1.07.2011

Not a candlestand

Vintage sometimes presents enough of a hint of its original purpose to contradict assumptions; to steer you away from easy conclusions. Or, simply, I am ignorant. So it was with this, and so it was with me.

I found it while going through a box of castoffs at a thrift shop. It's part of the whole vintage discovery process; first, the shop; then, its threshold: hazy with the dust of old videocassettes evaporating into the stale air; sometimes a radio warbling from overhead; sleepy clerks; that strange gray overcast under the dim charity bulbs. Then, the mining begins. For some reason, I was in a box mood. There was a box, by the LPs that were in their own box. When 27, I would have dug into that LP box as if I were the first to discover Pet Sounds on vinyl. That was so then.

This box was marked Misc. Misc. in vintage can mean a lot of things, but it mostly means mystery. Promise. Miscstery. Promisce. In this box, at first, were just discards: cards of discount earring studs, a cloth purse with a rotten corner, a pleather purse riddled with adhesive gunk, a sneaker (a sneaker with another s on the end is a useless object), rubber-banded jumbles of old pharmeceutical logo pens, unloved paperbacks with ragged ears, a cutoff Fame style sweat shirt and some pinned-together sweat socks that smelled of foot powder. Then, for some reason, I thought of my father, who often tucks fragile things like Leica lenses into his socks. And so I — fondled — the socks. Quietly. Discreetly. There is a fine line between vintage treasure hunter and hoarder of things like singular sneakers, I fear, and sometimes I wonder how easy it is to cross it. But sure enough, tucked into one of the socks was this.



The find.

After the find, there is often the — feign. After you find what may be something amazing, you call upon the karmic treasure gods by not really focusing on it — as if somehow, by calling attention to it, you'll magically alter its price, or its something. So instead you avoid investigation. You gloss. You feign disinterest, lest someone notice you.

You deposit your object in the cart, or the basket, or the bag, as casually as you can, projecting disinterest, and you keep moving. I assumed I had just found a candlestick holder and satisfied enough, header for a fake leopardskin hat that turned out to be late 1990s awful. Hours later, got home. That's where you get to check the take. Do the take check.

I spread it all across the kitchen table (a yard sale find, 1950s chrome legs, flecked green and white formica top with a leaf pattern, heart be still). Put away the sweaters, the skirt, the dress, the coat, the cooking with cheese book. And I took a closer look at this candlestick.


Blue speck on the scenic reprint: what's that? It looked like ink. A blot of ink. Scene reprint: it turned out to be Holland Pier, Rockaway Beach. But when? Gilding, cobalt glaze. Old. Man in hat and suspenders. Men don't stand around in hats and suspenders since a long time ago. There was a Boardwalk Empire on a Sunday afternoon look to it. I googled. Found these:

Entrance to Holland Pier, Rockaway Beach, postcard from 1912

Holland Ave. Pier, Rockaway Beach, postcard sent in 1918

Holland Dock Pier, Rockaway Beach, postcard sent in 1908

The first was clearly The Scene on the candlestick thing. The second seemed a bit newer, but was really taken, originally, from slightly further along the pier. The third had a white instead of a green fence. Still, more proof. I could almost hear the gulls, smell the salt, the water, hear the quiet that must have been then.

So it was old, this candlestick thing with the ink spot on the scene. And it was a souvenir from Rockaway Beach, back when Rockaway Beach was a real resort. And it has a horseshoe, a kind of lucky horseshoe, and I knew from some old file folder in the back left of my brain that back in the 19-oughts, resorts often sold souvenirs with things like lucky horseshoes on them. And they tended to serve 19-ought type of functions. And also back in those days, there were oil lamps and gas lights. Not too many candles. Someone trips on the edge of her nightgown, the candle lands on the lace curtains, and whoosh goes the pier. So this had to be something else.

It says Germany on the back. I stared at it for a few minutes. The dogs were sleeping, so I could think. I stuck a very standard sized candle in the hole of the well-type part. Candles, amazingly, according to a friend of mine who could be called a wax historian, have not changed that much. Already the idea of it holding a candle was a dimming possibility. And the candle didn't fit. And that blotch in the bowl.

Spot of ink. Horseshoe shape. I googled around and found this.

Souvenir inkwell from early 20th century.
There's the search, the find, the feign, the take, the long think. And then the stumble, the google, the google some more, and finally, the i.d. Germany, it turned out, owned the market for blue porcelain souvenir inkwells with scenes on them. Imagine a guy in shirtsleeves held up with garters, penning his order for 100 porcelain horsehoe inkwells printed with the postcard enclosed, sincerely, Messr. Somebody whose brother posed for the picture in hat and suspenders.

Danke. And you can find the find here.

3 comments:

alexkeller said...

i loved reading this process - love love love it!

Ira Mency said...

I love your blog and this is amazing.

Orangies Attic said...

Oh, so loved reading this... just had the exact same moment in time with what turned out to be a very old shaving cup. Such a thrill when you find the find...