Longevity in Antiques and Writing

According to Wikipedia, an antique is something “collected or desirable because of its age, beauty, rarity, condition, utility, personal emotional connection, and/or other unique features. It is an object that represents a previous era or time period in human society.”

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Nobody could ever call me a collector of antiques. I’ve never been one to frequent second hand stores or antique galleries. I’m not big on old furniture, although I do have a few pieces, precious only because they’re connected to a bit of our family history.

My grandmother’s ninety-five year old Singer sewing machine went from her home to my parents’, then was transferred to their northern residence where lack of electricity meant its treadle mechanism was useful. It hasn’t been used in years, but now belongs to one of my daughters, the only real seamstress in our family, who appreciates its historic value.

I don’t do a lot of sewing, but I have a small sewing machine that serves my mending needs and helps me make the occasional set of curtains.

There are lots of added sophistications on newer machines, but in nearly one hundred years, the basic principle of a needle and a series of loop stitches being used to close a seam hasn’t changed much.

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Some things never change. Storytelling has been going on since the beginning of mankind. I did a search on the oldest known novel and found several claims. One suggested THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH as the oldest written story, dating to somewhere between 2750 and 2500 BC. Another said the oldest English novel is PIERS PLOWMAN written in the early 1300s AD.

One thing is clear; people have been captivated by stories of mystery and intrigue, mythology, the supernatural, and family sagas for centuries. Those of us with a yearning to record or invent stories of our own are simply carrying on the tradition.

We may not scratch hieroglyphics into stone, or carefully pen words on papyrus, but we nevertheless place words on some kind of more modern vehicle so they may be conveyed to others. Our efforts link us to history, not in the tools we use but in a creative desire common to generations before us.

I started this by saying I’m not an antique collector, but I must admit to a fascination with old books. I don’t look for first editions or pristine copies, but just like to bring home the occasional “old” volume discovered at a church garage sale. I mentioned some of them in a blog post here. The oldest fiction (actually, I’ve realized it’s more of a memoir) I’ve encountered is an 1834 edition of R. H. Barham’s THE INGOLDSBY LEGENDS.

I also have a relative’s handwritten diary dating back to 1881. It’s not fiction, but when I read of monthly wages of $24, and that a church social raised $14.69 less a dollar for tea and sugar, to help pay for the circuit preacher, it sounds far fetched to my modern ear! I wonder if anything I’ve written will still be around 132 years from now, and what people then will think of my monthly income. 

Do you like antique hunting? Not counting the Bible, can you name the oldest book you’ve read?

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10 thoughts on “Longevity in Antiques and Writing

  1. nonoymanga says:

    Awesome topic, good read. Thanks for sharing Nonoy Manga

  2. Katt says:

    I love the picture of the old treadle Singer sewing machine….looks like the one I learned to sew on. Am I an antique? 😀

  3. I have and read a copy of Streams in the Desert devotional given by my grandmother to her mother in 1930s. Eventually it went back to my grandmother and then to me. Both of them wrote in the margins. It’s a real treasure. I love old things:)

  4. Shari Green says:

    That sewing machine is a beautiful thing, both in its design and in the emotions attached to it. A real treasure. 🙂

    I don’t have any old books, but I suppose I’ve read new editions of some old stuff! One of my absolute faves is Oscar Wilde’s THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST — first performed in 1895, but my copy was printed in 1965 — not even as old as I am! I also adore LES MISERABLES, written in 1862, but the copy on my shelf was published in 2005!

  5. Jenn Hubbard says:

    This isn’t the oldest book I’ve read, but I have a 1914 edition of PENROD that is inscribed, “Raymond from Eldridge, Christmas 1914.” That inscription fascinates me, as does realizing that people actually held this book at the time of WWI. I have no idea who Raymond and Eldridge were–I bought the book at a secondhand store.

    This, I think, is one of the biggest downsides of e-books: we lose that tactile connection with a book’s previous owners.

  6. Carol, loved the picture of the sewing machine 🙂 The oldest book I’ve ever read is the I Ching (translated from Chinese … The Book of Change) … a wise sage once said we cannot see where we are going by looking backwards … the future is too blurry to see ahead of us … so we keep the wisdom of the ages to comfort us in the now and try to make a better today.

  7. I wish I had my great-grandmother’s treadle machine. I love antiques, but I’ve been decluttering almost all but family and sentimental pieces.

    I have books like the Iliad and the Odyssey as part of a Classics collection. Certainly not the original books. I have some of my great-grandmother’s books from the early ’40s and a 1926 Manual of Public Health. It’s good for some laughs.

    I love how you put all this together.

  8. marycurry says:

    Funny that I should read this today, Carol. I was just commenting somewhere else that my husband has an 1867 copy of Godey’s Lady’s Book. I know there are some other old books on that shelf, but I’m not sure of the dates.

  9. Carol says:

    Thanks for sharing your comments, everyone. Jenn makes a particularly good observation about one of the downsides of e-books: “we lose that tactile connection with a book’s previous owners.”

  10. I love antiques, Carol. In fact, I have a passion for collecting them. I suppose it’s because they remind me of a simpler time. I have many, but one of my favorites is the circa 1880 dressing table I have in my bedroom. I sometimes find myself gazing into it and wondering about the woman who first owned it and brushed her hair while looking at her reflection in its mirror. I find it holds a bit of magic because of that.

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