Monday, December 11, 2017

A Christmas Ornament Collector's Fantasy Sale

Chronica Domus
Christmas arrived early in the Chronica Domus household this year thanks to the 
ornament score of the century
Photo: Chronica Domus


Old-fashioned, blown glass Christmas tree ornaments have held a special place in my heart since childhood.  My mother had a selection of them to decorate the family's Christmas tree along with tinsel and, on occasion, something that to the eyes of a child resembled cotton cobwebs, a rather poor imitation of snow I believe.  When I first started my own collection of vintage blown glass Christmas tree ornaments, way back when I landed on this side of the pond in the early 1990's, I was agog to discover the vast quantities available for the picking.  Collective antiques shops and thrift stores proved to be fertile stomping grounds for the unusual geometric shapes which comprised my collection.  Back then, over-stuffed plastic bags of ornaments could be purchased for a pittance.

Over the years, as more people have discovered the joys of decorating their trees with these beguiling baubles, hunting them down become a challenging sport for me.  Nowadays, it is a happy and increasingly rare day when I score a handful of fragile 1920's German indents or a World War II era pine cone.

With this in mind, you can only imagine how ecstatic I was when my friend Jeannette, a fellow ornament devotee, and I recently attended a sale so extraordinary it was hard to believe we had not conjured it up from our wildest fantasies.  Yes, we really were awake, and this really was the Sale of The Century as far as these things go.  In fact, there were so many items up for grabs that the sale took place over multiple days.  Jeannette and I found it difficult to keep away, and thus we attended not once, but twice.  What lucky girls we were!

Alas, in my dizzy excitement, I failed to take along my camera but if you'd care to see a fraction of the thousands of exceptional and rare items that were on offer, do please visit the blog of Addison Studio Sale where the many photographs included in the links found here, here, and here, will give you a delicious taste of what we saw.

Chronica Domus
Ron Morgan's fifty year-in-the-making Christmas collection was up for sale and proved to be an ornament collector's wildest fantasy come true


The collection was amassed over the span of fifty years by Ron Morgan, a well-known local floral designer who recently moved to Mexico.  Mr. Morgan had an unerring eye when it came to the quality and rarity of items included in his collection. The blown glass German ornaments, Dresden cardboard figures, Putz animals and houses, strings of glass beads, goose feather trees, lametta tinsel, Belsnickel Father Christmas figures, candy containers, German glass kugels in all shapes, colors, and sizes, together with an assortment of other Christmas ephemera and novelties really should have landed in a museum, en masse.  I doubt there's another collection quite like it anywhere else in the world.  As it is, Mr. Morgan made many hundreds of keen enthusiasts of Christmas past extremely happy with their recent purchases of items rarely seen on the market.  Below is the selection of the glass ornaments I was fortunate enough to have hauled away from the sale.

Chronica Domus
Most of these fragile blown glass ornaments were made in Germany in the 1920's and 1930's
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
These are German kugels and were made in the mid to late-nineteenth century, constructed of heavier glass with stamped brass hangers they are extremely sought after and are a rarity
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
 I look forward to hanging these whimsical beauties from the boughs of our Christmas tree ...
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
... alongside these icy beauties
Photo: Chronica Domus


I also had the chance of snapping up two early-nineteenth century blown glass vessels known as fairy lights or lanterns.  I believe these might actually be leech bowls or jars that someone converted into fairy lights with the clever use of a bit of old tinsel.  These cradled small wax candles and helped to cast light on the Christmas tree.  Not particularly safe, I know, but lovely nonetheless.

Chronica Domus
Hmmm... are these fairy lights or leech bowls or jars I wonder?  
Photo: Chronica Domus


Jeannette and I are so chuffed with our latest Christmas treasures that our thirst for such things has been quenched, at least we think, for now.  On the drive home from the second of the two sales, we revisited the issue of how dire our storage issues have become.  In one fell swoop, things just got a lot worse.  We agreed, however, that at least they had worsened for the very best of reasons, an abundance of beautiful Christmas tree ornaments.  Our latest haul is truly an embarrassment of riches.

