One Person’s Trash…

Anyone who knows me well knows of my compulsion to stop at any random building sporting a sign that says “Antiques”. It doesn’t matter what my final destination is, I’ll try to hit a shop or two on the way and once there, I’m definitely planning to squeeze in at least one afternoon of treasure hunting. I don’t discriminate based on location. I’ve been in shops with price tags completely out of my realm of monetary possibility and I’ve been in scary road side shacks with chickens roaming freely amongst the junk.  You just never know what random, out of the way places will offer up some fabulous treasure waiting be added to my well-edited collections of…well, stuff. Now, before you assume that you have stumbled upon the blog of some poor soul just waiting for a camera crew to show and begin taping her own personal Hoarder’s episode, I will clarify by saying I am a lover of antiques. I’ve gone through several phases and obsessions, some of which I have outgrown and some that have hung on a bit.
Our recent trip to the Finger Lakes and my favorite shop, the Ontario Antique Mall, reminded me that I have been a lover of hunting for and locating old but beautiful treasures since I was a child. As I stood in line waiting to pay for my latest acquisition, a little girl came and stood behind me. As I watched, she secretively opened her small hand to examine her new-found treasures. I saw that she was holding a handful of Wade animals. Exactly the first kind of “antiques” that I collected as a girl…and the first that I could afford with my own allowance or birthday money. She wore an expression of satisfaction as we chatted about her new/old Wade creatures. As I told her of my own Wade collection, she sensed a fellow aficionado and proudly held out her hand to show me the lion, squirrel and horse that would be added to her shelf. I congratulated her on a successful mission.
In my 20’s I scoured antique shops and flea markets for pottery, blue glass and antique bottles. Sometimes, I even hiked into the woods to an old gully and dug them out myself. Let me tell you, there is something very exciting about finding a perfectly intact and corked bottle of whiskey, halfway gone and carelessly thrown into a garbage pit decades before I was born. I loved sifting through that dark, damp dirt on the forest floor and finding shards of old pottery. Ornate bits of someone’s good china that had shattered and been sent to the family trash heap. That’s how they did it years ago when there was still no plastic or tin cans.
At our house in New Hampshire I did some digging in the backyard, right outside of the barn and found beautiful bits of purple and brown transferware dishes and ironstone. I wondered why they were thrown away and what had caused that dish to break? Was it simply a casualty in a washing accident or did someone get really angry at her husband? One of the coolest things I found in the soil at our New Hampshire house was this:

What is it? Why, that’s a very talented seal balancing a ball on his nose. He also served as a swizzle stick at some kind of party for the former inhabitants of our house. I don’t really know anything else about this little found treasure. I like to imagine that he was part of an extraordinarily happy day. Perhaps he held an hors d’oeurve or sat proudly holding the cherries in a Shirley Temple as children squealed with delight at a circus themed birthday party. Whatever he did, he’s my souvenir from a happy house.
I also found these in my yard:
My found bottles were the result of a new garden bed on an old piece of land. I just happen to think that’s cool. They’ve been added to my collection.
Despite some enjoyable finds while foraging in dirt, I’m more likely to be found in an antique shop, thrift store or architectural salvage building. In recent years, I’ve been on the lookout for antique engravings and transferware. Black transferware…LOVE it! I have to have it but it’s a rare day when I stumble upon an affordable piece of black transferware (which is where the “well-edited” part comes in). Brown transferware…also love it and have had great luck finding it at incredible prices, thus have a sizeable collection. I started this collection during one of my visits to Brimfield about six years ago. Brimfield has been good to me.

