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On jewelry, marbles, antiques… and George. April 3, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , ,

Silence Dogood here. Yesterday, I left our friend Ben furiously writing his latest opus and snuck off to the Allentown (PA) Fairgrounds to go to a big antiques show they’re holding this weekend and to the Allentown Farmers’ Market. It had probably been a year since I’d last been to Allentown, but frankly, I needed a break from the ongoing winter doldrums, I love antiques, and there were a couple of things I actually needed from that particular market.

Of course, given our ongoing financial restrictions, I had to dodge OFB’s objections before heading out the door. “It costs $7 to even attend the antiques show—and that’s with the coupon from the paper?! Silence, that’s too much! And you know that once you’re in there you’ll just spend more money! And what about that farmers’ market? It’s too big, too tempting. Have you ever gotten out of there without spending at least $60? Do you really, really have to go?!”

Yes, I really, really did. And of course I had my arguments lined up. “Ben, I’m just going to get two things at the Farmers’ Market—delicious Middle Eastern food from that specialty stand, which we can have for supper and enjoy in salads and as appetizers for the rest of the week, and empty cigar boxes from the cigar stand for our marble collection, which, might I point out, are free. The Middle Eastern food at that stand is as good as that in any restaurant, and you can get a lot more—for a lot less—than it would cost you at a restaurant. As for the show, you know how much I love antiques. And appalling as it is, a $7 entrance fee is cheaper than most movie tickets these days. The way I see it, I’m just going to see a museum exhibit, to enjoy immersing myself in the past. Think of it as a matinee-priced antiques movie.”

Our friend Ben still looked worried, with good reason. Neither of us is especially good at self-control, and both of us have very wide-ranging tastes and interests, a very bad combination when you’re about to be confronted with hundreds of delicious edibles and thousands of appealing collectibles. Still, a slim wallet and a passion for staying out of debt can put a pretty good check on even the most enthusiastic. I was determined to exert fiscal control while enjoying myself visually to the max.

In my opinion, I didn’t do too badly. Some might say that I went a little overboard at the Middle Eastern stand, buying baba ghannouj, herbed feta, a feta-olive salad, a Mediterranean bean salad, six falafel patties, and their luscious cucumber-onion-spiced yogurt. And I did go over the rails in the gift department, buying a bottle of hot sauce for our heat-loving friend and fellow blog contributor Richard Saunders that was made with the Bhut Jalokia pepper, the world’s hottest, and a packet of file gumbo (or is that gumbo file?) for my friend Delilah, who I know has been looking for this special New Orleans spice. But otherwise, I stayed on course, avoided the wonderful cheese, wine, produce, pickle, bread, Italian, Mexican, dried fruit, and etc.etc. stands that usually tempt me, and stashed my treasures in the car before heading over to the antiques show.

Let me explain my passion for antiques. Unlike OFB, who was brought up in a Colonial home filled with authentic period furniture, basically a child in a living museum, I grew up in a home with a hodgepodge of history. We had some stuff from my great-great-grandparents, more from my great-grandparents, and hand-me-downs from my grandparents, as well as my parents’ acquisitions based on need or taste.

This jumble of stuff brought domestic history alive for me in a way no book, movie, or museum could ever do. Here was my great-great-Grandma’s butter mold. Here was my Grandma’s wartime copy of the Joy of Cooking. Here was my other Grandma’s prized Victorian sofa and her button collection. Here was my Mama’s percolator, my Grandaddy’s gold coin, my great-great-Grandma’s sidesaddle and Great-Grandma’s tinted photograph and her prized brooch.

To this day, going to an antiques mall or antiques shop or antiques show, or even a flea market, brings history alive for me in a visceral, present way nothing else can. These artifacts of everyday life show how everyday people actually lived. And the diversity, the care and time taken to make each object, the love and appreciation that has preserved it to this day, is so humbling in our day of plastic, mass-produced, made-to-break junk. However humble, the objects made in the past were made carefully, and made to last. And they were so diverse and individual in their inception!

This is always most evident to me in the jewelry, and as I took in the offerings at this show, I kept that at the front of my mind, while at the back was a secret desire to find an antique cherry amber ring. No luck with that, but I did see and enjoy a pair of very tempting Ben Franklin earrings, an exquisite turquoise-inlaid Mexican silver cross pendant ca. 1924, some glistening calcite beads, amazing enamelled beetle brooches, Southwest silver squash blossom-and-turquoise earrings, and a heavy handmade looped silver necklace encrusted with religious pendants of all types and stripes.

Other notable finds were a British “Livingstone in Africa” board game, a beautiful woven coverlet, an intricately carved bone-and-fruitwood 18th-century chess piece, and some heavy silver “pieces of eight.” There were, need I say, plenty of other delights to ponder, including a small collection of George Washington memorabilia from the centenary and bicentenary of his birth in 1732.

There was an elaborate print of Washington on his white horse, a charming little amateur watercolor of Washington, also mounted, and a blue-and-white plate featuring Martha Washington, all from 1832, as well as a medal and bookends from the 1932 bicentennial. (This was also the inaugural date for the Washington quarter, in case you’re wondering.) As an admirer of Washington, and having just read Marvin Kittman’s The Making of the Prefident 1789, I was actually on the lookout for Washingtoniana, and this little grouping didn’t disappoint. Our friend Ben is actually related to Martha Washington, so the plate and the little watercolor were especially appealing. But I resisted.    

I did succumb to one thing, though: a bag of antique marbles. OFB and I love marbles, and I knew he’d forgive me for spending $10 on a bag that included handmade onionskin “mist” and “agate” shooters, along with many early machine-made gems. I know we’ll spend many hours admiring the marbles, checking to see which ones fluoresce under blacklight (think Vaseline Glass), trying to price those superb shooters. Hours of entertainment, and permanent additions to our collection, for just $10.

I freely admit that, if I had disposable income, I’d have bought those Ben Franklin earrings, the Washington memorabilia, the pieces of eight, the amazing assortment of religious memorabilia. Not to mention the Livingstone game and the chess piece. But at least I got to see them on my tour of history, real history, the way it was lived, the things that were valued, back in the day, however near or distant that day happened to be. It was fun. Our friend Ben loved the marbles and, later, our Middle Eastern buffet. And I had an opportunity to time-travel for just $7. Who could ask for more?

               ‘Til next time,




1. Barbee' - April 6, 2011

I think you did Very! well. That is a good mind game I had never thought of playing: instead of actually spending the money, just mentally line up the items that you would have chosen to purchase if you had. There!… in this file are the things I found interesting and appropriate enough that could have been brought home.

Thanks, Barbee’! It really was a lot of fun.

2. Barbee' - April 6, 2011

Further thoughts: I think doing that would give me a kind of sense of ownership.

I’m sure it would, Barbee’! With me, though, the thing is that I’ll forget everything I saw by the end of the week or month. But on the bright side, then at least I won’t miss it!

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