Sunday, April 17, 2011

Just What Constitutes an Antique Anyway (part 2)

Monday nights are my TV watching night. I love to watch Antiques Roadshow, American Pickers, and Pawn Stars, though Antiques Roadshow is my favorite. I have learned quite a bit about Americana and antiques on these shows.
Ken's Parlor

The burning question for me is, can someone tell me what an antique is? Does it have to be a certain age? And if so, who decides what is antiquated and why?
The reason I ask is, well, I collect antiques. Understand, I have always had an affinity for (mainly) American everyday know, the objects folks used on a daily basis and never thought twice about. Not unlike Henry Ford, I collect everyday objects that most people today would probably never think twice about collecting but a hundred or more years ago were used daily. Collecting the high brow all-expensive and highly sought after items that so many go after never interested me. Oh no, not great works of art or anything like that. Not even "fine" pieces of furniture. In fact, I would be nervous to own such rarities that cost big bucks. I mean, "Don't Touch!" is not in our vocabulary. We encourage our friends and guests to sit upon our 19th century furniture, spin on the great wheel, write letters on the secretary desk. And we put our plates and bowls in the corner cabinet.
In other words, we use our items, no matter how old.
Why buy something if you aren't going to use it, right?
What's kind of neat is I have had a number of friends tell me coming to our home is like visiting one of the homes in Greenfield Village, only they're allowed to take part in rather than just look.
Anyhow, recently I came across a posting I wrote three years ago and thought I would revisit and update what I wrote then:

I am interested in hearing what you all think about antiques.
What do you collect and why?
Most important, how do you know it's an antique?
For example, I own a walking (or 'great') spinning wheel. Two of 'em, in fact. As near as I can figure, both wheels are from the early 1800's - probably the 1820's or '30's. And, they are pretty big - almost as high as me. The one pictured here was purchased on Ebay at a very low price ("people have no room for these larger wheels," was the reason given for its low tag). It is definitely an original and, because of the information given at the time of purchase, I was able to research its history and found that everything fell into place, so, yes, I am quite certain of its age.

The item next to the wheel is a yarn winder from the 1850's, which was purchased through the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village during one of their antique sales they used to have a number of years back.
Again, it's not worth much at all ( I bought it for $35!), but it was an important piece that many homes had 150 + years ago.

Another item I own is a corner cabinet. A couple of friends visited recently and both called it a "primitive." What excited me initially were the squared nails used in the making of this piece, meaning almost certainly it is from before the Civil War.

Mid-19th century corner cabinet
I also have a dresser that, from what I can tell is from the 1850's, and, yes, our clothing is tucked in the drawers, as has probably been done for a century and a half. To be honest, I enjoy waking up every morning and seeing this dresser - it kind of sets the mood for me for the rest of the day...usually.

There are a few other antiques we have - a 'what-not-shelf' circa 1860's, a settee from the 1890's, a couch from the 1850's...
My wife and I allow ourselves one antique a year - maybe two, depending on the cost - and have done so for the past several years. It's quite fun, actually, to search out and actually own something that has been around for so long. One cannot help but wonder where these objects were kept all this time: was the great wheel displayed proudly because great great great grandma once spun on it? Or was it hidden away in an attic, forgotten about until the old homestead was to be sold and it had lost its meaning?
Did a proud farmer build the corner cabinet for his wife because, during the depression of the late 1830's and early 1840's, they could not afford to purchase one? (Yes, 1830's & 1840's - there was a depression a hundred years before the "Great Depression" of the 20th century). Or did he build it because that's what folks did back then?

How about the circa 1860 secretary desk I recently purchased? I'm sure it once sat proudly in someone's parlor and then probably eventually was moved out to the garage where it held tools, screws and nails, and other garage-type items.
It now, once again, sits proudly, only now it's in our gathering room (or parlor, if you prefer). And I was lucky enough to locate an 1887 chair to go with it.

Do you see this next item to the left? Do you know what it is? A number of years ago neither did I, but I noticed that nearly every home inside Greenfield Village had one - at least the homes of the 19th century. It's called a wall pocket, and this was to hold mail, newspapers, and magazines. What a neat idea! I have only seen one of this type anywhere. Guess what? I bought it without question. The funny thing is, I paid very little because it's something that few people today are aware of and yet most homes a hundred and fifty years ago had them. But, because few know about them they're not worth very much.
But I'm glad I got one...

