Why Vintage? Reason #4

IMG_2328I’m a sentimental fool. That’s why, since I started this series asking, “Why vintage?,” I’ve been looking forward to reason #4.

The question was, why do some people love vintage so much? The first reason I discussed was that vintage is fashionable; the second was a sense of ethics and commitment to reuse; the third was the related issues of cost and quality.

All of these aforementioned reasons are legit but the one that really gets to me, and to many lovers of vintage, is that these old things either belonged to, or are associated with, the people, places, and eras we loved and have lost.

4) It’s a choice motivated by a sense of sentiment and nostalgia

Some people just don’t get this at all. We all know these people. They can’t understand why anyone would want old, used stuff. They live in the present and don’t look back. I’m sure they love their families but they don’t need used belongings around to prove it!

If you’re one of those people, read on to learn about what makes the rest of us tick! The rest of you, the ones who get it already—think about your own precious reminders as you read about some of mine!

First let me make a distinction—the difference to me between sentiment and nostalgia is that the former has to do with affection for people and the latter has to do with a desire for a simpler time or place.

I get sentimental about the old things that bear the imprint of my family. Every vintage or antique item from my family tells a story. The story may be based on facts or it may be just one that I sort of made up to fit my memories but the story is what makes the object precious.

I have my grandmother’s baby cup. It has some extrinsic value—it’s fine quality, it’s an antique, it’s a lovely design.

Inscription: Lydia 1905

Inscription: Lydia 1905

None of that matters to me. All I can think about is the baby Lydia, born in 1905, who received the cup as a namesake gift from her great-aunt Lydia, who was born in 1847, and was the daughter of another Lydia born in 1808! Thinking of the baby Lydia playing with the pretty cup adds a dimension to my idea of my grandmother and has encouraged me to learn about the Lydias who came before her.

Lydia Bowen Wright, 1905

Lydia Bowen Wright, 1905-2002

Lydia Bowrn Thomas, 1847-1939

Lydia Bowrn Thomas, 1847-1939

Similarly, every time I fold a big old damask linen tablecloth, I have visions of that same grandmother and how she would fold one, to minimize the wrinkles at the fold lines. And that Jadeite coffee cup, just like the one my mother carried around the house all day when I was little! The old things aren’t just things—they speak to me about people.

I also get nostalgic in response to the vintage items I come across that were never owned by my actual family. If I see a table at a flea market with that 1960s Formica that had the boomerang shapes and the glitter, it transports me right back to the kitchen of the house we had when I was a happy little girl.

I have also accumulated vintage maple syrup tins because some of my fondest memories of growing up center around the sugar house we had on the farm and the process of making maple syrup. The tins just give me a warm, fuzzy feeling! And how about that great paint-by-numbers picture of sugaring down?

IMG_2321I know I’m not the only person who feels this way, too! The interactions I’ve had with people who buy vintage items from my Etsy shop and with blog readers tell me that sentiment and nostalgia are behind a lot of vintage love. Just a few of the comments I’ve received:

  • Thank you for the lovely damask napkins. They are every bit as soft as my grandmother’s were!
  • I was so pleased . . . It reminds me of linens my Grandmother had.
  • My mother had one just like this!
  • I especially cherish a bread basket liner she crocheted with the word “bread” misspelled. I think I love it more so because it isn’t perfect.
  • I wonder who owned these things, what was their story? . . . I guess I see a lot of character in those old items while new shiny items have no stories to tell yet.

There sure are a lot of us out there!

It’s true one can become overwhelmed by the reminders of the past. I know people who have so many knickknacks from their grandparents, recipes from their mothers, toys from when they were children, concert tickets from when they were in college, pictures of their children, etc., etc., that they find it difficult to surface from the memories and the detritus.

I am trying to reach a point where I pick a few extra-special items that connect me to my past and let the rest go. My cousins plan to line up all the stuffed toys and dolls they’ve kept from their childhood and take a photo and then get rid of the toys themselves. But I know I simply will not want to part with a lot of things. And so I won’t!

