Friday, July 1, 2011

Our Life in the World of Antiques, Part I

Marty at show in Camden, ME

            It crept up on me.  Marty always admired antiques, and each place we lived, she learned a little more.
            She started learning about antiques as a child, when her mother took her to auctions and shops in New England.
When I was in Submarine School in New London, and later served in a submarine operating out of New London, or with crew based there, she scoured barns and attics in Connecticut and the rest of New England for interesting old pine tables and chairs and remnants from earlier centuries.
            Then we moved to northern Virginia and real Virginia (Virginia Beach), and she visited outdoor flea markets in West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland.
            When we moved to Tehran, Iran, my wife had begun to perfect her technique for finding interesting things from earlier centuries, and learning how to detect fakes.  She got plenty of opportunities in Iran, because some Iranians were really good at producing what might look like centuries’ old brass and copper pieces with elegant decoration, all made to appear old by burying them in the dirt for a few weeks. 

Kuwaiti Chest

            On my first trip down to visit Iranian warships in the Persian Gulf, an old Arab showed me a Kuwaiti chest.  These are beautifully decorated wooden chests which had been used aboard the Arab dhows that sailed up and down the Gulf.  I bought it and took it back to Tehran, and Marty found another treasure to collect.
Then there were the rugs. The Persian carpets of Iran are a whole chapter in the education of an antiques collector.  Marty and her friend Ann Duncan would have a driver take them down to the huge Bazaar in South Tehran, and the two of them would disappear into the bowels of that exotic market for hours.  Ann introduced Marty to “her” rug man, and both would climb up to his loft, where his mards (young helpers) would flip rug after rug like pages in a book.  The girls learned about Hamadans and Tabrizes and Kermans and Qashqais, Bukharas and all the rest.  They learned how to check the structure of the rug for possible bleaching that would make the threads weak, and for the dreaded fake Persian carpets from China and Pakistan.  They were getting a master’s degree course in textiles in the dark corners of that huge bazaar.  They learned how to bargain with the rug merchants, including the Iranian way to signify “NO!” by making a kissing sound and looking to heaven.
            We were just 100 or so miles south of the USSR, and many interesting old Russian samovars found their way into antique shops in Iran
            Our next overseas assignment was Italy, and Marty quickly found her way down to the elegant and not-so-elegant antique shops in downtown Naples.  Here she found fine old silver, ceramics and fabrics, paintings and more Persian carpets, from the fine old homes of Naples, all of Campagna, and Rome.
            Next we lived in Newport, RI, and by now, my wife was getting much more conversant with all sorts of decorative arts, as she ranged around the shops of Rhode Island
            At various times I accompanied Marty on her antiques trips, and I usually headed for the old books.  At first, it was just something to do during the hours she spent looking at things that didn’t interest me, but I began to really enjoy finding a 200-year-old book with calfskin binding, perhaps a school book, a history,  often old religious books, and occasionally a handwritten diary, which opened up a whole new world for me.
            One day I found a tiny diary kept by a young Union soldier, the clerk of his company, as he recorded his life from mustering in a field at Ipswich, MA, then onto a train heading south to war; trouble with Rebel sympathizers in Baltimore, then boarding a troop ship in Newport News, VA and sailing around Florida to the Mississippi River, and then fighting Rebel troops at Port Hudson. What a thrill to be reading this first person account— not something from a printed history book, but raw, absolutely original history of this man’s part in the Civil War!
            I found a set of 1840 letters from a young girl working in the textile mills of Lowell, MA, writing to her family at home in northern New Hampshire.  These were such a treasure that they are now in the collection of Mill Girls' letters at Lowell National Historical Park.

            When we went to Russia, we found “Kommissiones” all over Moscow, where citizens were able to take their family treasures down to these shops and offer them for sale with a “commission” paid to the shop. Here you might find an elegant old Sterling silver samovar, or a beautifully painted tiny lacquer box, illustrating a scene from Russian mythology.  Very little of what Russians had created since the start of the USSR even came close to elegant artwork, so most of the delicate pieces were pre-1917, often from the fine old families close to the Tsar.
            For me, it was exciting to shop in an old book shop in Leningrad that had sold books in the same place for two centuries, and had many books that had carried the royal approval (and censorship) of Catherine the Great and later Tsars.  I still have one fine little book that pokes fun at this upstart named Bonaparte, published before he had made his ill-fated march across Russia in 1812.
            We went right from Russia to Japan for my next assignment on the island of Kyushu, and it turned out that my base in Sasebo was just a short drive from the heart of Japan’s ancient pottery world.  Nearby were the pottery works of Mikawachi, Imari, Omura, Arita and Kumamoto.  Marty often visited some of the Master Potters to see them producing fine porcelain like they had been producing for centuries, and she took wives of visiting American dignitaries to visit as well.
            When we lived in Japan wealthy Japanese did not really appreciate their fine old antiques.  Most of them preferred to buy new things, including expensive artwork and furniture from Europe and the U.S.  For that reason, one could buy fine old tansus, made of kiri (paulownia) and sugi (cryptomeria) wood, with elaborate metal decoration, for low prices.  Antique silver, metal craft, ceramics and artwork were also inexpensive. 
            My ability to read Japanese never got past being barely able to read a tabloid newspaper, so I didn’t do much collection of antique Japanese books.
            Another part of our antiques education was all the museums, palaces, embassies and distinguished old homes we visited in all the places we lived. 

