Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Timeless Treasures

I have a certain appreciation for classic material goods.

Some people might consider old things to be passé, obsolete or out of fashion. But I find there are qualities in classic items that deserve closer attention.

I enjoy going to antique shops and am specifically drawn to vintage items. These do not include more lavish items like chandeliers or silver goblets. I prefer things that middle-class, working people actually used. Kitchen utensils that helped get meals on the table. Lamps that helped light a living room. Coin purses that kept spare change from falling to the bottom of a woman's handbag. Useful things from a bygone era.

What's also fascinating about some of these vintage items is the workmanship used in their preparation.

Some of my favorite items are small objects that might have been routinely found on a woman's dressing table. Many of these miniature items could have been made a century ago. Things which routinely grab my attention include hatpins, gloves, small boxes, handkerchiefs and button hooks. If you examine the details of these items, the quality is amazing. Such objects often remain in remarkably good condition despite having survived use, world wars, packing/unpacking, travel and likely several owners. They were created by hands that cared about the quality of the end product.

People also took care of such items. Women took pride in having nice gloves. Accessories like hats and jewelry were important to the wearer and demonstrated that she cared about how she was viewed by others. Because people were aware of their appearance, gloves were placed carefully in a dresser drawer when not being worn. Handkerchiefs were washed, perhaps starched and certainly ironed to be properly at the ready when needed.

Antique items tend not to include overstuffed furniture. Stores might display an occasional fainting couch or divan, but such furniture did not usually survive. Fabric of the day were velvet or other material which was not durable. Spotting and wear was so common that people placed doilies on the arms and across the back of furniture to absorb hair oil and dirt. Stuffing was often horsehair which tended to eventually to compact and lose shape.

Furniture that endured tended to be wooden furniture like rocking chairs, dining tables, hutches and bedroom sets. Carefully carved in hard wood, these pieces have passed the test of time. No particle board or self assembly here. These items were carefully crafted and continue to enchant collectors.

Vintage doesn't necessarily mean exceptionally old either. Some vintage stores contain items from as recently as the 1970s. It's amusing to see objects displayed in antique stores exactly like gifts I received for my wedding in 1967! Sets of matched drinking glasses fitted into a metal carrier -- something every hostess needed. Small, clear glass snack plates with matching glass cups which rested in a ring on the plate. Perfect to hold punch and cake for an afternoon soiree. Chip and dip sets and Lazy Susan trays. Many households contained such collections but it is doubtful that they were used very often.

Some of these later vintage items seemed to fall out of mainstream use for a couple of reasons. By the 1970s, more women worked full time. There were still social gatherings, but hostess glass sets and snack plates were probably less in demand. Also, many items given as wedding gifts were not finely crafted. They were mass produced and not always in the U.S.

The tide had turned.

From mid-century forward, quality has slipped in most of the goods we routinely use. House wares, clothing, even automobiles have become inferior to previous products. Watches, once a product of careful design and fine workmanship, are now disposable. If a watch requires needs anything beyond a new battery, it's cheaper to simply replace it.

Most items, in fact, are often not even designed for repair. Many products wear out about the time a newer version comes on the market. Planned obsolescence.

Perhaps that explains the appeal of goods from the past. Things of quality will endure when little else does.









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