding school. She was in her late teens, and worked very long, hot, stooped over hours picking up potatoes to earn some spending money. With her “spud money” she called it, she purchased this radio, and a table lamp. She further explained that both of these items were purchased at a time when her family’s home did not yet have electrical service. Talk about planning ahead! Once electricity arrived, she was ready! She and her sister would spend countless hours doing chores and listening to that radio to help pass the time.
The radio itself wasn’t the center of the stories that spun off that thread. Even so, it was the radio – that object sending memory signals from the distant past – that triggered the stories which held my rapt attention while I helped her sort through “old junk”.
So when we run across a “new” antique and select it to take a place in our store, it is because it has spoken to us in some way. For example, I can imagine the day in the 1940s that a family welcomed a new “wireless” into their home. The family’s father might have had help from the clerk at the furniture store to wheel it in to the place of pride in the living room. He’d have been very proud of this new electronic marvel, and excited to see the thrill and awe in the faces of his loved ones at the addition to their home.
From it’s prominent place, the new console would share with the family all of the world events that were to shape the future. It would entertain the children with radio shows about cowboys and pirates. It would fill the home with music from that wonderful big-band era. It would become a part of the family.
All antiques carry such a history. An antique need not have been owned by a historical figure to be important. Each old piece that survives today carries the bumps and bruises of its storied history, and with it the charm that is the root of what I love about doing this.