TRACING THE PAST

THURSDAY’S SPECIAL: TRACES OF THE PAST


FROM PAULA: “Quite often when I travel I take an unconventional approach. It is not about learning about buildings and places that I visit, or knowing all the dates and names; it is about stepping into the past, and if I am lucky enough to have only the company of my choice with me, it is like a time travel in which I write my own script.” 

Well put. I feel that way not only when I travel, but it is the reason I collect antiquities. Each is a physical piece of the past. I hold it and imagine how many other hands have held this piece of pottery or sculpture. Who were they? What was the world like? How did it happen that this fragile thing could survive a thousand years when, at any time, a slip of the hand would have shattered it.

Yesterday, my son gave me an old, small (as these things go) Victorian secretary with a glass display top, replacing a piece that I’d bought from a carpenter friend that was charming, but not exactly a great piece of furniture. I have spend the last 24 hours cleaning small things, finding things I’d forgotten I have, moving stuff around from this shelf, to that shelf. The former piece was open, no glass. There were just two shelves, one open top, the other 16-inches tall. The secretary’s shelves are about 13-inches high, so the taller things have had to move elsewhere, and some of the plates will fit, but not on their wood stands. Housing and displaying very old, delicate things is not as simple as it looks unless you have a lot more space for display than me. But, I did it. I gave away one picture — big 11X14 of the dawn over Ogunquit beach to my son and his partner. I have many things that need a piece of wall and there’s no wall available. I own the original of that print, so I can make another. Maybe I will. On canvas, this time.


I remembered something I’d put out of my mind and it saddened me. Last March, I (me, no one else, just me) knocked down a display cabinet in the living room. I wrote about it here: WHEN GOOD SHELVES GO BAD.

Qianlong (1736-1795) porcelain vase.

Qianlong (1736-1795) porcelain vase.

I had forgotten that the Qianlong (1736-1795) porcelain vase (the white vase with the Chinese characters) was one of two fatalities in that crash. I’m very glad I took pictures of it. It was probably my favorite piece. The prettiest and in the best condition of any of my antique vases. It was, in fact, almost flawless.

It no longer exists in this world. That’s the thing about the antiques and antiquities we collect. We collect them for ourselves because they are beautiful and rare and come from the mists of time. But we also preserve them so they will continue to exist in this world. Sadly, I failed in this and one other much older small vase.

There is more to collecting that just “having stuff.” Real collectors know this and it is probably more addictive than heroine. And possibly, even more expensive.

19 thoughts on “TRACING THE PAST

  1. You’ve got some gorgeous items in your collection Marylin! And I think I understand how you feel about them. I now live in a very old house (two rooms go back to 1616! ) and I often try to imagine life in those days. I might write a post about old objects and features that are beat the time so thank you for the inspiration!

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    • I always wanted — for sentimental reasons — to live in a very old house. The house in which I lived in Jerusalem was about 200 years, but so many things there are so much older, it didn’t seem like a big deal. In the States, the oldest house I lived in was built in 1928 and it was (is) beautiful, but it was a money pit. No matter how much you fixed, something was lying in wait that needed expensive repairs. In between restoration projects, it was wonderful to live in. We actually knew the previous owners and their family had always owned it, so we didn’t have to wonder about who had been there before us. We knew.

      But the pottery I’ve collected is REALLY old. Ages and civilizations have risen and fallen. It boggles my mind, the sheer amazing survival of these things despite the years. Humbling, too. These pots have outlasted any living person. The only older living things on this planet are a few trees … and the worlds they have seen!

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  2. This is indeed an impressive collection. It is surprising to see them all on the same shelf, their stories combined and what their destiny was before they found home at your place. I am most drawn to your Tang horse 🙂 Very grateful for this share, Marilyn.

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    • They are on different shelves and in different rooms, too. The mosaic photo gallery is deceptive. Nonetheless, it’s a very eclectic collection. When you’re working with a tiny budget, you get interesting pieces since you can’t afford premium items. But I am ok with imperfect stuff. These are old. Some, VERY old. They’ve collected some cracks and chips. Like me 🙂

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        • I learned early on that if you have a passion for collecting antiquities, you have to learn the art of compromise … and you will never own that museum quality stuff. The good part is that there is a LOT of forgery in the antiquities world. Imperfect, not super high quality stuff is much more likely to be genuine than perfect, glorious Imperial stuff. That stuff, if authentic, is worth a lot of money. My collection, since I can’t prove provenance on most of it, is worth much less.

          I don’t collect for its value in money. I collect for the beauty and awesomeness of having these things to hold and protect. I feel like by protecting them, I’m doing the world a service because if people like me don’t protect them, they will disappear without even a memory. It’s also why I take pictures and publish them, so they are “out there” and someone besides me can see they are real.

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    • The Tang horse has a story. Most people think “Tang horse” and see in their mind’s eye glorious, sometimes jewel-encrusted porcelain horses which will take your breath away. But Chinese culture believed that art was not just for the wealthy, so they made simple versions for the servant and peasant classes. This is a “servant” piece and shows a servant on his very typical working horse. Not the elegant pure-bred horses of the Imperial family, but the stolid, sturdy, big-headed horses that regular people (if they were lucky) might use to plow a field or pull a cart. That the culture acknowledged everyone, poor and rich, needed a few beautiful things in their lives, is remarkable. I’m not sure we’ve gotten there in the 21st century.

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  3. Pingback: Thursday’s Special:Traces of the Past Y2-07 | Lost in Translation

    • I wasn’t sure what it was when it landed with me, but after experts looked it over, they explained what it was. it’s something of a rarity. I have two of them, actually, but the other one had been broken in the past and repaired — not very well. I keep it anyway. I’m broken and Garry kept me, after all.

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  4. Pingback: A Collector’s Obsession – ROA – History, Law & Interesting Stuff

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