One of the many benefits of being an antique dealer is the learning that takes place every day, either through research, information from other dealers, or the objects themselves that have a tale to tell. Think how the Keno brothers from the Antiques Roadshow can weave a story together about a Chippendale chest. They can pinpoint the state or even county of origin based on the wood used, or if there's a maker's mark they give a mini biography of the carpenter who created the piece. Then, they go over the repairs made, and heaven forbid, the stripping and refinishing that occurred when some clueless but well-meaning owner tried to fix it up. Is the hardware original? Have the legs been cut down? These things can be determined by careful inspection of an antique chest. Now go to Target and grab a vase from their Home Decor department. Flip it over. It says "Made in China". Not very interesting, is it?
I have to admit I've never had the chance to sell anything as fabulous as an eighteenth century Chippendale chest, but I needed an easy example to get my point across. Still, I run across many curiosities that have a tale to tell, sometimes by their aged appearance, and other times with more obvious stories, perhaps something in writing.
Several years ago I was browsing at one of my favorite shops, Lambs' Gate Antiques, in Grand Ledge, Michigan. Carol Lamb, the owner and friend of mine, showed me this dark silk hankie or memento keeper that contained quite a sad surprise. Inside was a lock of brunette hair, still tied in a bow, and a newspaper clipping from a Michigan newspaper dated 1897. Before I share it with you, let's have a look at the homemade memento keeper:
The article was titled "Found in a Cistern". Already, this doesn't sound good, does it? Is there any confusion about what a cistern is? It's a receptacle that was used to hold water for the household before indoor plumbing was in place, and is still used in many parts of the world. A home built in the mid-1800's would most likely have an outdoor "privy", for waste, and a cistern to keep water for bathing and cooking.
And now back to our story. You can see the little paper clipping below:
Found In a Cistern.
Rose Etta, only daughter of Edgar C. and Ella M. Fuller died on the morning of Feb. 4th, 1897. Deceased was born in Conway, Livingston Co. Mich., Nov. 7th, 1897, and at her death was a little past 22 years of age. Never has it been ours to chronicle a death more painfully sad than of this bright and beautiful young lady, the details of which are as follows:
Miss Fuller had for a number of days previous been suffering somewhat from an attack of the grip but was not altogether confined to the house, had complained much of being dizzy and faint and had on several occasions fainted away. On Tuesday morning she had a severe attack of fainting at which time she fell to the floor and it was some time before she recovered consciousness.
On Thursday morning as she was quietly sleeping her mother thought best not to awaken her and proceeded about her work. She went to the barn to attend some chores and on returning to the house, went to the cistern to dip water and found Rose. She at once pulled her out and with almost superhuman strength carried her up a few steps to the bathroom and ran to the nearest neighbor's who came immediately. Drs. McCormick and Ward were summoned as soon as possible but all efforts to resuscitate were of no avail.
Mrs. Fuller and her daughter slept in a bedroom opening from the bathroom, the cistern pump came up into the bath room but at this time was frozen and they procured water by stepping down a few steps to an open cistern built of brick under the bath room floor and dipped the water, the cistern was several feet across the top and the water unfrozen. While Mrs. Fuller was out in the barn, Rose must have arose and walked down the steps to the cistern and fainted, falling into the water to drown.
The death of a loved one set into motion a series of customs that were strictly observed and were patterned after Queen Victoria's deep mourning over the loss of her husband, Prince Albert. Each relative of the deceased was required to wear proper black mourning clothing for a specified period of time. The term "widow's weeds" refers to the black "crape" clothing widows would wear during mourning. Of course we can all conjure up the image of Scarlett O'Hara in her "widow's weeds" after her husband's death, at the charity ball for the Confederate troops in GWTW. If we take the widow as an example, she would not be allowed to wear anything reflective such as satin fabric or jewelry of any kind for one year and one day after the death, a time considered "full mourning". After that, some adornments were allowed, such as the hair memento jewelry, a cameo or portrait brooch of the deceased, or perhaps jewelry and buttons made of jet black glass. .