Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Salvaging The Past

          On most main streets in any given historic town, you are guaranteed to stumble upon consignment, or second-hand shop. 

            If you’re an antique enthusiast or a museum curator, you have probably referred to the yellow pages or googled “antique” shops with the sole intention of traveling to one to seek out good deals for your house collection or exhibit.

            If you are more like myself, you wander, with no intentions, into a small nook and cranny of your local historic Main Street.  The woman who works in the store is eager to have you as a customer and asks, 'Have you ever been here before?'

            You reply an honest ‘no, never.’ 

            Then she takes the opportunity to inform you that you’ve walked into a shop in which every single item has been salvaged from a dilapidated building or wreckage site.  Suddenly what was once a room of old junk or trash from the ruins becomes a pharoah’s tomb of recovered artifacts.  The store exists because some one made the decision to rescue items from complete destruction.

            You are suddenly reminded of Wall-E’s little abode in the Disney Pixar film as you browse the smorgasborg of items from late 19th century all the way to the 1980s or 1990s.  You will probably not find a late 1984 Macintosh computer here.  You will not find a mobile phone from 1992.  However, a detached payphone from the late 20th century rests comfortably in the corner, with two or three spiral corded phones sitting on a nearby table.

            A pile of seemingly useless doorknobs sit on a small oak table.  Not far away sits an arrangement of Great Depression Era glassware, clear green teacups, similar in weight to a plastic tea cup in a child’s play set. An old cigar machine stands in the center perpendicular to a bench with a row of old Nancy Drew novels with old fringes that tell you, ‘I am tattered, therefore I am antique.”  On a polished pale brown mantelpiece sits a collection of some one’s old pill bottles with various labels (not the old Civil War era Ipecac bottles, mind you, just your average run of the mill bottles with the sheer orange tint).

            In the recession era, I would imagine that the majority of people would not rank antique buying high on their budget, but something of value still remains, something left to be discovered rests, on the main streets of historic Ellicott City, Chestnut Hill, Manayunk, and beyond.  The antique shop becomes a safe haven or shelter for some small tea cup that begs not to disappear beneath the ruins.  Even old 1995 payphones seem worthy of being saved, even though they’re not completely extinct. 

            How old does something have to be to be considered an antique?  Does the term antique refer to appearance or age?  Who had to own those orange pill bottles in order to increase their value?

            Whatever the purpose or value, antique stores, offer you the passerby or tourist the opportunity to become Indiana Jones for a brief fifteen minutes or a longer three hours depending on your attention span and find that salvaged item, that item some one chose to take from the ruins, to preserve.


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