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The Apple As An Artifact of Autumn

21 October 2017

Not every antique is a thing you can hold in your hand. Some are conceptual such as a recipe which has been around for decades. In the Pennsylvania Dutch country were I come from certain foods have a long tradition. Scrapple, Lebanon Bologna and a hundred different variations on sausage, snitz pie, fastnachts and much more are as deeply woven into the culture as hand stitched quits and six board blanket chests decorated with distlefinks. My favorite among these is the humble apple dumpling.

They are a shining jewel in my child hood memory. I associate them strongly with another favorite thing: Autumn. Being an exile these days in the Pacific Northwest I am besieged by evergreens everywhere I look diluting the seasonal scenery and causing me to gaze wistfully at airline prices. I ameliorate the angst that inhabits my emotions by clinging to a personal tradition. I make apple dumplings. I make more than I can it and distribute them freely to friends and relatives. It makes me feel more or less sane and keeps me in touch with my roots as nothing else can.

Dumpling construction as I choose to practice it is a nostalgic meditation. I keep it apart from new-fangled gadgetry that inhabits our kitchens today: no microwave, no food processor. The only artifacts of the present are apples picked from my favorite tree that grows tall and expansive beside the driveway. It wears a jacket of moss on it’s trunk and lower limbs. Healthy colonies of lichens populate the upper branches and a small red squirrel has claimed it as his territory lately. I don’t mind as long as he pays the apple rent faithfully.

Now apple is my favorite choice in pies generally but there is something extra special about a single apple clad in baked dough. The best part of a slice of pie is at the end. After you have worked your way up the triangle to the remaining strip of apple and crimped crust the ratio of fruit to dough favors more crust and is a grand way to culminate the experience. Thus, the dumpling is like a dessert made up entirely of the delicious edge of a pie. That’s the way I thought of it as a child and I have yet to grow up and alter my opinion.

There are still old fashioned hand crank gizmos that will peel, core, and slice an apple in jig time. Which is an older sort of time that is a little harder to come by now that Deepak Chopra has discovered that Quantum physics explains how he can sell more books. I float the denuded apples in water to keep them from turning brown. It occurs to me that they are going into an oven that will completely alter there nature so it seems a waste of time. But my mother did it this way and that makes it as much a connection as a good idea.

Mom’s memory is all over this process as evidenced by the tools involved. The dough is rolled out on a wooden board with lots of flour. The rolling pin is solid maple, a replica of a kitchen tool from long ago. I turned it on the lathe myself about 35 years ago. It was a Christmas present for her back in the day when we gave people things instead of money. Mom is no longer with us but I still have our rolling pin.

A solid pin has a nice feel in the hands. The shape includes handles at each end but there are no roller bearings clicking like a bicycle needing a trip to the mechanics. It will not fall apart and refuse to keep it’s handles on the axle. Many years of butter, shortening and flour have kept it running smoothly in the web between thumbs and fore fingers. It’s weight is substantial and it pushes a wave of dough in any direction I choose. Like a sharp chisel slicing cleanly through even grained wood it puts the “Z” in zen.

I must have watched my mother roll out the dough on several hundred pies and dumplings. She taught all the kids to do it. When I think of her in the kitchen in full baking mode I remember a day when I stopped in to visit as an adult. She was babysitting one of my nephews. He was standing on a chair rolling out dough on the counter top. Her joy was as evident as his concentration. I don’t know who was having a better time. Maybe it was me glimpsing the love that infused my own childhood.

I have had requests for my recipe. I didn’t really have one except in my head so I have written it down without carving it in stone. If you care to try it alter it in anyway that fits your own taste. Give some to friends, treat a child, get up in the middle of the night and indulge yourself. The flavors of the past never grow old.

Apples: about 5 per batch of dough, Granny Smith or any tart, crisp apple.
1 two crust pie dough recipe.
Suggest: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2016/06/old-fashioned-flaky-pie-dough-recipe.html
1 cup sugar with 2 tsp. Cinnamon thoroughly mixed together.
1 cup brown sugar
Blackberry jam
Pecan chips
butter
2 eggs, separated. You want the white stuff that’s not really white until you cook it. I guess nobody wants to use a more descriptive word because it would be yucky.
Dry Riesling, chilled

Make up your pie dough. I find the recommended recipe to provide the elasticity and integrity to be helpful in folding and handling the dough. Also it has a dairy load of butter in it and you can’t go wrong with that. The recipe gives temperature specifications which sound pretentious and overly picky but I found them to be useful in light of all that buttery goodness which should not get all melty before it’s proper time. Put it in the fridge while you do the other steps, answer the phone and pour a glass of Riesling.

