Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Down the Road

I'll admit that I'm a big fan of all things vintage or antique. I'm intrigued by history, how things were made and used, and how they can be preserved. On the nights when "American Pickers" is on, I'm glued to the TV. (If you haven't watched the show on The History Channel, you should give it a try.)

Why are objects from the past so intriguing? Possibly because we remember seeing these items during our childhood. Possibly because those items are seldom used any longer. Perhaps we heard our parents talk about a thus-and-such but never actually saw one.

Many years ago, Americans seemed to lose interest in old things. Modernization beckoned! In a book about some of the mega stars of 1940s Broadway, I read that some of them had homes in far-off Connecticut allowing them to get away from New York for the weekend. These were some of the earliest "regular folks" to become interested in finding old lanterns and tables to furnish their get-away homes. It was a boom to the Connecticut storekeepers for wealthy shoppers to browse and purchase relics.

More recently interest in antiques was stirred by programs like "Antiques Roadshow," a staple on PBS for 16 years. People come to the broadcast bearing an item for the appraisers to inspect. Some people discover that the heirloom they treasured is actually a souvenir piece of minimal value. Others find that the old table now stored in the garage is a rare and valuable piece worth a great deal of money.

With the trend to so-called "reality television," several new TV programs have emerged. Unfortunately, many of those shows are contrived, showing stupid people doing stupid things and hoping to get rich in the process.

An antique dealer recently told me that, like many other dealers, he often attends auctions to acquire additional inventory. However, auction prices are rising rapidly as attendees of varying experience and savvy hope to find the big score and make a killing. It seems like many people are under the impression that if they shop often and take home enough care-worn items, they will come across some diamond in the rough.

Of course, that's rarely true. But they may find some items of interest, something made of quality materials and carefully crafted. What people should look for -- whether it's vintage clothing, household items or even toys -- is something that they like, that they might enjoy seeing on a bookshelf or kitchen counter, an item to make them smile. The item should be significant to them, not an opportunity to find a long-lost Picasso and cash out.

The thing I enjoy about shopping for vintage items, even watching the process on TV, is that most of the items shown or brought in for appraisal were originally created to last. I have cooking utensils that belonged to my grandmother, including a cast iron skillet and a covered Dutch oven. They have lasted over a century and will continue to last with minimal treatment. If you ever attend antique stores you will likely see mounds of cast iron utensils which, by the way, represent today's newest cooking trend.

Many vintage items available for sale resemble items that are currently manufactured, with one major difference. The vintage/antique items were made of quality equipment, perhaps assembled by hand, perhaps even in this country. My house contains many items that have served me well over the years and are still going strong. My favorite fabric shears are from JC Penney purchased in 1959. I have no sentimental attachment to the shears but they are simply the most reliable scissors in the house.

I'm willing to bet that your home contains items that have been with you a while and are still going strong. These work-horse items were designed and created at a time when careful thought and craftsmanship were valued. Obviously that was some time ago.

This got me to thinking about how many of today's creations will be around in 50 years or so. Clothing? No way. Clothing is so cheaply made now that more than one season is out of the question. Cell phones? Of course not. Cell phones will continue to evolve resulting in the constant discarding of each previous edition. Technology will cause the evolution and replacement of cars, entertainment devices, music and appliances. Perhaps a sturdy piece of furniture may endure but highly unlikely.

Too bad that so much effort in today's world is spent with trivial interests and temporary matters. The things that really matter appear to be substantial and thought provoking.

Hopefully some of those traits will endure into the future. But I wonder.

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