"Isn't That Pretty"
Is a woman’s voice to my rear as I ...reach upward to close the hatchback. I turn. It is the... woman’s-friend-who-was-scrutinizing-my-dirty-cat-food-dishes... and I.
“I know your not using those dishes for the cats.” she says.
“I... yeah: Right.”
“You know what those are. Those are ANTIQUE plates. Those are ENGLISH CHINA. You know that.”
“I didn’t want to say anything but I KNEW you aren’t going to use those for CATS.
“Well I COULD use them for cat food.”
“Maybe SHE thought you are but I know better than that.”
“Good. She does too.”
“That’s what I’d hope. I’ve heard a lot about you but I haven’t actually SEEN you until just now. I’m JANICE: Janice Stillwater.”
“Yes.” I said while nodding and... going into defense mode.
“I know who you are.”
“Good... I suppose.”
“Theodore has told me all about you.”
“Mr. (Dump); our computer man.
“Ooooh. He knows me very well.”
“He’s very jealous of you. I learned that right away.”
“Why would he always talk about you if he weren’t so envious?”
“Of what; this?” I say with a gesture to the banana box... full of ‘antique’ ‘dirty dishes’... resting before us within the open hatchback.
“Just this morning he said to me that he was surprised you weren’t here. But then you showed up. You went right back to that table and I saw you do that. I said ‘Mickey (her friend); we’re going back there’. Mickey didn’t care. You were already inside!”
“She told me to go in there.”
“Yes. Of course she would. Anyway... that box full looks like quite a TREASURE.”
“It’s treasure. But not the way you think it is.”
“Well that’s a BOX FULL of English china for twenty-five dollars. I’d say it’s a treasure.”
“Not at all. First off, it’s not china. Do YOU know what it is?” I say turning and lifting the lid of the banana box off.
“Well...” Janice says bending into the hatchback to overview the box... of dirty dishes.
“Tell me.” I say.
Janice looks from the box to me... and then back at the box.
“Tell me so I know that you know... or don’t know.
“You don’t know.” I say.
“Well... now... just a minute. There are about twenty plates. And this is a lid. To something.”
“Piss pot. Lid.”
“Commode ...slop jar?”
“Yes. Continue.” I say.
“WELL they are all... that I can see... anyway... English STAFFORDSHIRE. From the eighteen hundreds.”
“Antique... English... Staffordshire... china... plates?”
“How about late nineteenth century English Staffordshire brown transferware earthenware plates... with a commode jar lid... in RED transferware...”
“Yes; that’s it.”
“I... said that; not you.”
“I go further?”
“Aesthetic movement design... with a rustic movement influence... of the decorative compositions***; the transfers... on flat surface; the surface of the plate. Late Victorian. Carrying to Edwardian. Maker marked. 1880’s to World War I. All... nothing special. The piss pot lid is older then many of the plates. I wonder how that got mixed in.”
“In the dining room. That’s where these come from; a dining room.”
“Yes I know that. The Savage family. The Stillwater’s are RELATED you know. By MARRIAGE.”
“I’m related to the Savages by marriage too.”
“You are not.’
“But I have the box of dirty dishes.”
“It’s a wedding gift.”
“It is NOT.”
“If it keeps up like this; the Savage estate in banana boxes, the courtship is over. We’re married.”
“What do mean by that?”
“People sell things to me that they shouldn’t and... other people who see this just stand there and do nothing.”
“Do you mean?”
“Well what am I going to do with a box of dirty dishes? Theodore told me how CRAFTY you are.”
“I’m sure he did. And he would know. About being crafty. How come this box isn’t in your trunk? HIS TRUNK?”
“I didn’t even get a chance too...”
“Oh please; you were doing nothing. You want to buy the box? I’ll sell it.”
“Go get Theodore to tell you how much it’s worth and then I sell it to you dirt cheap. Actually; dirty dishes cheap.”
“You will not.”
“Right: You won’t buy it. You don’t buy antiques.”
“Well... I would have once. But now I have to watch my expenses. My husband’s dead you know”.
“Very common in my world.”
“Yes I suppose. My mother just died too. Well... actually three years ago. I have all her things to contend with now.”
“You have an estate?”
“WELL... all of the two houses. SHE’D MOVED to a smaller house THANK GOD. And a cottage.”
“Oh. There you go. She collected?”
“Oh no but the house is FULL of ANTIQUES. It was all her MOTHER’S. And the cottage too. That’s on Squirrel Island. THAT’S FULL too.”
“I took Theodore to the house.”
“He would love that I’m sure.”
“He only wanted the (postage) stamp albums. He always mentions them”.
“Those he knows about.” I say.
“Knows what they are. Any books? He likes OLD BOOKS too.”
“He looked at the books but never said anything.”
“That means they’re no good.”
“How do you know that?”
“I have chances to see Mr. (Dump’s) appraisal work so know I can depend on his work with rare books. Anything else (any other object in front of Mr. Dump)... forget it.”
“Like these dishes. He would use one for cat food... and never know the difference.”
“You wouldn’t know what they are either? OR what to do with them?” I continued.
“What are YOU going to do with them!”
“I’m either going to sell them to you or get them out of here.”
“Going to buy them. I know that. You’d never buy antiques.”
“Well then; you’ll sell them in your store?”
“I don’t have a store.”
“Well... sell them SOMEWHERE.”
“No store. If I had a store... someone like you would come to it and... not BUY anything.”
“You have antique china?” I say.
