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Antiques for Everyday: The Butter Dish Incident

Among my recurring spiels is the idea of Everyday Antiques, that is, that Antique are Green, cost effective and sustainable, and that their everyday use makes sense.

One of the recurring themes I hear from my friends, family and people I meet is that antiques aren't for them, by virtue of the fact that their homes aren't safe for antiques, and antiques are expensive (and therefore irreplaceable and not to be bought by ordinary people).

'Display cabinet with a lock!' suggests Martin, practically.

Well, yes, this is a good idea for rare and priceless antiques, but totally unnecessary for another category: the everyday antique.

While it's true that you probably don't want the Pinner Vase sitting on a coffee table in the family room where your five-year-old or the labrador's tail or an altercation between the twins can result in a $80 million smash, the truth is that most of us won't be buying the Pinner Vase for our sitting rooms, anyway, and there are a whole lot of modestly-priced antiques whose use does make sense, even for middle-class families.

Which brings me to The Butter Dish Incident.

I happen to dislike plastic butter dishes.  I don’t like looking at them, I don’t like the feel of them, I don’t like cleaning them.  So I bought an expensive ceramic lidded butter dish from an up-market housewares store.  And then I broke it.  So I replaced it.  Then I broke the lid of the replacement.

At that point my husband said, “Wumman, yeh’ve got to be kiddin’.  All the butter dishes you have in the stockroom, and yer off to buy another?”  He was right – what was I thinking?  I “bought back” a beautiful molded glass butter dish from our stock, it was a fraction of the cost of a new one, and we’ve had it on the kitchen table ever since.

Why hadn't I chosen a vintage or antique butter dish in the first place? Well, for one thing, I was matching my up-market totally yuppie kitchenware. But why?  Well, because I wasn't thinking!  I was putting antiques in one category, and my everyday living in another.

But it might get broken!  Yeah, sure it might.  But a whole lotta things we own might get broken. Do we refrain from buying a lamp or a television set or a bottle of beer because 'it might get broken'?  But it's irreplaceable!  Well...it might be...but then, so are my yuppie homewares, now - the manufacturer has discontinued the line!

If you're buying an 'ordinary' butter dish or sugar bowl, why wouldn't you save money and buy a vintage one?  If you're buying a special or fancy vase, something to display or only to be used when company comes, again, why not an antique?  Especially one that has been increasing in value? Why don't we think outside the box?

So, when you're next thinking about decorating or outfitting your home, think outside the box.  Consider visiting a second-hand or antiques shop.  Tell the owner what you're looking for, and ask what's affordable.  You just might get a very pleasant surprise!

How to Introduce Children to Antiquing - Part II

From a parent’s point of view, antiquing with children has some compelling arguments. One is getting them away from television and computer screens, another is involving the whole family in the same activity.  I also see it as an opportunity to teach children about design, art and culture, knowledge that will serve them well throughout life. Yet another aspect is an opportunity to talk with kids about money and finance, an aspect where many of us fall down. Sure, we tell our children they have to get an education and a job, but do we talk about financial planning in any way? We may teach thrift by getting them a piggy bank or a bank account, but how about investment?

This post isn’t intended as professional advice; it’s meant to get you thinking about some possibilities.

The Antique Shop

Visiting an antique shop with very young children is probably not a great idea, particularly the sort of crowded shop where valuables are on low tables and shelves and easily knocked off. But if they have high counters, you can teach children to ‘look but not touch’ as the dealer shows you items. Please teach your children good manners in a shop in a constructive, positive way. Do not shout ‘that’s expensive! Put it down!’ For one thing, a shock will likely make the child drop whatever it is; for another, it seems to me that that idea simply tells a child ‘that’s too good for the likes of you!’ or ‘people like us don’t buy that sort of thing’.  Rather, say things like ‘Isn’t that pretty? When you’re a grown up you’ll be able to afford things like that.’

Children must be supervised
at all times in an antique shop

The Antiques Fair 

The guidelines to be used in a shop are even more important at an antiques fair.  It is likely that exhibitors have brought their very best merchandise, and the sound of something breaking is not one that any of us want to hear, nor do you want the bill!

I do not recommend taking very small children; they get bored and they tire easily. Interestingly, though, I met many school-aged children at the recent Canberra Seasonal Antiques Fair who absolutely love antiques. I couldn't believe it!  These kids watch Antiques Roadshow and Bargain Hunt religiously and are facinated with old wares.

In my unscientific sampling, girls had a vaguer, broader selection of items they were interested in; often anything to do with animals, fairies and princesses, which leaves them open to a wide range of glass, ceramics, sculpture and Fine Art.

Boys, however, could get very specific: one utterly charming fellow told me he liked walking canes and opera glasses!

An antiques fair can be a great source of information for both you and your children, but remember that people are people: Some people love children, some people do not. Many dealers are delighted to talk with people; some just want a sale. Bear in mind that selling is, after all, the reason most vendors are there, so if you just want to look, it's best not to interrupt if the stall holders are busy or trying to close a deal.  You will be most successful if you pop in when things are slow and say something like 'May we browse?' or 'Just having a look, is that all right?' You'll usually find that people are happy to help; if they're not, don't sweat it, smile and move along.

Caring for Antiques

Another way to instruct children in the value of antiques and collectables is to allow them the care of them. For example, my grandmother ‘allowed’ me to polish her silver and Windex® the glass baubles, bobeches and prisms that hung from the glitzy tables, lamps and chandeliers she loved. It was to our mutual benefit; Grandma readily admitted that she hated doing such chores herself, while I absolutely loved such fiddling about.

A sturdy, cheaply-bought stool can give a child access to a table or sink, and even quite a young child can stand at the sink while a parent stands behind and lines the sink with a dish towel, and the child can splash about while Mum or Dad cleans the glass or china (okay, maybe not your best china, but....) 

Sure, this will likely increase your cleaning time by a bit, but what is that compared to the quality time you spend together?  These are the sorts of joyful memories that last a lifetime.

Aleta Curry is a writer and historian, and an accredited antiques dealer and valuer from NSW, Australia.  She and her husband Martin write extensively about antiques and collectables, and run the successful Aleta’s Antiques.  Martin and Aleta love sharing their knowledge and are committed to Integrity in Antiquing.  Aleta blogs at Aleta’s Arty Facts.