Now, this brings me to my original question - what constitutes an antique? Some folks will call virtually anything old an antique. I still have the complete Detroit News and Free Press newspapers from when John Lennon died. They are over 30 years old. Antiques? How about my original (and real) Schafer 'Supremes' Bread wrapper (with the caricatures of Motown's "Diana Ross and the Supremes" upon it) from 1966? This is 45 years old. Is this an antique?

I have a WKNR (Keener 13 radio) "Think Summer" button from the 'Summer of Love' - 1967. I wonder if that's old enough...Or, if you want to see even older pop culture, I also have a Lucky Strikes tin from World War II - how about this? Or my Life magazines from the 1930's and '40's?

According to the 'professionals,' an antique is
"an item which is at least 100 years old and is collected or desirable due to rarity, condition, utility, or some other unique feature. Motor vehicles, tools and other items subject to vigorous use in contrast, may be considered antiques in the U.S. if older than 25 years, and some electronic gadgets of more recent vintage may be considered antiques."

Makes sense, especially when one considers how old objects in Europe are in comparison. But, are we making exceptions, maybe, for monetary purposes? Consider the Beany Babies - those little stuffed animals that kids and adults went nuts for around a decade ago. The companies that produced them purposely put out a lesser amount of certain titles (the purple princess one comes to mind) for the sole purpose of collectibility - to make them "rare." Would these be considered antiques today? How about the first Santa Bears from the 1980's (or was it the late 1970's)? Are those considered antiques?

Here's another definition: an antique is an old collectible item. It is an object that represents a previous era in human society. I am beginning to see some light. "Collectibles." People - especially dealers out to make money, are intertwining something that is considered a collectible with an actual antique. Walk into any antique shop or watch American Pickers on the history channel and chances are you will more than likely see more things of a collectible nature rather than authentic antiques.
Unfortunately, it seems to me that in today's society an antique is whatever someone declares to be one, even though it could be just a collectible.
Well, I guess in my opinion it looks like my John Lennon newspapers, Supremes bread wrapper, and Lucky Strikes tin have a few years to go before they can be considered bonafide antiques.
But, my spinning wheel, corner cabinet, settee, and other objects that are from the 19th century and before are truly and legitimately antiques.
I would love to hear others' thoughts on the subject.
There are stories of past times behind everything I see...once these cast-off relics were important and had meaning. Don't they still? Yes...a new life!



Pam of Eastlake Victorian said...

What an interesting topic. I always heard that something over 100 years old was an antique, and anything earlier was just plain old or outdated! But I'm just an average person like you, not a wealthy antique collector. I buy my antiques not for their resale value, but because I want to live with them and use them the rest of my life. I prefer furniture and items that someone of my social status (low-to-middle class) would have owned. I think of the term "collectible" as just something that is sought after, whether it's old, rare or new.

You have an impressive antique collection, and it's great that you use and appreciate your things. That's what we do here, too. I wouldn't buy a chair I couldn't sit on! When I was a kid, some families had a room where the furniture and even lampshades were covered with clear plastic, and nobody was allowed to go in those rooms... they were for "special company." I think even if a president of queen stopped by, they would have been insulted to sit on plastic-covered furniture.

Your home is decorated so nicely and authentically for the time period you and your family enjoy. I think that's wonderful! Thanks for all your well written posts. They are always a pleasure to read, and I always learn a lot!


Historical Ken said...

Thank you, Pam.
Collecting antiques is one of those home hobbies that so many don't seem to understand, especially with me being a guy! I suppose I should be collecting football helmets and hockey sticks like a few of my buddies do, right?
It's taken me years to get what I have, only because I don't just buy something because it's an antique. Like you, I try to collect what is in my middle class social status and era of preference (pre-1890's if possible).
I appreciate your kind words - I, too, enjoy your postings as well.

Robert said...

I believe it has to be 25 years old for somethings but weapons has another law. I thing 1895 and earlier. Hope this some what helped!

SteveH said...

I collect old tools, logging implements, axes, saws, cant hooks etc. One of the most unusual pieces that I have is a Black Powder Splitting Wedge, sadly it isn't an original. (Caveat Emptor). Lately I've turned my attention to vintage advertising labels for canned goods and Patent Medicines. A favorite can label is for "Eels in Jelly" (yummy!), and another for "Prune Cereal Coffee" really gets you going in the morning!