Amesville, Ohio: A Place Called Home


Living in a small town is easy. The drive to the post office, bank or small grocery store/gas station is about seven minutes or 2 1/2 miles. It is a beautiful drive  . . . it looks a lot like the drawing of The Ohio Company.  In Amesville, there are no traffic lights.  There is very little traffic. There are very few residents; around 150-200 lucky people live here.

Selling Pieces of the Past, II

Hard to believe that it has been one year since Putnam and Speedwell 
planted roots in Athens . . . a few thoughts about growing pains!


Our First Winter at Eclipse Company Town
Our First Winter at Eclipse Company Town

We rented the space at Eclipse Company Town, an old mining town, last November about ten days before Thanksgiving. I was thinking that we could whip it into shape by Thanksgiving. We missed the mark. No kidding! The stress was too much; it is not unusual to lose business partners. And I did soon after renting the new space. A start-up takes grit, determination and even sleepless nights that winnow out the weak.  I went on alone in the endeavor. I had confidence, energy, experience and a lot of spirit . . . enough to overcome this loss. Certainly, I was stunned but I looked at strengths . . .and perhaps foolishly, overlooked any weaknesses.

1. Finding vintage furnishings was not new to me. It had become a habit, you might say, to look for great old things for our great old homes that needed lots of work. Perhaps more importantly, we understood the value of reducing waste. McDonald’s began promoting Happy Meals to sell burgers to children . . .outraged Daddy would drive out to the landfill with our very young children in tow! I often wonder if the effect was akin to “the starving children in _____”  talk given by my father when liver was served. So vintage and antique bargains were one of my specialties – a natural fit for those of us that gravitated toward great old houses.

2. In a previous life, I owned a retail storefront borne from my love for pure soap that was hard to find in the old days . . . pure cotton accoutrements of all kinds and linens. My sisters and brothers worked hard and built a great enterprise that became too big for us to handle . . . I had an intimate understanding of  the danger of burn out. That storefront was huge 2500 square foot; and the new storefront was small and dry so it seemed just right. . .

3. Another plus, or so I believed was my experience with the Internet in my previous life. I relied on the internet for research, as in historical research. I believed that I lived in a golden age. The Internet was a BIG step for the democratization of knowledge connecting libraries and even archives. But at a desk in a research library or on a computer, the work is quiet and solitary most of the time.


If I understood my strengths, I also misunderstood a few deficits. The learning curve for Social Media and Social Marketing. Hmmmm . . .  this was a new  world with a steep learning curve!

In that other life, we built the business one person at a time and one day at a time – and time was slower. The internet was a boon to every entrepreneur on the block, right? Yes, but the process of learning took months not weeks nor days . . . At the beginning of this first year, I was not on Facebook, I did not Tweet nor did I blog – I am a very private person, I read history, I wrote, gardened and cooked like a madwoman and took long walks. Stepping onto this public platform was a venture like no other . . . but yet, since I overcame my fear of public speaking in large lecture halls with low light and Powerpoint, I believed that I was up to the challenge.

Thank heavens my daughter although incredibly busy with her venture and growing family came to my aid on many occasions. But still, there were many nights that I greeted the morning sun . . . WordPress is easy up to a point. . . Facebook was very difficult. Share? Follow? Friend? I looked at these words with an archaic mentality. . . still I do not know exactly how to tweet or exactly what to tweet. I rely on software that is on the Cloud . . .the big bunny cloud up there next to the giant hippo . . . Shopseen. A big help until I clicked buttons without understanding the danger of over-posting which of course led to unlikes which made me cry.  Alyssa, another daughter, helped ease the pain . .. “this is not the real world, Mom” . . . since she too has built a business online with her husband. Thank heavens too for Novak, who stood by with confort et aide as an expert in logistics.

The energy and determination soon dwindled. Sleepless nights are not good at my age.  Normally, I am quite healthy. Not this year . . . influenza and a fever that spiked at 104 degrees, an infection that ended with cellulitis on my face (very ugly) , DVT (get off your feet, they said) and last but not least, the wet winter and spring rain led to high levels of  mold/mildew at the storefront.  Oh and last but not least – the snow! Driving to town was nearly impossible at times. On one occasion, I had a hard time  finding the car buried under the snow for days! There were times, I could not make it to the store and worse yet, I had not hired anyone to  be there if and when I was not. Big mistakes . . . bought a 4WD truck and de-humidifier! I prioritized –  letting go of furniture restoration, home renovation and big landscaping projects. I sleep more, eat more and laugh more.  I wonder if my home will ever really be clean and tidy again! (Whew – talk about going public!)

