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Friday, 09 September 2011

Antiques Back in the Good Old Days

By Terry Hamburg of boomer to you

AntiquesHamburg “What a jerk,” I mouthed off at the dinner table. “Art Linkletter must make a million bucks a year gabbing on TV and when his son asks for a lousy $10 guitar, he tells him to go get a job and earn it. Those rich Hollywood celebrities are cheap bastards.”

Some kids had permissive parents. I didn’t, and they loved Art Linkletter. Punishment for my “bad attitude” and “filthy language” was banishment to great Uncle Sid’s dreary old antiques shop for the summer where I earned 15 cents an hour, a decent child slave wage in the 1950s.

Uncle Sid bought the business in 1938 for a Depression song. The inventory consisted of some “genuine” antiques back then. In those days, a widely accepted yardstick defined antiques as pre-1830. By the time I arrived, most of those pieces were long gone. Uncle Sid hung on to a few items he placed in the window with ridiculously high prices.

“Why?” I asked.

“If I sell those things,” Uncle Sid explained, “I’d have to take down my antiques sign.”

The shop was filled with unwanted late Victorian furniture and decorative things, plus more recent, assorted items – “used merchandise.” Collectibles meant stamps and coins. The only collectible in Uncle Sid’s shop was dust. “Vintage” was used to describe old wine.

There were days when no visited. Once, singer Mario Lanza popped in. Uncle Sid almost fainted. He had never seen a celebrity in person. Mario bought an autographed picture of himself for 25 cents. He didn’t ask for a discount.

I asked Uncle Sid if he wanted me to dust.

“What’s the point?” he sighed. “All this stuff will just get dusty again.”

He sold so little, there was hardly a need to acquire more. Occasionally, people wandered in to offer him things. When he could “steal” it, he would and usually he could. He bought a dozen pieces of Roseville pottery for 25 cents each and a signed Tiffany table lamp for $28.

In his basement, which I was ordered to clean out, I discovered a treasure trove of leaded glass lamps with numerous cells missing or broken.

Uncle Sid shrugged. “Too damn expensive to repair, and who the hell wants them anymore?” I took the lot to the junkyard and salvaged it for the lead content.

The popularity of The Honeymooners television show inspired a steady trickle of people offering Victorian furniture. Uncle Sid turned most down, calling it “Ralph Cramden junk.”

Alice was humiliated by the old buffet and dining table her cheap husband Ralph bought from a second-hand store to decorate their shabby walk-up. How could Uncle Sid know that 20 years later this furniture would be refinished and sold for prices beyond imagination? Or that the "junk" lingering on table tops would turn into coveted collectibles?

“Want to buy the store?” Uncle Sid asked one day.

“Where would you live?” I wondered.

“In the back room where I’m living now. With that television in there, I’d never come out.”

I’m only 12,” I reminded him. “I don’t have any money of my own, except my allowance and that’s been cut because of my attitude.”

“I meant your pop. I remember he was always looking for new investments.”

I promised to ask. Pop scoffed at the idea.

Twenty years later he stopped scoffing. He bought Uncle Sid out and joined the great Antiques and Collectibles Revolution of the 1970s.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Terry - Great story! (Hopefully, Uncle Sid had other sources of income!)

Your 15 cents an hour wage started me thinking. Back then an hours labor would have bought you 3 packs of Life Savers, 3 packs of Wrigley's gum, 3 copies of the daily newspaper, 3 plays on the juke box, and it was more than enough to make a pay-phone call. You could have mailed 3 first class letters and had enough left over to buy several pieces of penny candy. How times have changed! - Sandy

“Want to buy the store?” Uncle Sid asked one day.

I’m only 12,” I reminded him.

These are the sentences that will make my day brighter. I know I will think of it every once in a while and smile.


Interesting and well written story.

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