When asked to write an article on my personal favorite antique piece I at first thought it would be a fairly simple matter, just pour over my relatively small collection of items that aren’t ever going to be sold and pick one. In practice however, it proved to be much more difficult.
It is not a case of milquetoast sentimentality- “they’re all my precious babies, how could I possibly choose between them?” The problems came in when I realized that my favorite antiques don’t represent either a defining moment in the evolution of style or an unusual use of material, aren’t of significant historical interest, and are practically worthless.
The primary reason for this is a streak of mercenary practicality I inherited from rural Texas ancestors. They were bitter but responsible people who knew the value of a dollar and genetically gifted me with an impulse to sell any antique I get my hands on that’s worth the effort. In truth I’m hardly a collector at all.
Besides which, it is easy to fall in love with $10,000 worth of French Imperial period gondola chair. The craftsmanship is exquisite, the upholstery is sumptuous, and it’s a down payment on a small house, I ask what’s not to love.
My personal collection consists largely of strange old books and mismatched china too chipped, or too something to sell and that have caught my more highly refined wife’s eye. She reveres them as unique found art objects and I eat off of them.
I once witnessed a visiting acquaintance unpleasantly observe “how eclectic” it was that none of our coffee cups matched as she carelessly dropped it back onto its saucer. My wife simply smiled and said, “Yes, the one you’re holding is a Booths mosaic panel, it’s 105 years old.” The visitor blanched and handled the cup and my wife’s feelings in far less cavalier manner.
Seeing my very modern and normally inoffensive spouse playing the part of 19th century verbal parlor assassin made the cup that was the poisoned barb a favorite of mine. Its gilded peacock on blue flower and, so elegant as to be almost silly, arabesque handle will always remind me of the guilty pleasure of that moment. When I’m pouring the morning coffee or evening tea I will, consciously or not, select this Booths China cup for her.
As far as the books go the story is much the same, I sell any I come up with that are of any real value and hold onto those that no one really wants. Lacking the means that would allow me to collect books based on their historic and artistic appeal I’m reduced to collecting books based on their oddity.
I have in my possession a 1943 edition of Earnest Hemingway novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls” that I love. It has nothing to do with its value I assure you. Sixty plus years isn’t all that long ago, it is I believe, the third or fourth edition, and the hardback’s condition is only fair. What makes this book a favorite of mine is an inscription that covers every available blank area from the inside of the cover, passed the title page, the other titles from Scribner page, obliterates the author’s dedication to Martha Gellhorn, and finally wraps up just before chapter one.
In all that’s ten full pages covered with a minute but florid handwriting. The text covers two subjects in amazing if meandering detail. The first is the “state of modern fiction”, apparently at the time it was “realistically challenging and entirely without outdated polite society concerns”. Tortured grammar aside, I’m sure Hemingway would be pleased that his work was regarded as a shining example of the “most modern art form”.
The second topic is, not surprisingly, the girl to whom the inscription tolls. She is compared favorably in all respects to several other girls mentioned by name. In the most purple of prose the inscriber tells the books recipient how she is like the beautiful young Maria, the novel’s romantic interest. However he seems to become confused after describing her beauty and gives her traits more like those of the strong willed harridan Pilar than the nubile and gentle Maria.
In retrospect I must correct one thing I said earlier in this article. My two favorite antiques are a teacup associated with my nearest and dearest and an old book painstakingly inscribed with the most heart felt, if sophomoric, of belle letters. I confess to the most milquetoast of sentimentality and hope the remainders of my days are filled with valueless and yet profoundly personal antiques.
Silas Finch is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Collectible Antiques Etc. He can be reached at Content and Solutions.