It has been an amazing year of growth. The storefront at Eclipse is finally coming together . . . and selling online is coming along nicely  . . . but still need to find a few good people to help grow the business. There are many ways we can grow – and serve the community better.

I have met some really terrific people online and at the storefront at Eclipse. I am thrilled that I am once again doing history – now with two books outlined, research progressing and ready to start writing . . . God Willing and the Creek don’t Rise!  I am learning to take the time to do the little things that bring joy, health and happiness – and let go of the bumps along the way. You might say that this has been the worst of times and the best of times.

And last but not least,  thank you to every one who has helped along the way with patience, kindness and the incredible gift of friendship. It is hard to stumble  in the public arena; but, it would be impossible to recover without the kindness of others. 

Now, it might just be a good time to celebrate times past and the good times to come!




The Romance of a Christmas Mouse

Christmas Mouse Featured in Romantic Homes Magazine
Christmas Mouse Featured in Romantic Homes Magazine

Hmmmm, I said, this looks like spam.

Quickly, I clicked log out and returned to my real work.

Later in the day, there was another notification from Etsy about a convo.

Hello Valerie,
I am gathering materials for a vintage Christmas photo shoot to be featured in Romantic Homes magazine.
Would it be possible to use your vintage set of dishes that feature a mouse?
They are the perfect colors and will complete our vintage holiday decorating guide.
Your shop will be credited and I will return them to you promptly.
Please let me know today as I am on deadline.
Thank you!
Sarah Jane O’Keefe

Well, I said, maybe this is legitimate. I texted my closest advisors for advise (my internet savvy children).

I paraphrase, The editor had asked that I send a set of china for a photo shoot for the Christmas issue.

Here is where it gets really funny – all of the opinions were all different of course but,

I was very surprised by the lack of enthusiasm for the little project, the presence of Putnam and Speedwell

in a successful national magazine and the suggestion that a legal contract was needed, otherwise,

it simply would not happen.

Well, maybe I should just forget about it and text her that are not interested.

But, I thought, what if . . . ? So, I decided to take the chance, the leap of of faith, if you will, that we can trust –

even if we have not met face to face. So, immediately, I began researching the magazine (legitimate),

the story editor (found her byline in previous issues) and the address that she had sent. It all checked out.

No, I did not draw up a contract nor did I ask her to pay for the china . .  .but I did write on the packing list

the expected date of return. I figured, what the heck anyway – they are concerned about losing a few dishes?!?

Really! Then they really do not understand how many dishes there are in the barn!

The package arrived in a timely manner with the pink pastel mouse on a green Christmas wreath. . .Sarah Jane also included a note thanking me and remarked that the mouse was “just the right touch” . . .

The whole episode was quickly forgotten . . . at first, I refused to tell anyone – JINX. A few weeks ago, my daughter asked if I had any news and then suggested that I contact the editor. But, I did not follow her advise (a big mistake) . . . and I realized that I had really pushed it way back in my mind – as in nearly forgotten! I then re-listed the dishes on Etsy!


Late last Thursday, I noticed that there were lots and lots of people visiting And we had a lot of new orders – it was the weekend of the Halloween Block Party and a birthday party for my beautiful little nieces!  In the middle of the night, the cell phone  continued to vibrate and then, the familiar sound of a vintage cash register, CHA-CHING.

I was still clueless. I did not know how to account for the dramatic increase of visitors to the blog –

Dinnerware Decorated with a Christmas Mouse
Dinnerware Decorated with a Christmas Mouse

or on Etsy. One of the hot items was dinnerware decorated with a Christmas Mouse.

Here is the description on Etsy,

The design – a certain favorite for children of all ages –
incorporates a retro color palette that includes pink, peach
and green on a white background.


In a note to one buyer, Carol, I mentioned that the Christmas Mouse had quite an adventure – he travelled all the way to California for a photo shoot. So maybe, “your plates will appear in the magazine.” Carol replied, “I saw the set in Romantic Homes that’s why I looked at your Etsy site to see if you had any left. I was lucky!”  Mystery Solved!


And then a big whoop . . . . YAAAA HOOOO!   Cowabunga . . . YES!

Next stop . . . Little Professor. Of course, they had the issue in stock, found The Special Christmas Issue by Romantic Homes but then read the little blurb aloud:

Sweet Details . . . .This sweet set, featuring mice busily preparing for

Christmas, is from the Putnam & Speedwell Etsy Shop.


But still there is a mystery.

