I’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
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, 1905-2002
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?
I 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?