We returned to the United States in 1986 and lived in Washington, DC, and it was here that Marty transitioned from collector and student to an actual dealer. 
            And I transitioned from naval officer to become the head porter, learning how to load all manner of vans and trucks with antiques to take to antiques shows, then unload them, help set up a booth, after which Marty would spend much time decorating the booth just so, and then one or two days selling her wares.

Booth under a tent in Wellesley, MA

            We started doing antique shows in Maryland, District of Columbia and Virginia in 1987, and we are still doing them in 2011, 24 years later. 
            Marty rented a shop in downtown Rockport in 1994, called it Philomena’s (named after her Mother — it was her middle name) and we tried our hand at running an antiques business.  We learned a lot in a short time.  First, although thousands of visitors come to Rockport and walk through its shops, and they enjoyed visiting Philomena’s, more than likely they were in town to buy ice cream. At least, they weren't buying many of our antiques!  Second, in order to do it right, you have to be open every day, and when you are taking in only a few dollars most days, you really cannot justify hiring help, so Marty and I spent a lot of hours in that shop. 
            Next door was a Laundromat, and often people would come in the shop and announce that they weren’t there to buy—they were just waiting for their clothes to dry.
            I remember one visitor to the shop.  I wouldn’t call Mary a customer, because she never bought anything, but she was a nice, elderly lady who had two problems— her hearing was very poor, and she had a habit of passing gas, and she didn’t know that it was not just her little secret.  She would spend hours looking at things in the shop, and making comments.  You hated to answer her comments, because she would then ask you to repeat until she could understand, and that might take a while. 
            She used our shop mainly as a launching pad, watching for the shop across the street to open.  It was run by three men who were all very good friends of hers, and when it finally would open, she’d leave us in a flash.

Japanese Hibachi, late 19th century


Now, about these books and papers……

USS Nevada showing damage from December 7, 1941

Jane's Fighting Ships, 1942 [Issued June 1943] Founded in 1897 by Fred T. Jane, 46th Year of Issue 1943 McMurtrie, Francis E., A.I.N.A., Editor. New York, NY: The MacMillan Co.  Forward to this book notes the tremendous difficulty of preparing this edition, with secrecy on part of combatants and neutrals, efforts to obscure or propagandize, and ships being sunk daily. Frontispiece photo of HMS Exeter, Royal Navy cruiser that bore the brunt of action with the German "pocket battleship" Admiral Graf Spee at the Battle of the Plate on December 13, 1939. Text notes that, while the Graf Spee was scuttled, Exeter was completely refitted and returned to combat. She was sunk by Japanese air attack at the Battle of the Java Sea in 1942. This fascinating real-time record of naval action in World War II shows the ships that survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (Dec. 7th, 1941), even noting changes to them as result of repairs after the attack. Also with 62 pages of advertising for everything you need to outfit a warship. 582 pp. + 62 pp. adv. 31 x 20 cm. Light blue cloth on board with gilt lettering. Edges worn, tiny white paint spots on cover, good. (6985) $140.00.  Naval/World War II

Presbyterian: Report of the Board of Directors of the Presbyterian Education Society at the Annual Meeting, May 11, 1820 with Appendix 1820 Newark, NJ: Presbyterian Education Society. Annual meeting held at New York, included executive commiuttees of Philadelphia, New-York, Counties of Morris and Essex, (NJ); Catskill, NY, Cayuga of Onandaigua; Genesee, Geneva, Ontario, Bath, Long Island and West Tennessee. Work of Rev. Doctor M. La Rue Perrine in western counties of New York state. Rev. Doctor Gardiner Spring has been collecting funds in Philadelphia and Baltimore. Work of Daughters of Israel.  Report from West Tennessee, “truly a desolate region,” with only 200,000 population, they can number only 15 ministers of the Presbyterian Church, but few of any other description. Includes Constitution of Society; list of officers and directors: Hon. Elias Boudinot, L.L.D. is President;  and executive committees. List of subscribers and donations. 32 pp. 15 x 23 cm. Paper booklet, fastened with stitching. Pages uneven and two pages uncut, poor. (6755) $39.00. Religious