What is it that you enjoy decorating your tree with, and do you have a favorite ornament you would like to tell me about?


Sunday, November 26, 2017

In Support of Small Business Saturday

About five years ago I began to notice posters going up in certain neighborhoods at this time of the year, encouraging shoppers to patronize small businesses.  It only dawned on me recently that those posters were advertising something known as Small Business Saturday, the day directly following the dreaded Black Friday.  I am sure you are already well versed in the concept of Black Friday shopping but in case you are not, it involves frantically racing around department stores and big box chains, often to the point of the ridiculous, even during the wee hours of the morning (aka midnight),  in search of bargains. Surely, I am not alone when I say that the entire idea of Black Friday could not be more unpalatable. I suppose that is the reason why Small Business Saturday came into being.

Supporting small independent neighborhood businesses is nothing new to me.  In fact, it is my preferred way of shopping when it comes to both food items and household goods and services.  Last year on Small Business Saturday, for example, I took a pair of boots to the local cobbler to be re-heeled, and then walked to the dry cleaner to drop off my winter coat which was in need of a cleaning.  I value the services of these small neighborhood businesses so make a point of patronizing them whenever possible.  In today's throwaway culture and Internet shopping-obsessed world, these businesses need all the support they can get.  Of course, I am only too happy to oblige.

Yesterday, finding ourselves with a day devoid of obligations, and a daughter busy with friends, my husband and I hopped into the motor car and headed north across the Golden Gate bridge to Petaluma, a favorite little town full of small, one-of-a-kind businesses.  We could not think of a better place to be on Small Business Saturday.  Unfortunately, I had forgotten my camera at home but just to give you an idea, we saw plenty of these on our adventure through the town:

The shopkeepers of many small businesses in Petaluma were giving away these tote
bags to their patrons


There were people everywhere enjoying the cooler weather outdoors between bouts of early Christmas shopping.  Many of the merchants provided complimentary nibbles and beverages which only encouraged patrons to linger a little longer than perhaps is usual while they perused the merchandise on offer.

Of course, I did my bit in support of Small Business Saturday and visited all the antiques shops in town.  I came away with a handful of vintage glass Christmas tree ornaments which will surely find their way onto our tree later next month.  I also found a delightful early-nineteenth century English creamware mug decorated with pleasing pink luster (or would that be lustre?) bands and a purple bat print scene of a shepherdess and two shepherds.  The mug stands three inches high and three and a half inches across.  I was thrilled to bits with the newest addition to my ceramics collection especially as it had been discounted by 15% in honor of today's shopping event.

Chronica Domus
So pleased to have taken home a little treasure in support of Small Business Saturday yesterday
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
My new old mug as photographed from the back
Photo: Chronica Domus


When we eventually made our way home during the early evening hours, we stopped off at our favorite local Italian eatery in search of a delicious and comforting dinner.  Once again, there we were supporting yet another local small business.

What an enjoyable day, and evening, Small Business Saturday turned out to be for us this year. And, although our dinner is long-gone, at least I get to keep my mug as a pleasant reminder that supporting small independent businesses yields unique items not easily found at the mall or in big box chains.

Did you get out and about yesterday in support of your favorite small businesses?

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Giving Thanks

Chronica Domus
Photo: Chronica Domus

It seems like it was just yesterday when I think back to who was sitting with us at our dining table last Thanksgiving, partaking in our annual celebratory Dinner For Waifs and Strays.  Today, my family and I feel privileged that our merry little group has again reunited to give thanks and to count our blessings.

This year, a few of our strays have indeed strayed, to lands afar, and will be missed but not forgotten.  Another is spending the day with an elderly friend who, due to a crippling illness, might have otherwise been alone.  We shall miss his generous spirit but will make sure to raise a glass to him today.