Peel and core apples. A little hand cranked nineteenth century technology makes this faster, easier and you can feel more off the grid about the whole thing. Place naked apples in a communal bath of cold water. Give a little swirl and let them enjoy themselves.

Divide your dough into ten chunks. Spread flour on the chosen rolling surface and roll a chunk of dough to a square, circle or free form shape that looks closer to a map of say Australia than one of Finland. It doesn’t matter much as long as the dough will hold together while you fold it up over the apple, but we’ll get to that in a minute. I tend to use a lot of flour to keep things from sticking to the board. It’s always easy to tell that I’ve been baking.

Some recipes give an instruction like, “roll pastry dough to a 21×14-in. rectangle; cut into six squares.” That sounds faster and more efficient but I’m not good at making that big rectangle/squarish thingy without a lot of ragged edges that don’t work and play well with others. If you happen to have that knack go for it.

Using a pastry brush lightly spread some egg goo/whites on the dough. I like the small china bristle chip brushes from the hardware store. Because you know I’m a manly man and if I could find a place to use a socket wrench in this business I sure as hell would. (insert macho grunt here). Sprinkle cinnamon sugar mixture on the square/circle/not Finland. Rescue an apple from the water bowl and pat it dryish or just shake it a bit and dribble water all over the kitchen. You’ll hear about that for awhile. Place the apple in the middle of the target zone and drop a tablespoon of brown sugar/pecan mixture in the core. Follow it with a dollop of blackberry jam or other fruity delight that strikes your fancy. Throw in another spoon of brown sugar/pecan and cap it with half teaspoon of butter. Fill center of each with 4 teaspoons sugar mixture and 1/2 teaspoon butter.

Bring an edge of the dough up over the apple. Repeat with the opposite side. The egg should hold the overlapped portion together. Fold the remaining flaps of dough up over the apple in similar fashion then place the dumpling lovingly in an ungreased 13×9-in. baking dish. I prefer Pyrex but metal stuff will do. Polk some vent holes in the top of each dumpling. When all passengers have been secured in their places slide them into an oven which has been preheated to 350 degrees. Bake them for about 50 minutes or until the version of golden brown you prefer has been reached. There should have been a lot of bubbling going on in the mean time. Some people brush the outside with an egg wash or a sugar syrup concoction. I like to keep it simple. Eat at least one of these while it’s still quite warm. That’s Pennsylvania Dutch heaven.

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Caring About Things That Last

28 July 2011

We spawn new  verbiage as fast as we mangle the old into new applications. Among the neglected nouns of the past is “muntin.” Also called muntin bars, they are the bits of wood that separate individual pieces of glass or lites in a window. They once had a wide application when glass was a luxury and the method had not been invented to make it in large sheets. As words go, muntin is not proving to be durable. The people who sell windows are apt to speak of “grids” which are made of plastic and snap off for easy cleaning.

The current bastardization of language runs parallel to the general decline of standards in manufactured goods. There is a lack of concern for quality as a measurement of suitability for the many common things in our lives. We accept lower quality from everyday items as if it had no effect on utility much less beauty. Items of everyday use freeze in our memories like often repeated words in a favorite book.

Why should we care about muntins? Their image remains on display in the mental pictures of our past. Muntin bars framed the physical view from within the home of many a child. They divided a living room window into many frosty pages of finger drawings. I have some stored in memory to browse through on cold winter days.

When you see a window made in the old way you know that an extra layer of craftsmanship has gone into it. The joining of a network of carefully shaped pieces of wood required a skill born of a coordination of hand and eye. The knowledge of materials and the guidance of tools put to the test a craftsman’s central nervous system. Such things are more likely to be cared for when we know that personal effort was applied to the making in an intimate way. The industrial age has found many ways to save labor while creating mountains of material that is easily cast off after a brief period of use.

Things of quality endure like friendships filled with trust, music that warms the soul, crackling dry humor and form that follows function. If the soul lasts forever then anything we make with soul will too. Good antiques are repositories of some long ago craftsman’s essence. To collect them is to save a portion of treasure which is worthy to decorate our lives.

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29 May 2011

This blog has been quiet for a while. Life has been busy adding it’s patina to my circumstances but I have not gone away. I will still be adding my voice to the conversation but it will be less frequently for some time to come. I am managing to put a few items on eBay occasionally. A few things are selling although it is minimal and barely covers the expense of gas to garage sales.

I have a new post in the works concerning aesthetics. After all, so much of antiquing is a search for beauty as well as other aspects of value. It is hard to find the time to research and write but I hope to have something available next week, stay tuned.