“I didn’t think so.” I continue.
“There are lots of old dishes at my mother’s house.”
“I’m sure there are. Any good ones?”
“I really wouldn’t know. There’s nothing like those.” Janice said gesturing to the banana box... full of dirty dishes”.
“Those tell a story. It’s a great story. That’s why I own them. Do your mother’s dishes tell a story? Tell me a story.”
“I didn’t think so.”
“No wait. MAYBE they do.”
“You’d better go check then. Ask Theodore to help you.”
“You know: He says that your intuitive with people. With their antiques. He’s right about that you know. He says that about you and he’s right. You just open the book and keep reading don’t you.”
“A discerning compliment.”
“Well you man-managed those poor women over there.”
“Go tell on me. I think who managed who will find debate. I do concede that the dirty dishes ARE in the back of my car. And that they didn’t know what they were either.”
“You don’t... either.”
“Oh. So tell me. Some of these are actually very pretty. Even this lid is pretty.
“Yes; the design is classic. The decorations are a damnation of their time. Can’t fake that though. They’d like to huh (make modern day stylized reproduction ‘china’ ‘patterns’).”
“Yes. Victorian. Aesthetic. Rustic. Nice. Right dead center in the estate.”
“In the estate?”
“What I’d expect to be there: A very real accumulation of the old china that should be there; in an estate like that. That’s what I like about this (waving my hand toward the banana box). Something going on. I have two boxes of it now. REALLY NEAT to someone like me.”
“Neat. The china. From the estate. Even dirty like this?”
No. Not that. That; identifying the china is EASY. I do (find, handle, buy and sell) paste (‘old soft paste’ ...with these dirty dishes being [very] ‘late’ for ‘paste’ so here the word is used as an ‘in-the-trade’ ‘not considered well’ expression) like this all the time. It’s the HISTORY. Well... the heritage; BOTH, that gets me. You know...; that they (the dirty dishes) are IN THERE. IN the dining room. Still all there. And how they got there. And how they got HERE (gesturing toward the strawberry shortcake line). And HERE.” (gesturing to the banana box in the back.
Janice looked down at the box again. Then at my face.
“It’s not intuitive. IT’S reading HISTORY.” I continued. “How did they get there? To the estate? THEY BOUGHT THEM; the old china. HOW? At the store. One plate or whatever at a time. One woman, one plate, one day. That’s how they sold it. One at a time. Oh the store would have a dozen of the same PLATES for sale but a dozen woman would each buy ONE. The peddlers too. That Savage estate would have peddler wagon’s at the back door all day long once the peddler’s knew. They’d buy.”
“Buy from the peddlers?”
“Yes. They’d come to the back and find the housekeeper or hired girl. She’d fetch the family. Old Captain Savage was never home. He went into town all day every day. The women ran the place. Everything. The peddlers knew this. ‘Bring it to them’ they did. Always had china for sale. NOT whole SETS of dishes. Just pieces. Here and there. That piss pot; the lid. That was peddled. SHE bought for HER ROOM. It was pretty. SHE used it. The Old Captain didn’t care what he pissed in. Then the hired girl dropped it. Down the (outhouse) hole? Probably. GONE. Just the lid left. A sad day for the piss pot. But they kept the lid. In the dining room. With the other china. Right? See how I read that? That’s good history to me. Makes that box really come alive huh. That box is like an archeological DIG to someone like me. I won’t even wash the dishes.”
But I did.... wash them.
After a while.
No one cared.
*** This ‘old china’ found here... is a product of a double intellectual art intrigue in the later Victorian era extending onto Edwardian to WW I. The first is the titled “aesthetic movement’ that presents the decorative design in the light of flowery ( and Asian esque) ‘suggestion’. The second is the titled ‘rustic movement’ that thrusts nature in its natural setting upon the aesthetic design premise. The result is the celebration of, for example, the old tree stump as art of itself AND as a subject for art. This all, to no surprise, is now noticed to be a resistance and rebellion toward Industrialism destroying (‘displacing’) the natural and the natural realms (a wind in the willows...).
Today, this that I just wrote is currently well passed over by the fine shoppers who ‘hate nature’ (“I LOVE GOING OUT DOORS” but “don’t”) and ‘love’ (“I HATE THEM”) shopping at ...box stores of choice AND... the phony up-scale-from-that... BUT OF THE SAME tawdry design and construction qualities... “good brands’. (Making china and... making exclusive ‘good brand’ china... are, today ‘the same production’: They ...cannot... make ‘china’ the ‘old way’ and ...cannot make it ‘sort of’ the old way so that... ‘people can (afford / will) buy it’. Old china is old china and is NOT NEW CHINA. Or ‘sort of new’ (post industrial production methods; ‘Look: No hands’...made... of the old school) So... all of this ‘old (antique) china’ has been left alone (‘no one cares’). I am constantly ‘getting it’ for nothing and, of course, when it is shown stand alone, as here right now, it is well received (“discovered”) as an actual relief to the... box store and/or phony ‘exclusive’ “QUALITY aesthetic”... movements. I remind that this is English china; English design and inspiration and... of the rural English ...Richard Jefferies, THE GAMEKEEPER AT HOME / THE AMATUER POACHER, London 1889 / 1879 (read this author?) era. Too. It is a... totally makes sense thing actually. Now lost especially as it is, in design, very subtle. I probably should not be wasting the reader's time with this ‘wind in the willows’. THAT... old tale; w in the w... IS OF THIS TOO.