Chronica Domus
Photo: Chronica Domus

As my life ebbs and flows, either zipping by faster than I'd like it to, or plodding along at a snail's pace, I make a conscious effort to take the time and appreciate all that I am surrounded by; my family, my friends both near and far, my beloved formerly feral feline friend, Norton, my good health and sound mind.  I suppose a day like today, Thanksgiving, is the culmination of it all.  To have an opportunity of sharing in the good fellowship of our jolly dining companions is yet another reason to give thanks.

Chronica Domus
Now that the table is set, I'm off to the kitchen to put the turkey in the oven
Photo: Chronica Domus


I hope that you too, no matter your circumstances and wherever you might find yourself today, have something to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

CD


Monday, November 13, 2017

Of Aubergines and Coddiwomples

Chronica Domus
An Old Paris Porcelain reticulated fruit basket filled with aubergines makes an unusual 
autumn centerpiece
Photo: Chronica Domus


I do so enjoy a bit of fun with words and every now and then, I come across a real corker.  I can't quite remember where I first heard the word coddiwomple but when I did, I immediately shared it with my husband.  "Ah", he said, "that's a good one, and a bit like me when I'm looking for the trail on one of my backpacking expeditions".  How, we wondered, had we not previously known of this lovely word while living it on many occasions?

"To travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination" is, in essence, to coddiwomple.  I'm sure that you too have had occasion to coddiwomple without knowing you were actually doing so. I partook in a bit of it myself this past Saturday as I trolled the farmers' market for something suitable to fashion into a table centerpiece in preparation for our Sunday lunch guests.

I had already decided I would avoid the use of autumnal gourds and squashes.  I'll be saving those for our Thanksgiving table next week.  Flowers too were a no-go in light of the fact that nipping down to the city's excellent flower market was not on the books on this particularly over-scheduled day.  As such, I found myself wandering towards a vague destination in terms of what to do about my centerpiece dilemma.  Or, to sum things up rather tidily, I found myself coddiwompling.

After considerable dithering, I settled upon something rather unexpected; a delightful melange of jewel-sized aubergines in shades ranging from deepest purple to creamy white.  Corralled in a pretty Old Paris Porcelain reticulated fruit basket, the arrangement qualified as possibly the most unusual centerpiece that has ever graced our dining table.  It was, as it turned out, a wonderful ice-breaker too, with our guests exclaiming how marvelous it looked, and what fun to it was to use items more commonly confined to the kitchen.

Chronica Domus
The aubergines were a big - and unexpected - hit with our Sunday lunch guests
Photo: Chronica Domus


I always find it so rewarding to stumble across a previously unknown (at least to me) word in the English language.  And, when that word is as fun to utter as coddiwomple well, I just can't help myself from repeating it.  And often!

When was the last time you found yourself coddiwompling, and what unusual things have found their way onto your dining table as a centerpiece?  Do please let me know.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Breathing New Life Into Old Drawers

nota bene: At the risk of eliciting a few chuckles from my readers, brought about by the title of today's post, this essay really is all about reviving an old chest of drawers, and has nothing whatsoever to do with those other types of drawers, thank you very much! 


Sometimes I despair at how long it can take to find just the right item of furniture when looking to furnish the rooms of our house.  I don't make things easy on myself having a predilection for American Federal and English Regency furnishings and decorative arts. These things are, after all, not exactly in abundance here on the relatively young West coast of the United States. I do, however, remind myself that all good things are worth the wait.

Earlier this year, Lady Luck took pity on me while trolling an outdoor antiques market and presented me with the opportunity of snapping up the chest of drawers you see below.

Chronica Domus 
Photo: Chronica Domus


Sorely in need of more storage space, this useful piece of furniture fit the bill.  In fact, I had been on the lookout for a Federal era chest of drawers for a number of years and this one was well worth the wait. The price was right too; embarrassingly so.  Having arranged for the chest's delivery with the dealer, I finally took possession of it several weeks after purchase.

Overall, the chest was in good condition for its age.  One of its prior owners had obviously cared for it enough to have the central panel of the backboard repaired a numbers of years ago, as well as one of the drawer bottoms.  Fortunately, the original finish and brass hardware remain intact.  I believe this bowfront mahogany chest was likely made in Massachusetts around 1810 - 1825. Of course, I would be delighted to learn more about such early American chests if any of you reading this would care to enlighten me.

