What do you with your family’s stuff if you inherit some decent things and have to go through it all?
Sell it — on Ebay? Craigslist? At auction? Donate it to Goodwill?
An intriguing new book, “Objects of Our Affection: Uncovering My Family’s past, One Chair, Pistol and Pickle Fork at a Time”, delves into the subject. Lisa Tracy, a journalist, auctioned off many of these objects in 2003.
From The New York Times:
She still regrets aspects of the sale; prices were mostly a few hundred dollars. During the auction, she had hoped to tell buyers about the back stories: how her grandparents entertained on the Canton rose-medallion plates and collected wooden chests while posted with the American military in China and the Philippines, and how the protruding hardware on one trunk always snagged the clothing of anyone walking past.
But as Ms. Tracy approached successful bidders in the parking lot after the sale, they brushed her off politely. “I was so dashed by that,” she said during a recent interview at a Manhattan coffee shop. “But I realized people wanted to start investing their own stories in the pieces, about how they got it at this auction.”
Her book is part of a minitrend of literary memoirs based on longtime possessions. Last year the antiques restorer Maryalice Huggins’s “Aesop’s Mirror: A Love Story” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) described her inconclusive research into the origins of a gilded mirror dripping with high-relief fruit. In August Farrar, Straus will publish the British ceramist Edmund de Waal’s “Hare With Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss,” about his inherited collection of some 360 Japanese ivory carvings that were smuggled to safety during the Holocaust.
From Random House’s website:
After their mother’s death, Lisa Tracy and her sister, Jeanne, are left to contend with several households’ worth of furniture and memorabilia, much of it accumulated during their family’s many decades of military service in far-flung outposts from the American frontier to the World War Two–era Pacific. In this engaging and deeply moving book, Tracy chronicles the wondrous interior life of those possessions and discovers that the roots of our passion for acquisition often lie not in shallow materialism but in our desire to possess the most treasured commodity of all: a connection to the past.
What starts as an exercise in information gathering designed to boost the estate’s resale value at auction evolves into a quest that takes Lisa Tracy from her New Jersey home to the Philippines and, ultimately, back to the town where she grew up. These travels open her eyes to a rich family history characterized by duty, hardship, honor, and devotion—qualities embodied in the very items she intends to sell. Here is an inventory unlike any other: silver gewgaws, dueling pistols that once belonged to Aaron Burr (no, not those pistols), a stately storage chest from Boxer Rebellion–era China, providentially recovered family documents, even a chair in which George Washington may or may not have sat—each piece cherished and passed down to Lisa’s generation as an emblem of who her forebears were, what they had done, and where they had been. Each is cataloged here with all the richness and intimacy that only a family member could bring to the endeavor.
As someone unreasonably passionate about antiques, I get it. I love feeling connected to the past whenever I use my brass push-up candlesticks or sit on my 19th-century rush-seated painted chairs or use my 18th. century teapot — $3.50 in an upstate junk shop. I wear antique shawls and, as I write, a pair of green glass Deco-era drop earrings I found in an L.A. flea market for $40. My computer desk is covered with pale green ticking bought in the Paris flea market.
Worn and beautiful, well-made old things comfort and soothe me in a way no slick, shiny modern thing (OK, except my Itouch and Mac) can match.
I bought all of it.
We have very few inherited pieces, for a variety of reasons.
What objects have you inherited that you cherish — or couldn’t wait to dump?