Monday, March 17, 2008

Old Things

Twice a year, there is a huge Antiques Show at the 55th Street Pier in Manhattan, near the Intrepid. When I was single and lived in NY, I used to go to these shows religiously. I love antiques; I love old things. I like the idea that something is more valuable because it has a history, a story to tell and that something once belonged to someone else and lived its life with that other person. Antiques have value and interest completely apart from their function. If they have been loved and well-cared for, you can see it reflected in the item; It gives the item a whole other dimension.

I collect a few things here and there, and over the years, I've learned quite a bit about antiques. Because I have a decent eye for these things, I even toyed with the idea of opening a small Sunday booth in the city in which I lived when I was married, but The Ex opposed it. He hated antiquing. He would rather spend the day getting a root canal. To him, it was just more shopping. To me, it was a treasure hunt. I was endlessly in search of The Find. The Find was the item that was incredibly underpriced and undervalued, and only I knew it. Or it was the item that started out priced high, but because it was the end of the day and I had shmoozed up the dealer, he cut the price in half for me. The Find made the entire day's hunt worthwhile.

The things that I collect are small, of necessity. Because of endless financial and space constraints, I cannot collect antique furniture, or I would fill my home with beautiful old things. The few pieces of furniture that I own that are true antiques are always commented on by guests, like my huge scarred maple desk with its great patina, or the lovely dressing-table chair in my bedroom. I love the idea of putting modern things with old pieces of furniture. There is something "right" about seeing the flatscreen monitor perched on my desk...the old serving the new serving the old.

I haven't been to the Pier Antiques Show since I got married. It has changed quite a bit over the years. For one thing, it has gotten smaller; it used to span three piers and now it filled only one, and of course, the variety of selection has shrunken along with the space. Gone were the booths devoted to Americana, knicknacks, and country antiques. Antique jewelry, both costume and real, was huge this year. Coral is incredibly popular and so are cameos. Louis Tiffany lamps were selling in the multi-thousand dollar range. Silver was available for dirt cheap prices. I have a secret fantasy of coming to an antique show one day with the future Mr. WebGirl, buying a full set of an old unusual old European sterling pattern, kashering it and using it as my Shabbosware. Frankly, I don't know why every frum married couple doesn't do that. The sterling that you get in antique fairs is so much more beautiful and valuable than what you can buy in Boro Park, so incredibly easy to kasher, and usually much less expensive. It will also ensure that your Shabbos table doesn't look like the Goldbergs' and the Steins' Shabbos table. I have a few old serving pieces that I inherited from my grandmother that are unsual and lovely and simply ooze personality, and when I was married and used to entertain for Shabbos and Chaggim, my guests always commented on them. Things like old salt cellars and relish tongs and unusual challah knives from the turn of the century add character to a table.

This year, an entire third of the Pier Show was dedicated to vintage clothes, which, as much as I enjoy looking at them, was an entirely different type of market from the other antiques. Oh, the gorgeous old frou-frou furs and evening gowns with the tiny wasp waists, the 1940's boots with the impossibly pointy toes and high heels, the beaded clutches with their tiny seed pearls had my heart racing. But when I held the supple fifty year old Hermes ostrich skin handbag in my clammy little hands, I found myself actually trying to calculate how long I would have to work to earn the $5,600 that it cost. It's amazing how true couture really holds together and lasts forever. When I was married, I had a very, very wealthy friend who once showed me the ten Chanel suits she had hanging in her closet, with each one costing several thousand dollars. She wore them for years and years, just swapping out accesories and blouses. A few had belonged to her mother. They were exquisitely made of gorgeous materials, and truly you couldn't compare them to the three-hundred dollar affairs that I purchased for Rosh Hashana in Boro Park and would give away to a gemach after a few seasons.

If I had money, real money, I would know how to spend it. Ah, the gashmius of it all.

When I am in an antique mall, I reign myself in by withdrawing a fixed amount of cash beforehand and spending only that amount, not a penny more, or I would completely overindulge. Yesterday's haul included some limoge miniatures, a few interesting European sterling table pieces, a tiny piece of decorative china from a pattern I collect, a battered Bezalel mezuzah cover, and a lovely old bracelet made from little Venetian glass beads. I'm going to give the bracelet to a niece who is just starting to develop an interest in Italian things (strongly encouraged by Aunt WebGirl, strongly frowned upon by WebGirl's yeshivish sister-in-law).

I don't know why I love antiques so much. Maybe it's because my own life and history has been so dull and ordinary, and I like peppering it up with little things that tell stories. Maybe.

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