Today the talk at the local antique shop was of authenticity and appraisal, but they were not using those words exactly the way I would use them. I love going into the shop (From out of the Woods Antiques) to get a different perspective on historical items than that I normally take away as an archivist. Today, a visiting coin dealer was saying that he wishes customers wouldn't use special pens on the currency to see if it is real. The owner of the shop was negotiating over the price of items. My idea of appraisal is judging the historical value of an object and authentic items help me form a more accurate picture of historical events for archives visitors. It is engrossing to be in this place and with people who value their items with varied expertise.
I generally wander through the shop looking for paper based items, archives or ephemera that catch my eye. Today, all my finds were found in a small box that sat on a shelf locked behind glass. The box was filled with many greeting cards. There were cute ones and beautiful ones, but I chose the one to the left because it reminded me of Warner Brothers cartoons from my childhood. The handwritten message inside is endearing as well, wishing a 75 year old another 25 good years of life.
The item got me thinking about about the history of mass produced greeting cards. When I was in grad school many moons ago, I interned for a short time at the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now known as Historic New England.) One of the things I remember best from my time there are the lovely hand-made Valentines they maintain in their archives. Greeting cards always bring me back to that place, but the cards I looked at this morning were very different from the lace glued papers, some obviously made with love and care. According to Wikipedia, mass-produced greeting cards were begun in the 1860s. They seem to have hit their stride by the 1930s, with a more precise appearance that doesn't seem too far removed from our Hallmark versions today -- a fully realized vision of quickly made, ephemeral items with less regard for detail compared to their 19th century counterparts. But despite that commercialized appearance, this item was unusual to me, right down to its 3-dimensional golden egg in a nest, and I had to take it home.
The second item that caught my eye is this photo of a woman holding a letter. Props reveal a lot about the people pictured in photos. (Well-known author Maureen Taylor discusses this on her Photo Detective web site.) In historic photographs, people often chose to be pictured with items that were meaningful to them. To have a photograph taken was a special event. They didn't take snapshots every day. So we see such pictures as men with their guns, women standing near the mantel with heirlooms, and families standing on the lawn in front of the house with the valuable family cow. This letter must be meaningful to this woman. Was it written by a husband at war or by her children who have left home for new adventures? I love thinking about the possibilities. I would also love to see this image in a collection of the woman's papers. Perhaps we could have put two-and-two together. How great would it have been if the letter were kept along side the image?
My third find today was this image of a girl in spectacles. Those who regularly read about my antique shop finds know that I have a soft spot for girls with curls who remind me of my own. The girl is adorable, but was she really as bored as she looks here? I'd love to find a pair of spectacles like the ones she has on to keep alongside this image. Though a first glance of items often draws me in, it's the stories they tell and the connections I can keep trying to decipher and build that keeps me going back to the original objects. I see a bit of myself and those I love in the old, even when the people who wrote a message or had a photo taken are not related to me. Memories come of my own come flooding back. My connection to a greater humanity is more clear. This girl could be my own daughter or could be me, standing with a scowl by my grandmother before my sixth grade graduation.