The first thing I did to revive this tired looking Sleeping Beauty was to remove the stamped brass drawer knobs and corresponding back plates. They were filthy!  Setting to work with my trusty bottle of Brasso, a soft flannel cloth, and a bit of old-fashioned elbow grease, I soon had these beauties twinkling.

Chronica Domus
What a difference a bit of elbow grease and a few dabs of Brasso make to these Federal era stamped brass drawer knobs and back plates
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
Within an hour, I had restored all eight drawer knobs and back plates to their former gleaming glory
Photo: Chronica Domus


Next, my very handy husband took care of a couple of splits in the bottoms of two of the four drawers. Some hide glue, a few clamps, and a bit of patience soon put things right (thank you, Dearest!).

Chronica Domus
Photo: Chronica Domus


A once over with the vacuum cleaner removed heaps of dirt from the chest's dusty cavity.  It also unearthed these:

Chronica Domus
It's surprising what lurks within the nooks and crannies of an old chest of drawers
Photo: Chronica Domus


I then wiped the internal surfaces of each drawer with a damp cloth and allowed sufficient time for them to dry.  Remembering the stash of assorted wallpaper rolls in our basement, I trotted downstairs to see what was what.  You might be surprised to learn how handy a remnant roll of wallpaper or two is for little household projects.  It's not just for walls you know!

Chronica Domus
After making a template of one of the drawer bottoms with brown paper, I used it to
cut out four drawer liners from a remnant roll of marbled wallpaper
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
The marbled wallpaper liners are now secured in place with the aid of old-fashioned
brass drawing pins 
Photo: Chronica Domus


An application of furniture wax and plenty of buffing soon returned a glow to the old finish.  It also banished the unsightly moisture marks created by the glass lamps which sat upon the chest's top that fog-drenched day I spotted it for sale (seen in the first photograph of this post).

One final but important task remained.  To prevent the drawers from sticking, which can be quite a nuisance once they have been filled, I reached for an old candle stub.

Chronica Domus
Spent candles come in handy for waxing drawer runners
Photo: Chronica Domus


By rubbing a spent candle stub along the bottom of each runner, the drawers are again able to glide smoothly into position, just as they did when the piece was made two-hundred years ago.

Chronica Domus
All that elbow grease has really paid off!
Photo: Chronica Domus


I am delighted at how a little tender loving care and attention has helped breath new life into these old drawers. And, let me just add that this handsome and sturdy piece of furniture should never be underestimated for its usefulness around the house.  In fact, I think it is a great pity that most people confine chests of drawers to just the bedroom. This one, I am pleased to say, now resides in our dining room.  And, until I one day find the perfect sideboard, this is exactly where it will remain.  Stuffed full of napery, silver, and other assorted dining-related paraphernalia, everything is now within easy reach of setting the table.

Chronica Domus
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
Of course, every piece of furniture is enhanced by a small autumnal arrangement of 
ornamental cabbages, would you not agree?
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
The Federal mahogany bowfront chest of drawers in situ
(Yes, that's right, the dining room floors are still bare but I'm hopeful this too will be 
rectified one of these days!)
Photo: Chronica Domus


Tell me, is there a useful chest of drawers in your house that is not confined to a bedroom and if so, where did you place it and what does it hold?


Thursday, November 2, 2017

A Husband's Remembrance on All Souls' Day

Chronica Domus
This sorrowful scene of mourning from my personal collection is constructed 
entirely of human hair, circa 1830 - 1840
Photo: Chronica Domus


Today, November 2, is All Souls' Day.  It is a day observed by many around the world who take time to reflect upon their dearly departed family members and friends.  Here at Chronica Domus it has become an annual tradition to share a piece of mourning art from my collection on this dedicated day of remembrance.