How about you? What is your most treasured piece of family history? What do you collect for reasons of sentiment or nostalgia? Christmas ornaments? Mid-century dishes? Or does it all just leave you cold?


20 thoughts on “Why Vintage? Reason #4

  1. I love this post, Kerry! In fact, I love it so much that I’m sharing it on my Facebook page! 🙂 So many of my friends and family members don’t understand my attachment to vintage…and while I love the high quality, economic and green aspects of it, the main reason I love vintage is because, borrowing from a description given to me by my grandma Joan more than 20 years ago, I’m a “sentimental Susie.” When I’m surrounded by Joan’s things and the things that belonged to my other dear family members, I feel their love around me and I remember our happy times together. While I appreciate new things, they just don’t have the same appeal. Oddly enough, I have learned that both my grandma and my husband’s grandma tried to give their family silver to the Salvation Army before our mothers intervened…apparently they weren’t as nostalgic as we are!

    • I’m so pleased you liked the post and shared it! I feel exactly the way you do. It’s weird that my sister, a mere 10 months and 3 weeks younger than I, has none of the sentiment I do. How do two people end up so different, out of the same environment!? I tried to give her that silver baby cup when her daughter was born and she gave it back because it got tarnished and she didn’t want to polish it! Actually, I guess it works in my favor because we don’t have to fight over the old things! Thanks for coming back!

      • Isn’t it funny how different people can be? I guess that’s what makes us special and unique. If we were all the same, the world would be boring, and vintage would be very hard to come by! It does make me very happy to know there are quite a few of us “Sentimental Susies” out there though! 🙂

  2. Dear Kerry, How well spoken! This is very beautiful! Oh, I keep on using exclamation marks! ;0) Do not call yourself a sentimental fool. This is simply you and how you live and feel. Thank goodness we are all different. (And if everybody would hold on to their family treasures, there would be nothing for us in flea market and thrift stores! )
    I certainly cherish my items of ‘special’ value, being a traveller and an emigrant with 13 moves behind me. I cannot hold on to too much and I do not want to. Becoming a hoarder also means you can not let go and become a slave from your ‘stuff’. ( and I do not think you are one either,Kerry) However, I am certainly not a minimalist and amongst my most valued treasures are my childhood bear, items my late mother knitted, special gifts from my husband and sons and my books of course. I love stories, all my treasures and collected vintage tell me stories.
    Looking forward to your next post, hugs from Ohio.

    • Wow–thanks for taking the time to comment in such a supportive way! I hadn’t really thought of the perspective of the emigrant and the need to choose. While I’ve moved a few times, it’s been from NY to Pennsylvania to NY, across NY–never very far so I could take everything I wanted to. And now I’m back in the part of the world where my family has lived for 250 years and it seems like the very landscape is imbued with sentimental meaning! It can get overwhelming. I’m glad you have your select treasures and, of course, we can carry the stories with us always, without the need for the objects themselves!

  3. Beautiful post! Count me in as a sentimental old fool, though I do agree that it can get out of hand. I’ve carefully edited my collection of favorite pieces so that I own my possessions rather than having them “own” me – if that makes any sense at all. My most cherished pieces include the gyroscope my dad played with as a little boy, the tiny anvil that my paternal blacksmith grandpa gave my grandma (to use for cracking nuts), my maternal grandmother’s engagement ring, my mom’s pyrex bowls and measuring spoons (I use them everyday!) and all of our old family photographs. Thanks so much for so eloquently describing why vintage “speaks” to me!

  4. You’re right–one of the reasons I like old items is because of the nostalgia. Even if it is something that I buy at a flea market–usually I was first drawn to it because of a memory.

  5. A lovely post. I like vintage mainly because of the sentiment attached to pieces I have been given, but also because it is good to re-use something from another age. I would rather have some old linen, where someone has taken time to choose colours of embroidery threads and cared for it, over something mass produced any day.

  6. Pingback: Why Vintage? Reason #5 | Love Those "Hands at Home"

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