I’m no fan of things that are made of plastic or chrome, things that buzz and beep and demand my constant attention, let alone charge cords and batteries. I use them because they’re useful. They make work easier.
But I much prefer objects with patina, provenance, crazing, chips. Made of wood and stone and glass and porcelain, often worn smooth by others’ hands, cradled 100 or 200 or 500 years ago by someone long gone.
I admit it without embarrassment — buying antiques also allows me to own crystal and silver and beautifully made objects that don’t carry today’s retail prices.
I recently leafed through several worn black leather photo albums from 1912, awed by the women in their bonnets and boots, the men standing proudly beside the very latest in technology — a hand-cranked car, an airplane.
What were their lives like? How did their air smell? What music did they enjoy?
When I drink from a tea bowl from 1780 or sit on a chair made in 1850, I’m intimately connected to history. I’m a part of it — as we all are — but attaching myself, physically and emotionally, only to the shiny and new, is too seductive. It de facto erases the past; an “old” cellphone may be barely six months past its date of production.
I’m drawn, inexorably, to antiques, to items that have passed through history, whether from a distant farmhouse or shed or a merchant’s home or a trader or a teacher. I like the fact they are memento mori, the implicit reminder we’re all just passing through, borrowing — for a few decades — the objects we allow to define us and our taste to others.
For now I’ll enjoy them: rush-seated painted chairs; early gilt frames with bubbled glass; botanical prints; heavy silver forks and light-as-a-feather coin silver spoons; hand-woven rugs and linens. My most recent antiquing trip yielded terrific finds, from a large ironstone pitcher ($16) to a swath of mustard-colored charmeuse silk ($10.)
One of my latest acquisitions, found in Port Hope, Ontario, is a black painted wooden folk art horse, about a foot high and a foot long, beautifully hand-carved, standing on a base painted with the words “Souvenir de”.
A memory of….what? Did his creator lose interest? Forget? Die?
I love this omission. It gives me something to wonder about.
9 thoughts on “Why Old Things Have Such Power”
Holy cow! Not only beautifully written, but I feel the same way about things well aged. And here I thought I was the only one that gave thought to these things. Nice, again, to meet a kindred spirit.
Old things have tremendous beauty to me. Not all of them, to be sure. But I love their emotional resonance.
I have to agree with the comment above- this is beautifully crafted. My family’s house is full of these ‘antiques’, if you can call them that.. When I was young, my dad used to take me out “skip’hunting”. We would forage around skips which neighbours had rented to discard of their stuff, jump in, rummage around and emerge victorious with a lampshade, broken mainframe computer or bedside table.
So fun! I know I got this taste for old things from my own parents as well; my Mom always drilled into my head (and I’ve seen that it’s true) that if you buy good old things you can always re-sell them for the same or more money while new things almost always lose all their “value.”
My bedroom door — and I live in the boring NYC ‘burbs — came off the street! It fit the frame perfectly and has a lovely brass doorknob, probably from the 1930s…
I wrote a post about old things from a different perspective before reading this one. Great post–nice detail!
Thanks! There’s a lot to say…
The Versatile Blogger Award — I’ve nominated you!
Is that official? Thanks….