Execution Tools & Techniques from Loompanics Unlimited by Rommel, Bart 1990 Port Townsend, WA: Loompanics Unlimited. One of many books published by oddball publisher Loompanics from 1975 to 2006. "Execution" cover features 1908 photo of a man "waiting" in electric chair. More than you probably want to know about execution, including which states execute by hanging, firing squad, gas, electrocution and lethal injection. Execution customs like last meal and last cigarette. Problems with hanging.  Beheading.  The Guillotine. Awkward executions.  The Rosenbergs. Index. 119 pp. 13.5 x 21.5 cm. Paper booklet, notation about "Dostosiky"(sic) in ink on p. 31. Otherwise clean and very good. (7977) $20.00. Printed matter  

Gentle Art of Making Enemies, as pleasingly exemplified in many instances, wherein the serious ones of this earth, carefully exasperated, have been prettily spurred on to unseemliness and indiscretion, while overcome by an undue sense of right;  Collection by Whistler, J. McNeill. 1927 New York, NY: G.P. Putnam's Sons.  The running gunbattle between the Artist, J. McNeill Whistler and his critics gets played out here in this remarkable collection, which begins with many quotes from 1890 issues of Pall Mall Gazette.  This collection is filled with insults and accusations, back and forth. Many of the insults are quite eloquent, particularly those of John Ruskin and Oscar Wilde. 340 pp. 15.7 x 20.5 cm. Tan paper on board with tan cloth spine, gilt stamped title is missing gilt. No dj.  Bookplate on front pastedown: "Ex Libris George Schley Stillman".  Very good.  (2195) $26.00. Printed matter 

 Literary Digest, The; March 20, 1937 New York, NY: The Literary Digest, 354-360 Fourth Ave. Cover shows black and white painting of a woman holding a baby, with others lying nearby amidst rubble of bombing, titled "Spanish Street Scene"  Inside, "Bombs Slaughter Spanish Civilians" story about Civil War, and bombing by German bombers backing Franco's Fascist Forces. Attack on Spanish Loyalists by Italian forces.  Seizure of Loyalist ship from U.S., Mar Cantabrico, by Insurgents.  "Il Duce Abroad: Dictator Inspects Military and Civil Improvements in Libya"....Met by Il Capo del Governo, General Balbo, Mussolini reviews Italian naval squadrons, meets Fascist Arab youth, and views improvements to Libya that Balbo has wrought.  Lead story "Nazi Epithets at U.S. Set New High", reports Mayor LaGuardia's remarks about Hitler, and scathing commentary in Nazi newspapers. Secretary of State Cordell Hull apologizes to Nazis. "Lynch Law: Congress Toys with Wagner-Van Nuys Anti-Lynching Bill.”  The 75th Congress has been swamped with such bills, now that the Negro vote is solidly in the Democratic column, it becomes popular to campaign for an anti-lynching statute.  Texas, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana have been leading sites of lynchings. There were nine in 1936, only one in 1937 thus far.  Highest number of lynchings in any year, 250, was in 1892.  "Trotzky Appeal: Exiled Leader Outlines Case as New Soviet Treason Trials Near"--- Trotzky, now in Mexico City, defies Stalin. Chesterfield ad on back cover features West Point cadet and U.S. Navy Commander. 40 pp. 21.7 x 30.3 cm. Magazine, minor wear, very good. (7857) $20.00. Printed Matter/Ephemera

Opere Scelte di Metastasio, seconda edizione, con aggiunte, Seven volumes, in Italian. [Second volume lacking title page.], 1819, Avignone, France: Presso Fr. Seguin Aîné, stampatore e librajo. (1594 pp.)  SOLD
Tomo I. Siroe, Artaserse, Adriano. (243 pp.)
Tomo II.  Demetrio, Issipile, Olympiade. (242 pp.)
Tomo III. Demofoonte, La Clermenza di Tito, Achille in Sciro. (243 pp.) .
Tomo IV. Ciro Riconosciuto, Temistocle, Zenobia (239 pp.) .
Tomo V. Ipermestra, Antigono, Attilio Regolo. (200 pp.)
Tomo VI. La Morte d’Abel, Isacco Figura del Redentore, Giuseppe Roconosciuto, Betulia Liberata, Gioas Re di Giuda, La Passione di Gesù Cristo. (187 pp.)
Tomo VII. L’Isola Disabitata, Il Sogno de Scipione, Alcide al Bivio, Il Trionfo d’Amore, ec. Also: Poesia diverse e sonetti. (240 pp.)
Seven-volume set of collected works by the celebrated 18th-century poet and librettist, with six volumes dedicated to his historical plays. Seven vols., Green leather with gilt border design, edges worn. Marbled endpapers, bookplates belonging to “Wm. J. Rotch” with Roche family crest in front of each volume. Vol. II missing title page. Some title pages have small penciled name “E.R. Arnold” at top.  Most pages show very slight foxing, very good.  (6903) $195.00. Literature/Italian.

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