The first time I realized how exciting antiques are was when I was window shopping on a Sunday night at a closed antique store on Mill Street in St. Peter Port on the British Channel Island of Guernsey. I was waiting for a free table at a nearby bistro-restaurant, and I had nothing better to do than browse. And that’s when it struck me what makes antiques so popular.
According to Merriam-Webster the definition of “antique” is “existing since or belonging to earlier times: ancient.“ The latter is also defined as “belonging to the very distant past and no longer in existence“. To be honest, I find that definition questionable, as one cannot sell something that doesn’t exist anymore. But I guess we can come to a consensus that something that is not a standard product in the market anymore and is not even existent in such numbers that it would still be in general use can be called an antique.
Of course, there is a fine line between antiques and junk. Both may be old. Both may be still useful and useable. But the difference lies in value. Monetary and/or historical. Let’s say, my beautiful china cup from Guernsey that simply states the name and is decorated with a peach and peach blossom on a branch will only count as junk in another fifty years. It is a mass product; it connects to no specific event or person in history. And though I like it so much that I hardly ever use it, it is only of value to me because of the personal memories it evokes.
Now, I think I remember seeing a cup in the formerly mentioned antique shop that showed the portrait of an early 20th century British king and named a date. Surely, that was of historical relevance. But was it of value? It was a king who began his reign shortly before WW II. Then there was the blitzkrieg over London and other English cities. Due to the general destruction, all of a sudden, a former mass product became a scarce object – and therefore, also a valuable object. There’s a true antique. Unless you still see the mass ware in it – then it’s somebody’s personal junk …
Now, let’s take an original painting that is one of its kind. Or a furniture that was made by a specific trades man. A piece of pottery discernable through initials or a specific style. These are undoubtedly antiques. And accordingly, they have their price.
My husband and I have browsed through countless antique stores in England back in the day when we were still courting. To be honest, I found a lot of junk in them. But junk is sometimes easier to sell, as it is affordable and one can still claim that it’s old. As long as it speaks to the heart, why differentiate between junk and antiques? Why not simply enjoy the beauty of the item, as long as the price is right? Beauty and meaning are in the eyes of the beholder. So is usefulness. If some historical value is added, all the better.
Of course, antique stores over here are different in style from those in Europe. It’s a different culture that grew under different circumstances and way more quickly. Still, antique stores over here are like a story book to me. You find what Americans long passed used and treasured in their lives. There are items you probably won’t find in Europe at all – old butter churns, railway lanterns, baseball cards.
You will rarely find me buy any of these items. I didn’t grow up like this. Buying antiques would have been almost like buying hand-me-downs. Post-war Germany had its share of perforce hand-me-downs – nobody of those generations would revive such memories voluntarily. Unless the pieces were real valuable show pieces. But the stories such items whisper to my mind are inspiring. And they might keep longer than an item itself.