I am an historian – a card carrying historian – the post doctorate degree made it official and public. I look at the world around me with a particular if not downright peculiar lens. Every object that I look at tells a story. Recently, I acquired boxes of papers and books left by a teacher who enjoyed a long career in the local schools of Amesville. So far, I have only managed to touch the…
Things have changed since the first county fairs in Athens County. Until this century, after the Great Depression, most folks lived in rural areas. Not until the last quarter of the last century did we witness an exodus to the city – people left to find “good jobs.” The pendulum swings again, the “good jobs” have evaporated. . . . demographics shift again. But people still gather at county fairs or church celebrations to share a sense of community with others. . . in fact, fairs in medieval Europe had the same festive atmosphere that our county fairs have today. As luck would have it, recently, quite a few boxes of papers have landed in my lap . . . from Amesville spanning eighty years. It is a treasure trove filled with notebooks distributed to farmers to keep records of planting time, fertilization and crop yields; guides for putting foods by; guides for young people in the Grange; beautiful cards distributed by a baking company with illustrations of birds that were “good for the land” – and photographs of boys with girls posing for school pictures, yearbooks among so many things precious and rare. . . But perhaps, the strangest and most interesting of all is the story, “Travels of a Rolled Oat” published by the Quaker Oats Company in 1930. in this pamphlet, we see oats that are first planted, processed and finally eaten by a young child. The story starts like Moby Dick . . . “being an account of an old man in Sweden” who keeps a shop. . . and tells Nils how it is that oats are grown. The oats are depicted as if they are living organisms that finally become a part of the young man. It is the rolled oats who tell the story and in the end, “the rolled oats become a part of Nils.” There are other pamphlets as well, such as Pigmies.In this tale, germs are represented as pigmies – the smallest of characters taken from myth by the author to tell the morality tale that Hercules could not fight against an army of these! Another pamphlet, The Jungle Pow-Wow published by Colgate Palmolive to teach the universal benefit of brushing teeth. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the hygienic movement addressed many concerns. Teaching children the virtues and benefits of cleanliness, good health and an adequate diet were among the topics that teachers, like Mrs. Linscott at Amesville-Bern Middle School addressed. Teachers used materials provided by private industry to teach. Funds were limited and resourceful teachers used these aids. . . The radio and television were just new mediums for major companies to influence our tastes. From my vantage point, the pamphlets are priceless – they often have amazing graphics. And the pamphlets tell a story of all the resources that one teacher pulled together to address the needs of her class. I am humbled by this rural school teacher . . . who has left me with new insight into how it is that we became a “great melting pot.”
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. . .
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.
Ephemera is one of those words that when spoken sounds like its meaning . . . a soft, wispy sound like whisper and rhymes with chimera. Ephemera are things that last only for a brief moment in time . . . like whispers and chimera, ephemera lack real substance but not necessarily importance in everyday life. You might even say that we take some of the most important things in life for granted.
The bits and pieces of ephemera that we come across can really stir memories. Monogrammed paper napkins carefully folded then placed in a book . . . garters thrown at weddings . . . matchbooks from a restaurant . . . cards, letters and postcards. Fragments of life . . .
So when I first spotted this A&W root beer container . . . I was so surprised! I had forgotten about these containers (waxed cardboard) in the shape of a bullhorn. The root beer was so damned good; hate to admit it but when I was pregnant with my first child, I craved root beer from A&W at all hours of the day and night!
Another example of ephemera are the round cardboard inserts that were used to seal glass milk bottles. I love the reminder to wash the bottles before returning. Reminds me once again that reusing is the predecessor of recycling. Hard to believe . . . but those were simpler times long before a madman decided to tamper with the supply of Tylenol. Glass milk bottles belong to the time when we had public trust . . . like trusting the milk man to keep the milk cold as he delivered it to our homes every morning.
Even though the milk bottle is not ephemera by definition, I found a very special milk bottle from Chicago Heights, Illinois – and so am I.
As the collection of ephemera grew, I realized that I needed a good way to pass it on without damaging papers sometimes fragile but always precious and quite often rare. I am now packaging many of these papers in a way that makes sense to me and I hope, makes sense to you. There are vintage wrapping papers for weddings and baby showers, rain bonnets for showers, postcards, old coins, buttons, illustrations among other bits and pieces that fit together in ways that seem to bring them to life. I imagine some of you might use them for scrapbooks or wrapping presents or in a collection of some sort or other. I have found them useful – as they were yesterday. And beautiful, each in their own way.
Would love to hear your ideas . . . and you might want to take a peek on Etsy or see them in the store at Eclipse when we are back from summer break.
Sometimes it happens during my travels that I find somethings that stirs not only curiosity but also my emotion. And sometimes, I doubt that I should be the keeper of the bit or scrap of paper, documents, letters, memos, receipts. If found in an archive, these bits of the past are classified as documents, if of course, they make a contribution to a nation’s history and subject to the space limitations of any library – well, except for the incredible, amazing, crazy wonderful, awe inspiring Library of Congress. One such “official document” is the following donation by a French Notable duly noted and registered by Parisian notaries in the early sixteenth century. . . . love the flourish of the signatures! Can’t believe that I spent so much time reading documents like these.
Lately I have found some interesting papers that illustrate American life and culture. . . I found an old school notebook – rather dirty – no doubt stored in a barn or basement forgotten until years later the area was emptied. . . maybe after the house sold or the family moved.
As I was sorting through the old box, I looked at the notebook again and noticed the back. How sweet – Frederick practicing his signature, his hearts – finally, carving a heart. Frederick was smitten . . . was she the first, the only?
