What’s Old Is Cool Again

One of the great pleasures I’ve discovered in recent years in antiquing with our four older kids. Rummaging through old junk and treasures is not Jodi’s favorite thing — but the kids enjoy it, and through this activity, they’ve begun to cultivate new personal interests. It’s a delight to see where their curiosity takes them.

For Emma and Trevor, antique shops are like free museums. They wander and browse and ask questions about the novelties they see — and many things appear new to young eyes. Emma is never looking to buy, but is drawn to colorful kitchen implements and old machines with buttons: manual typewriters, adding machines, cash registers, you name it. Trevor has no such particular interests, though his attention is drawn by typically boyish subjects: creatures, toys and games, and oddities. And both (in fact, all four) of the kids are becoming expert at spotting Fiesta dishes for their mother.

Brendan and Gabe are active antique shoppers, and prefer to have money in their pocket when they step into a shop. Gabe likes religious artwork and books, vintage hats, and Coca-Cola memorabilia, while Bren looks for military surplus, historical books, manly artifacts like hunting and camping gear, and anything to do with Vernors ginger ale. Last weekend the three of us ventured out to give Brendan some driving practice in snow and traffic, and hit a military surplus store and three antique shops. Brendan spent $20 on an explosives crate, pictured above, to complement his military ammo box, and Gabe got a steal: a like-new copy of Our Daily Bread for a dollar and change. (Brendan drooled briefly over a signed ink sketch of Captain America knocking the heads of Hitler and Hirohito together, but decided that he didn’t have a couple hundred extra bucks.)

Both of these older boys show a nose for finding the right stuff and finding deals. Last spring, when Gabe and I brought Rosa (my old pickup) home from Michigan, we stopped at a junk shop in northern Wisconsin packed floor to ceiling with old stuff, new stuff, repurposed and recycled stuff — none of it marked. While the old fellow running the place made sporadic attempts to buy Rosa, Gabe nosed around the shelves of “smalls” and emerged with an inexpensive plaster-cast of the classic “praying hands” sculpture, a thimble-sized glass bottle of actual Coca-Cola, and a leather-bound Polish prayer book, pictured below. (Gabe knows how to say a few Polish words, but how he recognized this book as Polish, I don’t know.) He showed them to the old man, who was so intrigued by Gabe’s finds he charged him just a few dollars for the entire collection.

Brendan, meanwhile, has been eyeing an old, unopened six-pack of Vernors at a local shop for a year or so now. It’s priced at $50, as I recall; he went in last fall during a 20-percent-off sale, but still wasn’t sure he could drop $40 on it. He asked at the register if they could take less, and they told him the collector who was selling it had a deal with the shop that they could take 20 percent off his prices, but anything lower had to be negotiated with him in person. Brendan said thank you and walked away.

I told him later that I was impressed with his resolve. “Well, they basically told me I could get it for 20 percent off anytime, so I might as well come back another time when the guy is around,” he said.

Good thinking.

Me? I like books, boots, and beer memorabilia; shaving supplies; old tools; and all the stuff they like. Not sure who is influencing whom in this case, but with fresh eyes, what’s old is cool again.

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