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The Best Old Things Are Old Friends

27 February 2011

We don’t call old friends antiques.  It might hurt their feelings.  We do collect them, at least for a time.  The memories of them are lined up on shelves in my mind.  Some of them are covered in dust.  Because I moved far away from where I spent the majority of my life most of them are beyond my reach.  I can not see them frequently and be reminded of their mannerisms and familiar behaviors.

The internet helps take up some of the slack in my memories.  Facebook has enabled me to renew old acquaintances.  I have a tendency to research names from the past that come to mind.  It’s a thrill of the hunt thing, like looking for rare collectibles.  When I find some person that I have wondered what became of them I don’t always get in touch.  Who am I to intrude on the lives of people who have been busy stemming the tides of life?  My own opinion of myself may not be shared by others who I have spent time with.

Sometimes it is just too late to pick up the pieces of a long severed relationship.  Through the power of Google I recently traced a friend from the 1970’s era. We lost track of each other a long time ago.  In 1972 Hurricane Agnes turned an impressive swath of Central Pennsylvania into a sodden mess.  It thereby created summer jobs for idle youth on flood cleanup crews.  Gene and I worked together on a crew of boys our own age but with differing attitudes.  We were unofficial partners and learned to drive iron rods through railroad ties repairing fish damns on trout streams. You come into an attitude of trust holding an iron rod while your partner swings a sledge hammer at the relatively small target that is the top end of the rod.  We already knew each other prior to that summer but our bond was strengthened with each ring of metal on metal.

My friend showed up on a Google search some time back.  It turns out that our paths were not unrelated.  He had become an antique conservator and restorer.  He has worked for an impressive client list and had carved out an excellent reputation in his field.  Unfortunately he is also very ill.  Time passes for us all.  The antique trade can make us fatalistic.  We gather the particles of culture unique to our own generation and venerate the dust of the ages beyond measure.  In the end “value” is in who we are, not in what we have. That can not be cataloged.

Addendum 3/13/2011: I guess timing is everything. Acting on the contact information I obtained on the internet I emailed my old friend Gene McCall in hopes of making contact.  Unfortunately the reply I received was from his wife who informs me that Gene passed due to a brain tumor on March 1st. The intelligent, creative and good humored soul that I remember must have been a blessing to his family and friends. I am sure they have a rich treasure trove of memories to give them comfort. God bless you Gene. Friendship knows no boundaries of time or space.

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Pickers Know How To Buy So They Can Sell

9 February 2011

Pickers are resourceful people with a strong native intelligence and a wealth of experience.  You can learn a lot from them and from trying some picking yourself.  The business of antiquing is all about buying and selling.  Being a collector is mostly about buying with maybe some beneficial horsetrading and occasional selling thrown in.  The following information may be valuable as many a collector who starts out selling duplicate items gets bit by the dealer bug.  Scratch a collector and you will find a merchant underneath.

Shy People Lose Out

One of the main lessons I have learned in this business is, don’t be shy.  That was tough for me.  I grew up kind of shy and introverted.  I didn’t come out of my shell fully until I went back to college at age forty.   I noticed that all the kids in class didn’t want to speak up.  I’d been kicked around enough by life that I didn’t care so much if I opened my mouth and what I said wasn’t immediately applauded.  You have to be ready to walk up to total strangers and talk about what you are interested in.  Look at what people have.  If you want it, make an offer.  Buy something you don’t want as much, at a price you can afford, and it may break the ice.

It works at a flea market too.  When you buy multiple items you can ask for a bigger discount for the whole group and thereby get the item you are most interested in for a good price.  The extra items in the group can be good low priced quick sale merchandise for your shop.  As a dealer you need cash flow and deals that attract repeat customers.  This is a clear win-win. It’s like buying box lots at auction.  Every box of junk has one item that you are sure of.  When you get it home and start rooting around some treasure may come to light that pays for all the boxes and the hot dog and soda that got you through yet another long night of earsplitting auctioneering.

On The Road Again And Again

Travel broadens the mind and deepens the pockets.  Be ready to get out and about in search of new buying venues.  When you are driving anywhere be looking for out of the way shops and flea markets.  When I was a kid my parents called them junk shops.  I loved them.  Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.  The trashier the place looks the better may be your chances of low prices.  Sometimes a shop is intentionally junky.  I knew some people who stocked there antique mall spaces on this basis.  It appeals to a certain type of buyer and those dealers did quite well.   Take the back roads and state routes when you travel.  The highways are called limited access for a reason.