Notice that Sarah Jane nor I mention the name of this pattern!

Looking at the bottom of the plate, my hunch is that it was manufactured by Royal China.

The colors lead me to think that it was produced mid-century.

But still, I do not know the pattern name. So, we will offer a 25.00 gift certificate at Putnam and Speedwell.

That’s right.  If you know the name of this pattern, you can let me know with a comment.


Thank you Sarah Jane!  Carol, thanks for solving the mystery! Thank you Etsy. for making it easy to access a large, very large, audience.

Thanks also to my family . . .

(Mom, you need to sell on Etsy! Etsy?)


Putnam and Speedwell in Romantic Homes
Putnam and Speedwell in Romantic Homes

Selling Pieces from the Past – Part One

In my bio, I have described myself as a historian and collector. . . my first collection, books. History and literature stretching from the middle ages to the present. How many? I never knew. I never counted. I knew there were books that I needed. Books that I needed to read again, paragraphs to ponder, sometimes to wonder. Some books you know you will always go back to again and again. Then there were the rare books. Books the university library did not have that I needed to read slowly. I would check out books from my library at home – Alden Library – usually, I had over 200 books from that source. I was writing a dissertation that spanned two continents and the lives of two brothers, sons daughters. I read constantly. My appetite was voracious. Then I moved to a cabin in the woods – I needed to purge that collection. I gave away so many books without any sense of loss.

In turn, I started a new project, the history of Ohio River Pottery. I began collecting pottery made in Ohio. I wanted to write a history – not a guide to identification but rather a history of the people who built the industry and how they kept that business going for the next century. As I discovered, the story is a political, economic and social history. I also realized after that collection took shape, that the patterns told their own history of cultural change – colors, ornamentation and shape reflected taste and fashion. A new journey of discovery. . .  In turn, I am now selling that collection. In my mind, the sales would allow me the time to write the history.

Impetuously, I forged ahead into online selling and a storefront – the collection had grown too large for my barn! Now I was faced with a new learning curve. . . what came naturally for my children, by the way, was not natural for me. Certainly, I had used the internet to research in libraries from Quebec to Paris. But selling required another kind of knowledge – lots and lots. And organization and most of all presence . . great stress soon followed!

Books are simple to organize . . the miracle of the Dewey Decimal System! I can walk to my bookshelves and find a booka in a matter of seconds. But plates . . . over my head it seems. I have always favored white. Simple, pure and the eye is drawn to the form. While I had know Homer Laughlin since I first needed a plate, or so it seems, I at long last discovered Russel Wright! He understood form and the way in which everyday objects affect our lives. . .

Russel Wright, Steubenville, Relish Tray
Russel Wright, Steubenville, Relish Tray

I suppose the first big surprise was that other people wanted to buy parts of this collection. . . . lots of people and lots of pieces! Nothing to complain about except that the intellectual did not have a system in place. Have been working on that for the last few weeks. . . It feels like I have been thrown into the ocean and now we will see if I sink or swim. . .  Hmmmm, I have no intention of sinking. I am learning, too slowly it seems.

Last week, an angel from Canada ordered four Russel Wright plates. Now these are pure white dessert plates. They are a captivating white . . I so hate to sound romantic but – they are white as angels wings. Not a sterile white, not at all clinical, but pure like an angel’s wings, like Sugar White! Truly. I have seemingly millions of white plates, but these are different. So now back to the process of selling. I had not yet shipped anything to Canada. So how best to ship the plates . . . .that research took time. Then the packing. The mail carriers are not gentle with packages, they are in a hurry as the whole of civilization is now. And remember, we are forging relationships with people that we do not know. So, how do we trust. . . especially, the buyer? It is all such an interesting process of give and take without the usual social cues of shaking a hand and getting to know another.

After we had all the details worked out, in packing the pristine white plates, I looked around but could only find three! I had the good luck to know a dealer who happened to have more . . . but now, the shipment is late. . .

We have devised a new way to organize those things that we list online. I also now know that shipping to Canada is simple albeit expensive for the buyer! And this “angel” from Canada inadvertently forced me to learn new lessons for parting with this collection. . . I am in her debt. Whenever I think of Russel Wright especially, Sugar White, it will be her that I remember.

In looking back, I remember a letter that Noel Sillery once wrote to the governor of Canada seeking assurances that donations would go toward the new building of a convent and church. . . he was seeking assurance and trust across great distance. . . with a letter now an email! That time in history was a process of discovery. Ahhhh, she thinks, the more things change the more they remain the same.





What’s in the Barn