Currently Reading: The Charm of the Antique

Am I the only person who is running out of things to read? I have caught up with the huge backlog of unread material, and I’m now reduced to rereading whatever on my shelves catches my eye. I’ve even dusted off my old Kindle for a few new books, but somehow an e-reader is just not as satisfying as sitting with an actual book. I’ve ordered a few books, but the mail being what it is, I’m met with disappointment at the mailbox.

So I randomly chose The Charm of the Antique by Robert and Elizabeth Shackleford from my shelf. The book was written by husband and wife collectors in 1913 and 1914, seemingly as a series of articles for Good Housekeeping magazine, and then was published in book form in 1914. In reading a book about collecting that is over one hundred years old, I’m struck by how while so much has changed, so much also remains the same.

Modern collectors would be appalled at the Shacklefords’ cavalier attitude toward altering antiques. They write about marrying a set of old legs with the back and seat of a Windsor chair. They rebound books. They had silver replated.

In 1914 Victorian era furnishings had become terribly passé. The authors describe the style as “…based on bad taste and the absence of distinction and beauty.” To us an item from 1880 would certainly be considered antique, to the Shacklefords the item would merely be old. They desired Chippendale and Hepplewhite, and to hear them tell it, these things were to be found in any shopkeeper’s back room or basement.

I find that most collectors seem to mourn the good old days when antiques and vintage clothes were plentiful and cheap. Even in 1913 the Shacklefords warned readers that the time to collect was the present, as supplies were drying up. This was from the people who bought a Sheraton armchair at auction for thirty-five cents. Of course I could tell how in 2003 I bought a pair of 1930s Ferragamo shoes for $10. The past does seem like it was fuller of great old things.

But I’m really enjoying following the Shacklefords as they roam through old houses, junk stores, and auction houses. And often their advice and observations are surprisingly relevant to the modern collector. I’ll leave you with a few of my favorites.

“…there is never anything quite like the thrill that comes with the very moment of acquisition, that moment of ecstasy when the collector first holds, and holds as his own, something that he has longed for.”

“And get as good things as you can. Get a hundred-dollar table for ten dollars if the chance comes, and enjoy the adventure and the triumph of it; but be ready to pay the hundred if necessary. “

“Old-time furniture, in the very nature of the case, cannot have its existent supply replenished. Therefore, gather ye old wares while ye may! Year by year, more or less is worn out, lost, destroyed or placed in permanent collections. In consequence, although the supply is still very large indeed, it behooves the collector to take advantage of any reasonable chance to get what he really wants.”

“Over and over the collector realizes the value of old-time contemporaneous pictures as a source of real knowledge of old-time furnishings.”

“Getting rid of ugly, unsuitable things is not a process of expense.”

“Thieves, of course, are frequently selling old silver, and the collector who buys silver which he suspects has been stolen is at least saving it from being melted up.”

“The joy of life is so greatly increased by any increase of special knowledge in regard to the fine things of life, that every collector finds it worth striving for. Possession of very much is not absolutely necessary. no matter how very satisfactory it might be; but special knowledge, and making oneself an authority as an expert, is always a delightful reward.”


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9 responses to “Currently Reading: The Charm of the Antique

  1. jacq staubs

    the point of view in which the year this was written and the form it appeared and published is fascinating .My interior design friends tell me now is the time! The turnover shops are full of treasures in DC/corridor. The millennial client wants nothing do do with anything antique. They desire new/disposable. The Shackleford tips are timeless.


  2. Fascinating advice, Lizzie & Jacq – thanks to you both!


  3. Love that book and would enjoy seeing it some time! The quotes are wonderful.

    No libraries open there? I’m lucky that ours is open for curbside delivery of whatever materials you want – books, DVDs, etc. It’s been great.


  4. Eric Smith

    A similar book that I love is “The Next-to-Nothing House” by Alice van Leer Carrick. She is not a collector-dealer, but rather discusses the challenges and opportunities of living in a very old house, and finding furniture at sales and auctions- the rather spartan living style of the time is quite fascinating to us today….


  5. ceci

    This does sound like fun, plus a chance to learn something. Also a plug for public library curbside pick up; we have been doing that since April and its been a life-saver! I also read that library circulation is way up for 2020 despite the actual buildings being closed for much of the year, so maybe curbside pick up is bringing libraries to the attention of a new clientele.



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