The antique engravings and etchings are even harder to find because I’m really picky about them. My first engraving was this one that I stumbled across on EBay. It was love at first sight and there was no way I was leaving without it. As I recall, the seller was a rather religious gal and I was involved in several rather lengthy chats about being a good Christian before I obtained my sheep etching at a reasonable price. She was a nice lady.
The only bad thing about etchings is that they are so difficult to photograph well with my mediocre digital camera. In person, the detail is incredible.
My next find was really special to me because it shows a mother and her son on a beach. I later discovered that the artist is listed and well-known for his engraving and paintings of Montauk, Long Island beaches.
There is something about this engraving that speaks to me. Maybe on some level it reminds me of Joe and our shared love of the ocean. I think I’ll never grow tired admiring it.
Lately, I haven’t been hitting antique shops with any real regularity. My children are just too small to come along, but on the odd day that I have just one of them in tow, I have been known to firmly grab them by the hand and do a quick lap around a shop with my eyes peeled for etchings and transferware. On more than one occasion, Dave has been kind enough to pull into a shop that wasn’t on our itinerary and patiently sat in the car with the kids while I have a quick look. Have I mentioned how cool my husband is? He just “gets” me and I love him so. 
So last week, my mom was watching the girls while I drove to my nearest nightmare…um, grocery store. On the way, there is this little shop called The Mustard House that I’ve been dying to get into. I was about to do yet another wistful drive by when suddenly, my steering wheel yanked to the right! Before I knew what was happening, my minivan had parked itself right smack in front of The Mustard House. Alright, I thought, how long could this take? I’ll just do one of my signature quickie laps, scan the joint and go on my merry way.
Every once in a while, you walk through the door of an antique shop and get the sense that the gods of all things old and collectible are with you. The atmosphere is right and you know that today, serendipity is in your corner. As I crossed the threshold of The Mustard House I was enveloped in the cozy darkness of a 200 year old saltbox that whispered of the great possibilities within. Yes, I felt that I was destined to be there on that day and in that moment. But isn’t that always the way on the day that you stumble upon an unexpected treasure?
Despite the intense feeling that a treasure was waiting to be discovered, I was business as usual. I did my efficient “walk and scan” through the maze of rooms, checking the inventory of antiques and newer decor. Right away, my eyes came to rest on a brown transferware dish. A decent little score, it was in my hand before anyone else could reach for it…not that anyone was even in the vicinity but I’m very territorial when it comes to my collections. Dish in hand, I still got the sense that it wasn’t “the” treasure that was calling to me. I did another lap and truthfully, there wasn’t much else that I was dying to have. I try not to add too many random old objects d’art to our homes; otherwise the beautiful pieces that we have carefully collected just become clutter.
I resigned myself to the fact that my pretty transferware plate was the treasure of the day and made my way to the cash register. As I stood waiting behind a chatty woman purchasing two fake stuffed Halloween ravens, my eyes were drawn to the wall behind the desk. There, in an area not accessible to patrons, was the most fantastic and enormous etching I could ever have imagined. My pulse skipped a beat and my breath quickened. I was skeptical. While The Mustard House does have a great selection of antiques and vintage goods, they also offer reproductions. This thing of beauty that caught my attention simply had to be a reproduction. It was too good to be true! I tried to be patient, but the bird lady started yapping about flickering candles and how real they look on her fake fireplace. Outwardly I was the picture of patience, but on the inside I was screaming at her to take her dumb stuffed birds and move on already! Finally, she said her goodbyes and with some restraint, I was able to flash a pleasant “so long” smile in her direction. 
As I placed my dish on the counter, I asked if the engraving was for sale and was promptly invited behind the desk to inspect it. 
There I stood, salivating over this piece and raving about how fantastic it is, but as I glanced at the price I knew it wasn’t going to happen. Three kids and a mortgage tend to put a real damper on investing in antiques. I was having difficulty tearing myself away from the engraving because I knew that it would be a sad goodbye. That’s when the shop owner said, “I have another etching in the back that is also framed. It’s about the same size. Would you like to see it?” Whoever was in control of my mouth in that moment said, “Yes, please. I’d love to!” She came back minutes later with another enormous beauty.

Why, for the love of all things holy was this happening? The very last subject I could put on the table at dinner tonight was the fact that I had stumbled upon to two huge etchings and, “By the way, I simply must have them.” Dave would laugh himself silly.

The shop owner and I began discussing design styles and collecting. We talked about what we collected, magazines we love and it turns out that we have a lot in common. I asked her if she does all of the buying for her shop, which clearly she does. That’s when she said that she might be open to trading for one of the engravings. Uh….Done!
On Saturday morning I hit the basement and began unpacking boxes in frenzy. After all, those boxes have been sitting for almost a whole year. They hold collections that I’ve forgotten, so no longer feel compelled to possess. I took digital photos of furniture, transferware, tole, paintings, fabric remnants…you name it. She liked what she saw. She thinks we might be able to trade for both engravings.
So I say, out with the old and in with the new-old! Keep your fingers crossed that she’s ready to trade and that those engravings can be permanent fixtures rather than two beautiful, short-lived visitors. She certainly has a sizeable lot to choose from, my pictures only scratch the surface of what I have ready to go!


  1. Slidecutter says:

    I'm salivating, here, No. 7! I have that wicker Settee in my office, my "own space" at home where all my Grandma Moses artwork hangs. And that chair with the wicker seat…to die for!

    I often go to Cold Spring and lose myself in some of the Antique shops there; can identify with that feeling one gets when a shop feels "right". That's when the treasure hunts are the best!

    Love the etchings and hope to see pics of them in your home….soon!

  2. That chair was a find too! It came with another from Sage Farm in NH. They had remnants of gold paint that had long since faded, but the cane seats were in perfect condition. I painted one black and then distressed it a bit so that the gold peeks through in just a few spots. LOVE LOVE LOVE that little chair! Let's hope that my new friend loves it's twin 🙂

  3. I stumbled upon the same Sheep etching at an auction last week. Were you ever able to find out anything about it? Artist, year, etc.? It certainly is lovely!

    • Unfortunately, I’ve never discovered any information about the etching…other than my love for it! Did it sell at auction and was any information provided there?

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