Wednesday, September 15, 2010

More Finds at the Local Antique Shop

A few weeks ago, I saw this car and dog sitting alongside my car at my local antique shop...
What can be more fun than a dog in sunglasses?
I found out last night when I returned to From Out of the Woods Antiques for my first antiques lesson in their eight part course. I had so much fun that I was surprised when the two hour class was over. (I tend to look at my watch a lot when I sit through presentations. My husband tries to guess how much I liked a movie at the theater based on how often he sees me glance at my wrist. He'll say, "I think that was a five watch didn't like it very much." I think my antique class was a no watch presentation which would be the equivalent to a five star rating.)

As an archivist, I focus on the historical value of the records for which I care. I am concerned about how well the records help tell a story about a specific time, place or person. I judge materials by their primary value, which focuses on the reason for which they were created. Or, more often, I judge the secondary value of materials that concerns itself with the long term historical use of the items. Can a researcher use them? Do they hold information that is worthwhile past the records' active lifespan? Do the records provide evidence of human activity? Sometimes I'll even deeply consider the sentimental or intrinsic value of materials, which takes note of how an item awakens human passions and / or nostalgia.

Those interested in antiques focus on this latter bit. Does an item speak to them? Will it be valued by anyone else in the future, thus making it a worthwhile investment? It is intriguing for me to examine historical items on this level for this is what got me interested in studying history in the first place, yet archivists often have to push aside the gut instinct.

Antique shop owner and our workshop leader for the evening, Donna pulled out a mortar and pestle late in the program. I began thinking about the people who may have used the item and as I always do, I began envisioning another time and place. Our teacher pointed out the original paint, the colors that change over time, and said what she was showing us was a good piece. It was not a reproduction. It was the real deal. I could see the pleasure in her eyes as she spoke about a genuine artifact. I felt our common bond.

I like to collect glass, just for fun. I've collected other things in the past and have small "collections" of various things. I've read a lot recently about what makes a collection (in the non-archival sense). Is it three pieces? Ten pieces? Or is it just a good solid set of pieces that you pick out with care and the number doesn't matter? I'm gravitating toward blue glass. I've started with depression glass. For one, depression glass can be an inexpensive way into this kind of collecting, but it was really the rainbow hues that first caught my eye. My little girl got excited by the colors too, so recognizing a potential mother daughter bonding moment, this seemed like a good "collection" for us all around.

With the talk about the mortar and pestle last night, an audience member raised a question about the next generation. Do younger people appreciate this "old stuff" less? Did previous generations have a lesser appreciation for the things of their ancestors? I don't think this is the case. I think if younger people are properly introduced to old things they grow to appreciate it. There are lots and lots of antiquities related to every subject imaginable. History and material culture (the things humans make) can feed into a love of a subject or an appreciation for beauty and creativity. Antiquing can satisfy a desire to touch or own something with value or meaning beyond ourselves. Whether we are antique dealers, archivists, or curators, we need to find new ways to express this to our potential audiences.

I'm not sure if this class will be useful beyond feeding my new found passion. It may even help me find another temporary passion for artifacts I've yet to discover. But I do know that Donna and I have a common appreciation and knowledge about history that could dovetail nicely. Archivists, curators and other cultural heritage professionals need to better explore avenues of collaboration with like-minded individuals to further all of our professions and to ensure the stability of our cultural heritage. I look forward to learning new things and exploring history in a new way.

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