Frederick also left this drawing of a house after ripping out most of the pages. Did he draw this? Was it his house? Was it something he imagined in the future – or remembered or even, a home to share with his sweetie? I am soooo sentimental . . .
Looking again, a week later, I found this hand made mask fashioned from needlepoint fabric embellished with yarn, a heart, a pearl . . .
and antique buttons.
My first cursory google search yielded a Frederick R. Ricket who enlisted in WW II. I cannot wait to discover more. . . Like if the Irene Wehrle, who signed the back of this book is someone he met while serving in France. . . or is she the one? Since I googled her as well, and found a woman by this name – I don’t think she was. So curious. But so good to know that men daydreamed about love and home then as well as now. . . or do they?
I feel so privileged to know Frederick Ricket in this way. hope the photographs inspire you in some way. You can admire this treasure this amazing document, after our summer break at Eclipse Company Town – the weekend of August 14.
If you can add anything to this history or know anyone who can or have your own story about papers that have captured your imagination – I would love to hear your story.
At this point, at the very beginning of this post, I need to come clean. I was born in the fifties. I was a sixties child . . . prone to question at the very least, if not loudly reject the status quo, fashion, style and philosophy of anyone over thirty. And that was before I turned eighteen. I was not fond of the blond furniture in my parent’s bedroom. I turned my nose up at anything made of plastic including the avocado green plastic strainer that I was given for my birthday. Ironically and thankfully, I used the avocado green plastic strainer without admiring it until it partially melted down a few years ago. I realized, at that moment, that my distaste for its color and composition had long since faded away. Instead, it was a symbol of a very happy moment with a truly great human. Funny how history plays with memory.
I appreciate the craft of carpentry. I admire not only well-crafted, beautifully designed pieces but also, I enjoy country pieces – by which I mean, a piece of furniture made by a householder who needed a place to put the plates or a place to sit. I like the patina especially of really old furniture. So, naturally, I did not enjoy the plastic covering on the sofa, on the seats of my Dad’s 1959 Galaxie 500, nor the plastic “runners” that were stretched over endless expanses of wall to-wall carpeting.
Much less, melamine which I considered the bane of civilized society. In short, then, I am admitting a long standing distaste, if not a real prejudice, for anything that smacked of the streamlined and plasticized world of the mid century. That was until I discovered that other world – the world of Eames and Knoll.
All bets were off when I experienced writing while sitting in the propeller chair that I found quite by accident. (In fact, the manager of the establishment was sitting in the chair when I asked if it was for sale. I was delighted when he said, yep. And he meant it!) This was the first chair that I could sit in for hours and not develop a dull ache in my lower back. Now, I can also recommend Herman Miller shell chairs and Steelcase to anyone who knows exactly what I am talking about.
The Kent-Coffey buffet/server/dresser that we have is another truly spectacular piece of furniture. Not only do the drawers glide when opened like Ginger Rodgers across a dance floor but the vertical design element catches light and shadow like sculpture. It is crafted with precision and the finish is equally amazing. A little Danish Oil refreshes the finish as if it was made last year.
Finally, yet another bit of irony. I now appreciate the plastic slip covers – especially when I find them on an upholstered piece in the old neighborhood. Take off that plastic sixty years later and you will might just have a “brand new” piece of furniture!
Back in the day, when we were in college in Kirksville, a young man from Brooklyn moved into our neighborhood. It was his first time outside of a city. We did the best we could to calm him – even though there was no McDonalds, even though there were no buses, department stores, big restaurants . . . even though it was not the city, certainly, once he started class, he would find friends, good times and settle in to this new place. As fate would have it, the very next morning, a few hogs escaped the livestock auction and barreled across the neighborhood yards. He was unnerved – really – in part, because he had not been able to sleep because it was too quiet. The hogs, well, they were the last straw. He gave us all of his groceries and caught the next plane back to New York.
I love New York, it is exhilarating! But my spirit is ignited by the small, lets say very small town that I live in. You might be thinking, a one-stoplight kind of place. But no, there is no stoplight nor stop sign for thru traffic. So, I suppose, we would define Amesville as a no stoplight town. And that is just fine with everyone that I know that calls this place home.
Amesville was founded late in the eighteenth century when the new republic found a way to remunerate the army that fought for independence. Men and women rode the flatboats from Pittsburg to Marietta and claimed their fifty acres. Many came with big ideas – they built ocean going vessels in a little town near Amesville. But they settled in to a rolling landscape that reminded them of their old homes in New England. The countryside remains bucolic and quiet, very quiet. And when I need a few things from the grocery, I travel the two miles to Amesville for cream and milk from a small creamery, free-range eggs from a local farm – and even homemade granola. I do not wait in line, I am back home in minutes. If I need to go to the bank – I am first in line all the time. If I need to go to the post office, again, chances are good that I am the lone customer. The short drive often, brings tears to my eyes, but I am very sentimental. There is no other place on earth that I want to live.
I have no idea why I could make the jump from growing up in a big city like Chicago and settle in to this quiet place. I toss and turn at night when I visit a city. – it is so noisy. The lights from cars on the road way traveling across the bedroom ceiling . . . it is unnerving. Nonetheless, every now and again, I crave the excitement of the city, really need to breathe in all the life on the streets. But when you believe that you live in a paradise, then all you really need to do is open your eyes to see all that there is in a new light. Now that is a good place to live!
And work! Our barn opens up over a beautiful valley – a barn with a view! At the end of May, we will open up the doors for our Barn Sale. You are invited, of course, and we will get more information out later. It is worth the drive and you never know what you will find!