The Strange Enchantments of Antiques Reminds us of Christmases Past
by Ted Currie
I don’t think there is any more alluring or fertile season, in entire the rolling year, that brings out the ingrained enchantments of certain historic, antique and nostalgic pieces, of which we, by choice, have become stewards.
For our family, long-time antique collectors and dealers, it has always been our shared feeling, better stated, emotion, that it is at this festive time of the year, that antiques and collectables become most enhanced and indeed, enchanted.
It’s not that we believe our antiques are particularly special, piece by piece, or more haunted and spirit-enhanced than your own heirloom collection of which is undoubtedly just as unique and interesting as we think of our own vintage possessions. But we are a family of believers, when it comes to confessing that we have owned many antique items that have had a patina of the spirit-kind. I dare say there are few veteran antique dealers who haven’t, at some time in their relationship with old stuff, and the handling of estates, experienced a trace amount of paranormal activity and energy. I could, and might still, write a book about these touching and often emotional connections with antique articles that apparently possessed the spirit will of a former owner, not quite willing to surrender simply because they left this mortal coil.
I have a new series of columns for this publication, starting in February 2018, on the subject of antiques and their immortal hitch-hikers, which will be far more anecdotal than a serious investigation into the hauntings that attach to our historic and nostalgic heirlooms. I’ll share some strange occurrences from my past forty years in this time-honored profession of antique hunting.
When it comes to the holiday season, I have long celebrated the spirited character of all the old bits and bobs our family has collected over the decades, both at home and at our antique shop here in the snowy burg of Gravenhurst, Ontario, tucked into the snowy woodlands of South Muskoka. The spirited manifestations are not scary in the least, and as far as hauntings, they are classic, interesting, and cherished remnants and a time and tradition most of society has set aside as irrelevant and as musty as the old steamer trunks stored in the attic. As I am a lover of the tales told by writers such as Washington Irving and Charles Dickens, who both penned stories brimming with delicious fantasy and wayward spirits who haunted city and countryside for the readers literary nourishment. In fact, I’m so dedicated to the work of both authors that many of their published works on on the parlor bookshelves here at Birch Hollow. I will read their Christmas stories over the course of the festive season, and feel embraced by their own affections for the habits and traditions of the spirits of those who have lived and loved, and passed before our time, who frequently make their presence known and felt, when an two hundred year old chair begins to rock by the hearth, or a Victorian doll moves itself amongst its mates on a bedroom shelf.
Antiques come into our possession in many ways, and from assorted venues, but one thing is for sure, based on the one hundred year old definition of what constitutes an “antique” in the first place. In a hundred years or more, there have been many deaths connected with these antique pieces. It is by good grace, and competent antique hunting, that we have brought them into our homes and, for us, into our shop. I was taught, as an apprentice in the antique profession, to be respectful of a piece’s provenance, not just because of what it can mean to valuation. Rather, it is to honor the heritage of certain antique pieces, call them “special” if you like, and to respect the stewardship of all the past owners, who looked after these heirlooms, such that they have arrived safe and sound, all-be-it with a little wear to show for the mileage of travel and toils of time, all for your enjoyment. For me, one of the longstanding problems of trying to work with the younger generation of antique collectors and dealers, is to enlighten them to respect history beyond what profit they might make on a subject piece down the road. There is much more to this antique addiction and stewardship than a quick flip and profit. I feel sorry for those who think they understand the nuances of the professions, but can not accept the possibility that they may be accountable to the spirited-grasp of another owner, from another time. Yet if there was a sharing session of veteran antique dealers on the very subject of paranormal events in and around our business of hunting and gathering old things, even without confessing a belief in such things, it would raise the hair on the back of your neck just hearing or reading of strange encounters.
I have been writing about ghosts and the paranormal for many years now, and have had quite a few encounters with those who have passed. A few still wandering amongst the living, I dare say. I must footnote this however, by stating clearly, and emphatically, that I have never once been frightened by such an encounter, and in no way, ever felt threatened or in danger as Hollywood movies have made a tradition of depicting. My own encounters, and those experienced by my family, have all been strange yet congenial, and in a bright, exciting way, events of precious enlightenment, as if we have been given a gift versus an unsettling intervention.
In our cozy home here at Birch Hollow, we settle down each day, amongst so much incredible history, represented in antiques of all kinds, wonderful old books composed by some of the finest authors who have ever lived, and when we pull up a quilt to our chins, sitting on the sofa at hearth-side, we can still catch the aroma of Suzanne’s family home, as the wrap around-us was made by her mother Harriet. The vintage ornaments on the Christmas tree are all of special significance to our family, and go back generations of festive celebrations. While I have not yet seen any of them dance or twirl on their own, hooked onto spruce boughs, I have at many times, caught a curious twinkly of light, that served, momentarily, to reflect on the great old family get-togethers of once, at this homestead and at others of our family. We are not haunted by these recollections but instead, cozily warmed, as with the apple cider now grasped in our hands, but gently reminded of all that has become the past, that is still being cherished in the present.
Much of my fascination with antiques and collectables since the late 1970’s, has been the intimate relationship with history, and the folks who influenced our neighborhoods, villages, towns and cities over the past centuries. I was taught to respect past craftsmanship and ownership, and above all else, to enjoy the wonderful sensation of a patina far richer and ingrained than the aged coloration of a piece of furniture or the luster of old silver. There were many lives invested as stewards of these fine heirloom pieces, and so many Christmas celebrations we can only imagine, where these articles comforted the assortment of characters in the real art of human existence and joyful celebration.
In the spirit of Washington Irving, who was a tireless advocate of preserving tradition, and respecting the superstitions of our inherent cultures, and Charles Dickens, who gave us a charming yet poignant literary lesson, at Christmas time, about the true good of mankind at heart, and in spirit, to inspire acts of kindness and generosity, as a profound influence to all that comes of the future. Merry Christmas, to the good Mr. Dickens, was no “humbug.” It was a time of healing and rejuvenation of spirit and in-kind, heartfelt kindness to fellow man.
From the Currie family, nestled down here at Birch Hollow, we wish the readers of this fine publication, its ownership and staff, a wonderful, safe and joyous Christmas season, and of course a Happy New Year. I will look forward to re-visiting "antiques and collectables” and their spirited hitch-hikers, when “Curious The Tourist Guide,” resumes its publishing schedule in February. Drive safely out there!