Thursday, May 6, 2010

Everything Old is New Again



I'm leading with a picture of a Shelley (English) antique china teaset which is leaving my collection to go to a new home as part of someone else's Mother's Day celebration. I love Shelley particularly, and passing on pieces like this is very much like sending a beloved pet to a new home! you want to be sure it's in good hands and will be enjoyed and cared for, and in this case, I know that's true.

The thing is that this is a time when I am slimming down possessions, even beloved ones, because I need to have fewer physical objects around, and because at some time, these possessions will need to be accounted for in some way after I've shuffled off this mortal coil, and HS will have enough on his hands without figuring out this kind of thing.

So everyone's happy.

I used long ago to have an antique business, mostly mail order, with collectors in the middle and far West who loved good pottery and porcelain and small objects. I could identify excellent items, buy them reasonably and resell them. And there were people I really liked who would write back (this was before email) to say, oh, that breakfast set was so lovely, I just set it up on the table and gazed and gazed! that kind of thing made it fun.

What was not fun was the sort of collector who is rapacious and wants, as another dealer commented to me, not just to collect but to own all of one kind of thing, very anal stuff. And I became careful about not being part of someone else's mental health problems! I must say though, that never once in all my years of dealing via mail with people I'd never met, was I stiffed. Never once. There's an integrity even about the most aggressive collector that bears copying.

By the same token, people got to know that what I shipped was genuine, was in the excellent condition I'd claimed, would arrive well packed and undamaged, and they'd like it. The other thing that got to me eventually was the packing, aaaarrrghghgh, packing fragile valuable items was to dealing as framing is to painting: a horrible necessity!

The person who will be the next custodian of the Shelley set (you never really own an antique, you just get to take care of it for however many years you can give it), also got into some very creative enterprises many years ago when I was newly divorced, working hellishly long hours, with a young son to feed, and a house to run, and very little time to cook.

She is a fabulous cook, and had her eye on a lovely Irish Belleek first mark set of china, you know the shamrock kind, very finely made, translucent, the real thing. I had a price on it, and what she came up with was that she would cook, her choice, meals for my freezer, wrap and seal and label them, and put her prices on them, then deliver them at intervals to the freezer, a big chest freezer left from my days as a serious veggie gardener.

So her numbers would add up to my needs for the Belleek, and when she finally got to the total, not only were we well fed with great stuff, such a treat to come home and pick out homemade food to heat and eat, but she became the owner.

It was very cool, the official handover of the crate of china, and her husband commented wryly, well, I didn't really think it would add up this fast! she had simply cooked extra when she made family dinners, and Handsome Little Son and his mom got the extras, excellent idea. But she and I had faith, and it was a side business for her in a way. Worked for all of us at that time.

After I got out of dealing, I continued teaching adult workshops on antique recognition and care and feeding, wonderful fun. At the time since I had an active business, I had a lot of examples of the items I was teaching about, their history and how to spot them, how to know if they were genuine, and so on, and I would help class members ID their own possessions, too, which excited them hugely.

Finding out how to find a signature on art glass, or how to interpret silver marks or porcelain marks was a great adventure, and I sold people, at cost, I'll never get rich, magnifying flashlights so they could examine their own jewelry and silverware.

Once people got to know me they would also bring in valuable items just to let me see, and it was huge to be able to handle real 18th century English silverware, or early American wares with a history. The teacher learns from the student, very often.

And then there are people who are convinced that everything their grandmother who lived to be 100 owned must be valuable. Especially if she lived on a farm! but then they'd bring me Fiesta ware, pretty, moderately collectible, but by no means valuable antiques.

They simply couldn't believe that maybe people gave grandma gifts to the end of her life, or she liked new china and treated herself. I would gently explain the difference between family value (this was long before the phrases family values) and dollar value, and would get them to see that treasuring it because it belonged to her was at least as good as having something with dollar value.

I used to do appraisals, too, once in a while, some of them great fun, like the times I was able to show people that the furniture they'd had in the family for decades had secret compartments they'd never found, or to see how casually some people handled their antiques which had come down from the getgo in their own family, so were simply part of their own history. There are families around here who literally had their items from the original maker! and they have the right attitude to them, just use them, with care, not exaggerated, but like them.

One wonderful original sampler I saw in a hallway of a lady for whom I was doing an appraisal for estate purposes, just near the kitchen door, and I stopped and just gazed. She said, yes, you do recognize the name on there, she was my ancestor, and I hang this where I can see it as I come and go from the kitchen. Now that's the way to go! this particular piece, large, lovely, very very early, would have easily brought six figures at Christie's, but would never make it there!

This was never a fulltime occupation for me, not enough variety in it to fill my needs. Usually I had at least one little enterprise going beside a fulltime job. I'll tell you sometime about the miniature needlework club I created...

Then there was a period when I was supporting myself with several enterprises, great fun, highwire act! I was young enough that I could afford to buy my health insurance, but later that all changed as I passed the critical age of 50 and it became so much more of a burden, that I got back into fulltime work with benefits, until I was able to strike out again.

But with the antiques, after we sold the house I had all this stuff in, I did keep a few specially nice items just to enjoy.

1 comment:

Amy said...

What an interesting occupation to have had! My grandma has a LOT of antiques, but none of the rest of my family will know what to d with them once she goes...I wonder what will happen to them?! Trading sounds like a great way to acquire things...maybe I should propose this to my beautician friend...maybe some cupcakes for a pedicure?