Saturday, July 14, 2012

Appreciating Antiques

I have always enjoyed looking at and shopping for antiques.

This fondness does not include large furniture pieces like armoires or marble-topped dressers which are beautiful but far too large for most of today's homes. I am grateful for the beauty of barristers' cabinets and roll-top desks and admire their classic craftsmanship. But I will gladly let someone with an oversized house take these fine items home.

For my taste, there is nothing more intriguing than the little pieces of yesterday. I can't resist small vintage items, the type of things with which we had contact as kids. Coin purses, compacts and small things that were found in our mothers' purses. The 1950s was in the period of gloves, scarves and other beautiful but now bygone necessities. I have to stop and admire key rings, advertising items like ice scrapers and folding drinking cups which related to riding in the family car. The small parts of everyday life are the things that hold the most memories.

Little girls naturally have plenty of domestic memories from the 1950s. Many of mine involved the sewing basket. Once upon a time, women did mending. Remember mending? It was a process in which clothes were repaired so that they could continue to be worn. Clothes of the era were made to last and warranted an occasional patch or adjustment to last a bit longer. So women (most of whom didn't work full time outside the home) often mended jeans and play clothes and depended upon their much-used sewing basket. My mother's sewing was kept in a round, dark straw basket with a lid decorated in beads. That must have been a popular design as I frequently see identical baskets in antique stores. Its contents were fascinating -- spools, thimbles, assorted needles, strange floss, even a sock darner. There were also several strange pairs of scissors, short ones to clip thread, a large pair to cut fabric, and waffle-y ones to "pink" seams.

Many early memories stem from the kitchen, which was training ground for all girls in the years following the war. One of the first things I learned to prepare was Jell-O chocolate pudding (this was before the instant variety) and I stirred the pot while standing on a kitchen chair. Kitchens were mysterious and delightful, stocked with assorted pots and pans, hot pads, trivets, bottle openers and other bizarre gizmos, like melon ballers and hard-boiled egg slicers.

Cooks could select from a variety of different apron styles -- waist aprons, bib aprons, pinafore aprons and cobbler aprons. They were necessary because cooking was more involved than popping a container into the microwave. But aprons were often bright, ruffled and otherwise stylish creations to help make the cooking task a little more fun.

Dinnerware varied from fine china to Melmac in many colors and patterns with serving pieces for specified purposes. There were gravy boats (which looked nothing like boats), relish trays, soup tureens and covered casseroles. Dining was often an adventure with multiple courses and a large number of eating utensils.

Homes were decorated with doilies and table runners to protect furniture and add a touch of elegance. Nearly every home included ash trays and other smoking paraphernalia including ornate table-top lighters because so many people smoked. Desks were adorned with letter openers, desk blotters and ink bottles (for the fountain pen, of course). Mechanical pencils were found in many homes and I always found them strange. After all, we also had pencil sharpeners.

It's these little items of childhood that spark memories. Next time you browse in an antique store, look for the little things, the familiar items that we all recognize. It's an easy way to get in touch with our past.

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