In this post, I have selected an unusually large piece to show you.  Not only is its size noteworthy, standing five inches high and four inches wide, sans frame, but the mourning scene itself is unusual in that it includes the mourner.  And, like many of the other pieces in my collection that I've written about (here, here, and here,) the entire scene is made of human hair.  I imagine the inclusion of the mourner, and the overall size - similar artworks are no bigger than two to three inches in diameter - reflect upon the wealth and social standing of whoever had it commissioned.  These were not inexpensive keepsakes which might explain their scarcity.

Chronica Domus
A detailed view of the skillfully executed and poignant mourning scene
(not the easiest item to photograph as it resides behind glass)
Photo: Chronica Domus

The forlorn mourner is seen leaning against a gravestone.  In his left hand is a handkerchief which he no doubt uses to dab away tears of sorrow.  It must be a cold day because he is dressed not only in a jacket but in an overcoat as well.    

From what I can determine reading the slightly blurry inscription on the stone, the gentleman is indeed a husband, mourning his deceased wife.  This sentimental hair memento, like most of the others in my collection, was made in France.  I believe it dates to around 1830 - 1840.  The inscription, written in French, best translates to English as "I will always cherish the memories, a tribute to my good wife".

The dealer from which I purchased this tender mourning scene had located it in England, along with a companion piece depicting another male mourner.  Perhaps that gentleman was a grown son.  I only wish I had known about the companion piece before it had sold to another buyer.  How nice to have had an opportunity to keep the pair together for posterity.  

Sadly, I cannot make out most of the inscription scribbled on the back of the frame, written with a lead pencil, in French, many years ago.  

Chronica Domus
Can any of you decipher what this scrawly inscription reads, I would dearly love to know?
(Image kindly enhanced by Toby Worthington)
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
"Neé Ferté" is a reference to the deceased wife's maiden name
Photo: Chronica Domus


There is some damage to the right-hand corner of the ebonized frame but not so much as to have deterred me from adding it to my collection.  Perhaps one day I will find a similar frame to replace it with or have someone make one.

Chronica Domus
Photo: Chronica Domus


As I grow older, there seem to be more cherished friends, family members, and beloved animal companions for whom I take a few moments to reflect upon each year on this day of remembrance.  My fond recollections of all the good times shared and all the fun we've enjoyed together never fail but to bring a smile to my face.

Is there anyone special you'll be remembering with fondness today, on All Souls' Day?

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Betwixt The Seasons

There is something so endearing about this time of year here in Northern California.  The dregs of summer are barely holding on in the garden with the last few tomatoes clinging to the withering vines, and a final clutch of cheery summer nasturtiums offering themselves up for gathering just as autumn creeps upon us.

Chronica Domus
Summer's last nasturtiums gathered this morning and placed in an earthenware
vessel to brighten up the kitchen
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
Sweet White Currant tomatoes holding on for dear life
Photo: Chronica Domus

The subtle signs of autumn play 'peek-a-boo' with the foliage.  Look here!  The first wisteria leaflet splashed in warming shades of amber.

Chronica Domus
Aha, a turning leaf upon the climbing wisteria ...
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
... and here's another, signaling autumn's arrival
Photo: Chronica Domus


It's funny to celebrate the colors of these few turning leaves when I think back on childhood memories of knee-deep piles of them, blown across from the woodland, only to settle in the front garden. There were many October Saturday mornings spent raking seemingly endless piles of oak leaves into the wheelbarrow in the company of my two younger sisters and my father.  We made a game of it so that what would otherwise have been a wearisome task became a fun but exhausting rite of autumn.

Of course, that special golden light that rakes across our house in the afternoon is yet another undeniable signal that autumn is here.  The intensely saturated sunsets too have been nothing short of spectacular as of late.  I captured this one a few weeks ago on our travels home across the Bay.

Chronica Domus
Photo: Chronica Domus


And, although our daytime temperatures are mild at present, I am certain all of that will soon come to an end.  Last night was the first night I felt as though I needed a blanket to get me through the cooler night air.

How is it where you live?  Are you betwixt the seasons or did autumn arrive on cue with the calendar, in the latter part of September?  Please, do tell me.

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