September 10, 2008

Remnants of simpler times

As published in The Erin Advocate

As I was browsing through antique stores the other day, I got to thinking about the future. In the year 2108, what will they treasure as antiques from the things made in 2008?

Will they have gadget museums, and marvel that many of our inventions became obsolete within months? It is more comforting to contemplate the past.

I wandered into Beaver Mills Design on Main Street. There I saw beautiful 19th century papier mâché trays and hair brushes with silver handles. Often it is the infusion of art into practical items that makes them so attractive.

The quality of wood in some antique furniture is also a marvel, not to mention the skill of the makers. Polished mahogany, fruitwood and walnut are a pleasure to behold.

The most unusual thing I saw at Beaver Mills was a military campaign stool from the 1800s. It is like a lawn chair without the seat, a wicker panel that props up at various angles, allowing an officer to sit on the ground in relative comfort.

Further along the street, I was intrigued by a day bed at the Renaissance store. The intricate woodwork and upholstery were very interesting, but I liked it because it suggested a more leisurely era in which napping was more common – at least among the well-to-do.

One would need a large house for some of the pieces, like a set of 12 dining room chairs with carved wooden arms, or a huge mirrored wardrobe.

Antique shops like these do not have the space for large quantities. It is quite the opposite experience stepping into Rainbarrel Antiques, in the Old Community Hall, just inside Stanley Park.

It is a bit like a giant garage sale, but the selection is more interesting, with antiques ranging from Early Canadiana (1870s) up to the 1940s. There are so many objects of everyday life from bygone times that it is hard to take it all in. In this type of browsing environment, the pleasure is in the little things that spark memories.

For example, as a child I collected pennants, triangle-shaped souvenir flags of places I visited. My collection is long gone, but I enjoyed looking at Rainbarrel’s collection, complete with corny illustrations like a grizzly bear for Field, BC or a hunter shooting a deer for Shediac, NB.

I bought a pair of books called A Pictorial History of the World’s Great Nations, from the Earliest Dates to the Present Time, published in 1882.

There are treadle sewing machines, cedar chests, pioneer-style tools, furniture, framed art, fancy hats, yellow glass dishes from the 1930s and a stunning bridal dress and lace veil from the 1940s. There is a small forest of lamp stands, and re-usable materials like windows and table legs.

Rainbarrel owner Shirley Campbell is retiring and the store will close in October, so don’t wait too long if you plan to visit.

Where else will you find the Mork and Mindy board game? How about the K-tel vinyl recording of the Greatest Hits of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons?

You can now buy a USB turntable (not at Rainbarrel) – just plug it into your computer, play the old record and it creates MP3 files of the music. I have been thinking of getting one so I can put favourite songs from my LP collection onto my iPod, before it too goes the way of the dodo.

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