Living with very old things

By Caitlin Kelly

No, not me or Jose!

A decade ago my mother had to suddenly sell all her belongings and go into a nursing home, and into a small room. She was able to take a few pieces of art but lost a lot of it to auction.

I shipped home, across a border and country, a pair of her early textiles, framed. I have no idea where she bought them or when or if my grandmother had owned them. I wish I’d asked when we were still cordial, but of course I didn’t.

I’m a massive fan of textiles, old and new, and always wondered what these two pieces were — and I follow a serious antique textiles dealer in Britain on Instagram. I recently asked her if these were what I suspected — 17th century Italian.

They are!

Wow.

I’m now wildly fantasizing who used them, and when and where and for what purpose. They are velvet and gold thread and the centerpiece, I believe, is linen.

Italy in the 1600s was quite the place…1.7 million Italians died of plague in the first years of that century. In 1656 around 300,000 people in Naples, this was half the population of Naples at that time….Good God, why is this so awfully familiar?!

We own a few other quite old objects, which have been gifts or bought at auction or antique stores or shows. I know some people have zero interest in old stuff or owning old stuff, but I really love living with, enjoying and using lovely and material bits of history.

I find it extraordinary to tap away on a laptop on top of a gate-leg oak table, probably British, someone made in the 18th century. Ours looks almost exactly like this one, without a drawer.

The craftsmanship is amazing — finely curved edges, smoothly fitted leaves and legs. My father gave it to us a few years ago and I love it. It easily seats four, six at a pinch.

Then there’s a tiny teacup, hand-painted. I love its designs — also very unusual, and someone said, maybe made for the Islamic market. I’ve studied ceramics and silver and furniture and textiles because they fascinate me, so when I spot something potentially that’s very early (for me, anything 18th or 17th century) — and undervalued — I know what it is!

Like this 18th century teapot, missing a lid — $3.50 in an upstate NY junk shop; if it had a lid, it would sell for about $1,000.

The teapot on the table…

If I could own something really ancient, it might be a piece of Greek, Roman or Middle Eastern sculpture or art.

Do really old pieces interest you?

9 thoughts on “Living with very old things

  1. Jan Jasper

    I love old things, but I don’t own anything as old as these amazing textiles of yours. One of my earliest memories is going to dusty antique shops with my mother. Family lore has it that one of the first phrases my little brother learned to say was ” Windsor chair.” I have many Victorian pieces, some inherited from my mom when she died 4 years ago. My oldest item is a table that Mom told me is 18th century.

    1. Love a Windsor chair!

      My whole family loves antiques and my father and I, back in the day, spent happy hours searching, as well, in thrift and antique shops and flea markets. Good thing — being competitive — we collect differently! (He dealt in early Irish silver for a while.)

      It’s so easy to study and learn…another element I enjoy.

  2. Love the daintiness of that teapot. Old things carry their own energy and I think I’m enough of an empath to feel that. I’ve always been repelled, rather than drawn to, antiques–and I think it’s for that very reason. That said, I love it when people can repurpose or reuse things and give them a new life.

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