For me, collecting “old stuff” is all about the stories, that human connection, which becomes attached to virtually everything found in the antiques world. Sure, we may be influenced by other factors: it fits with my décor or collection; I can use it, show it off, give it as a gift or turn it into a DYI project. But, in a way, I suspect everyone has a bit of curiosity with an object’s human factor.
One of the best at telling a story can be seen in my favourite thing to hunt for: make-dos. This pretty generic term, coined during the wars of the last century, has come to represent an untraditional field of collecting. It’s a hunt for broken objects made whole again.
Make-dos come in an endless variety: pitchers with replaced handles, mirror shards bound for viewing, teapots with repaired spouts. These broken pieces are not recycled or transformed but rather kept for the same purpose. As survivors of necessity, they can be as old as the hills. Chinese Export platters and plates dating from the 1770s through the 1820s reassembled with rivets (will discuss further in a future blog) are truly amazing. Pottery examples (pitchers, tankards, jugs) date straight through the 1800s and into the early part of the 20th century. The detail put into these repairs is masterful – they’re works of art!
So where’s the human connection? It’s all about the idea that someone, somewhere, cared enough about a single plate or cup to have it sent away and mended. Instead of throwing it out with the bathwater or down the privy hole, money was forked-out to make it usable again. These pieces also speak to societal standards/social history in that many of the objects were not readily available; our ancestors simply had to make-do!
Our throw-away mentality doesn’t allow for such thriftiness in today’s world. Therefore, there is a very visible end point for make-dos. By the 1950s the only household objects being repaired were toasters and T.V.’s – replacements were easily available at the 5 and Dime or as a Woolworth’s special.