People ask me all the time why I like antiques…

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  • Posted by kindle

It is usually a many faceted answer. Today I found out that to order a replacement carafe for my coffee maker was more expensive than buying an entirely new coffee maker. So out the old one went. I mean, I am saving money, right? Helping people keep their jobs?

Well yes and no.

In my antique store I have a 152 year old food chopper (show above) made by the L.S. Starrett company with a patent date of 1866. I was instantly interested in this device for several reasons.

1. It was really old, I mean really old and still functioned basically as it did when it was new.

2. The Sterrett company eventually went into the business of highly accurate measuring devices such as machinist’s micrometers and dial indicators. They are still in business.

3. The area in Erie, PA near where I grew up has a road named Sterretania Road. I don’t at this time know for sure if there is a relation. I have emailed the company.

As far as the condition goes, it is in working condition. Admittedly the handle connection is tenuous, but I have no doubt that if I put food in it and turned the crank, it would chop the food. I can’t seem to buy a toaster that can last five years of mild irregular use, and yet the chopper is still around.

We live in an era of constantly disposable products. It’s cheaper to buy an entirely new laser printer (which comes with a drum & toner cartridge) than to buy the replacement toner and drum cartridges. This is for some reason driven by the manufacturers. Maybe they feel it looks better on a balance sheet to have more whole units sold than replacement parts.

I am always amazed that it is often cheaper to buy and replace an item with a new one rather than repair the existing one. In fact many times you can’t even get the repair parts if something breaks. I can understand not having parts on the shelf for a 1910 curved dash Oldsmobile, but a carafe for a 3 year old coffee maker should be easy to find and cheap to buy.

As times advance, and companies consolidate, it is harder and harder to find a company that even manufacturers Its own products anymore. I recently had to purchase new TV’s due to a lightning strike. I have been a Sony devotee for some years. I found their products to be soundly built. After buying my new Sony TV, I went to ask about repairing my old one thinking it would be reasonable. The owner of the repair shop told me my 10 year old Sony was indeed a Sony, but my leftover 2017 from Amazon, was in fact not even made by Sony. It’s just branded that way. He would know as he takes them apart and buys replacement parts.

I guess we should head back to the topic at hand. Why am I so attracted to antiques. History is one reason. Where has this item been before I acquired it? Was it somewhere historical? Who owned it? Was it owned by a famous or historical person? If things could only talk the stories they could tell.

Another reason is quality. Things used to be made to last. They were made of the best parts and processes. Remember Curtis Mathis televisions? He starred in his own commercials and his slogan was “The most expensive television in America and darn well worth it.” Why were they? Well, the Curtis Mathis company started out as high end furniture makers. When they went into the tv business, they bought the best. The best tubes, the best tuners, the best circuit boards and put it all into their highest quality cabinets. They lasted for 30 years! It used to be that if you spent more to buy an item it was better quality and would last. Not so anymore.

People also used to put pride into the jobs they did and were proud of where they worked. Their job put food on the table and a roof over their families head. You had a devotion to your employer to do the best job you could because he gave you the opportunity to earn a living.

Materials became cheaper to increase profits, labor was farmed out to other countries to save costs. Repair parts were eliminated to decrease the cost of stock levels, employee benefits were reduced or eliminated to save the company money. These and other reasons made worker satisfaction decrease, so the quality of the job they did suffers, and so because of all this I have to buy a toaster every three years.

Antiques have a proven history. I have 150 year old furniture in my home that is still doing the job it was created for. The 10 year old leather sectional sofa is long gone. There is a feeling that you get from real antiques that you don’t get from modern items. A warmth, a resonance, a quality that is lost in mass production.

Many antiques have some small flaws that give the item character. It gives it a sense of individuality, an ability to say it is the only one exactly like this and this comes from a history of use, doing what it was designed to do. Even if damaged to the point of not looking good enough to put into your home as it is, many antiques can be restored to their former beauty. Whether it’s a light finish touch up or a total strip and restoration, there is a quality in design and materials there to make it possible. Quality never goes out of style.

In addition, you can upcycle many different types of antiques, creating many new uses for old items and using them in new ways totally unforeseen by the original manufacturer. Most modern products won’t last long enough to do their first job, let alone be recycled to another purpose, ten, twenty, or even a hundred years from now.

So the next time you have to have the newest thing, think about some old things to see if they can find a place in your life. When you buy an antique, you are giving that item another life, another purpose and keeping it viable and out of a landfill. And that makes me happy to know something old has been saved. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.


Published in “Vintage Finds Magazine” Nov/Dec 2018 Issue

Published in “The Country Register” – Connecticut, Massachusetts & Rhode Island Sept/Oct 2020 Issue