History is so fascinating to me. Sometimes I think that’s what I should have studied in college… among half a dozen other things. So it only makes sense that the few special objects that survive history fascinate me as well.
It was probably my Uncle, Richard Koopman, who first ignited my love for antiques – the trinkets that tell the stories of our past! I have never met anyone so well-versed in antiques, particularly from the 18th and 19th century America. His house on Long Island is like a liveable museum – or maybe curiousity shop – with every corner, nook and cranny holding some bit of history, and he knows the facts about most of them. He is also an expert restorer and has sheds and rooms filled with neat items he’s scored at flea markets and garage sales.
But what really got me digging into the subject myself was when I worked in an antique shop as a teenager. It was a massive 2- story treasure trove of evidence from a thousand lives. The things you could find in there! From miner’s tools to tin toys, and Victorian bedroom sets to bits of old cars, the place was packed end to end with everything under the sun.
While the job could be tedious… tasks included brewing a pot of coffee that sat out all day with a jar of stone-hard gingersnaps, dusting, dusting, dusting, unlocking cases for customers, and ignoring the parrot that shouted insults at me during lunch… it could also be exciting if I was allowed to have the run of the place. Sometimes my afternoon shift was spent entirely upstairs, just circling around with a ring of keys and waiting for customers to need me. Cha ching! That meant 3 or 4 hours to myself to play house with sets of dishes, wind up the music boxes, try on furs, and, my favourite, curl up in a rocking chair with some dusty old novel long out of print. On really quiet days, I’d even fool myself into thinking I heard ghostly voices come to revisit their much-loved possessions.
In Indiana I spent many hours wandering the antique malls in Southport (where I eventually bought my wedding ring for $8!) and Edinburgh, adding to my small collection over time – one of my favourites being a lovely Art Deco waterfall dresser with inlaid wood detailing. It was hard to sell it when I moved to Ireland – I didn’t like watching the drawers get banged around as the man who bought it haggled over my price.
As you can imagine, there were not many things, especially sentimental things, I could bring with me when I crossed the Atlantic. However, I did make space for a couple of my own family heirlooms, from my grandmother, Evely, and great-grandmother Koopman – the sewing shears and gold brooch posted at the beginning of this blog.
While I may not get as many chances to go digging around in antique stores around Ireland, I still love the pastime. The shops around here are even more crowded – delightful! – and hold an entirely different history than the one I perused in the States. Where in America I’d flick through boxes of old LIFE magazines and giggle over Elvis memorabilia, here I’m sifting over stacks of newspapers from the Irish Civil War era and staring for ages at maps of the towns back when they were still walled cities – maybe 300 or 400 years ago! Frank and I love having a peek in McAllister’s here in Drogheda when we get the chance… they always have cool things we’d like to take home!
Anyway, all this tells me it’s OK to be a bit of a pack rat – I’m so glad I have a few things I can touch that once belonged to my courageous ancestors! On the other hand, it’s good that I moved overseas and may one day move back again – I think it helps weed out the stuff that is really important to keep.
But in the meantime, I plan to keep poking around at people’s old stuff… wondering who it belonged to and what the significance was… wondering why it was sold. That’s why shows like Antiques Roadshow are so great, haha! For, as you know, even the things you would never buy are still fun to look at!
All this talk of vintage stuff put me in a mind to make an old American favorite, Peanut Butter Cookies! Here is my own adaptation of the recipe from my Grandma Evey’s 1963 First Edition Betty Crocker Cooky Book!
Black-Bottomed Peanut Butter Cookies*
1/2 Cup Butter+
1/2 Cup Peanut Butter
1/3 Cup granulated sugar
1/3 Cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg
1 1/3 Cups Flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 Cup semisweet or 70% dark chocolate, melted.
Preheat oven to 375 F or 180 C.
Mix butter, peanut butter, sugars, vanilla and egg thoroughly. Blend dry ingredients seperately and stir into wet mixture.
Roll the dough into small balls, placing 3 inches apart on nonstick cookie sheet. Flatten crisscross style with a fork dipped in flour.
When cookies are cool, melt the chocolate in a bain marie and put quarter-sized dots (or 50 p in Ireland!) on a bit of foil. Press the cooled cookies into the dots to cover the bottoms with chocolate. Chill cookies in fridge for 10 minutes or so and then peel them off the foil to enjoy!
+Note: Depending on how solid your butter is, you may need to add more or less flour. Irish butter tends to be much more solid than its American counterpart.
* There’s a cute note about these in the original version of this recipe from Betty Crocker – it says “So rich, good with anything; a favorite with men and children.”