Develop a regular circuit of flea markets, swap meets and antique malls with a good turn around in merchandise.  I used to get up at five on a Sunday morning. I hit the local flea market in my home town and pestered people as they were unloading their vehicles.  I would then head east and hit three more by noon going out about twenty-five miles.  Once a month I would change up and head west.  There were fewer flea markets in that direction.  Always head for the target rich environments.

That was in the populous Northeast.  Where I live now it costs too much to get anywhere with a sizable population.  The price of fuel is a big chunk of overhead these days. Strategize according to past performance and what you have observed of current trends so that you aren’t going where buying opportunities are lacking.

Move On!

Time is money.  Don’t waste it by haggling with people who aren’t willing to part with their precious memories.  If you can’t break the ice with a smaller sale then move on to plow some looser soil.  Everybody behind a table at a flea market should be ready to come down to a price where you can afford to buy an item for resale.  If they don’t, remember those dealers and don’t hand over your valuable time to them again.  Develop a good visual scan so that you can move through a flea market and spot interesting items quickly.  There can be an awful lot of small items on a table and you will certainly miss some good things.  You can help the process if you have a partner who knows your want list.  My girl friend used to see stuff that totally escaped me because everybody has a different point of view.  Fresh eyes can be a valuable asset.  It is tempting to look in detail at every box in a crowded stand, but the clock is ticking.

Good flea market dealers will have boxes in orderly rows with not too much in each box.  All the books in one area, household in another, and so on.  There may be a separate table for the “special” items which will probably have the higher prices.  I knew a couple who cleaned out houses and worked this formula like a clockwork machine every Sunday at the local flea market.  I loved these guys.  They were all about the quick turnover.  They had a barn full of stuff all the time and what didn’t get sold got trashed.  It was easy to cruise through their stuff just walking the rows of boxes scanning for good stuff.  Then I’d visit the special table and usually pick up some nice smalls at a price that left room for me.  They got to know what I was looking for and soon I was being treated to items on reserve in the back of the car.  If they had aviation items or old slide rules, they were set aside for me to have first choice.  Every Sunday ten minutes of my time netted me salable material.

Tell Them What You Want

Let people know what you are looking to buy.  Some dealers put ads in the newspaper saying what they are buying.  People respond to the idea of getting immediate cash for their old junk.  If you are knocking on doors have a flyer that lists clearly the kind of items you are willing to pay cold hard cash for.  Hang a copy on every free bulletin board you see.  I used to have a list of wants printed on the back of my business cards for Timestream Antiques.  When you are buying from a dealer at a flea market let the person know that you are interested in buying more of the same and also other items.  Cultivate relationships with the people on your circuit.

Speaking up is easier than you think.  Come out of your shell.  Spend a little gas money (yeah! I know that’s getting harder).  Move on when the pickings are slim. Let everybody know what you want, what you really, really want!  When you get it be ready to go back for more.

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On The Road With American Pickers

19 January 2011

I have a new source of antiquing entertainment to fill up the spare time I don’t have.  Television is pretty much the wasteland that Newton Minnow tagged it.  There are a few notable oasis one of which is American Pickers starring Mike Wolfe and Frank fritz.  As a rule, reality TV bears no resemblance to normal life.  In each episode of this History Channel show Mike and Frank go on the road in search of real junk which proves their is life and history on the planet Earth.

In case you aren’t acquainted with the term, a “picker” in the antiques trade scours the countryside looking for old stuff to buy cheap and sell quick.  They often go from door to door or solicit more effectively by focusing on property that have the distinctive look of a junk yard.  A picker can sometimes buy the contents of an attic, basement or garage or even get the contents for free by offering to clean it out and dispose of the “junk.”  Among the discards of peoples lives are surprising treasures that have gone under-appreciated for many years.

The game is played most effectively by pickers who develop relationships both with good sources of junk and antiques dealers who are always hungry for good  inventory.  A good antiques dealer will know pickers who are well acquainted with the types of items the dealer is most interested in selling.  It’s symbiosis with a capitalist bent.  It works a treat.

Back in Pennsylvania we had a regular stream of pickers stopping in at Meadowview Antiques with a backseat or pickup bed filled with the latest finds wrestled from local households.  These guys were usually a bit colorful, some were a bit  light on formal education others had the sound of academe flowing from their lips. They all knew their business and were quick to figure out yours.  These pickers knew the market and could bargain well.  Any item they offered made them a profit and left enough meat on the bone to be a useful offering in your shop.

Some of the dealers I knew were old-timers who  came out of the pickers tradition having gone on the knock since they were young fellows.  One of them was still in the habit of looking for lace curtains in the windows of old houses.  It was a good indication that the occupant was an older woman who was likely to have some junk she needed to have cleaned out of the basement.

We also had a lot of dealers who based their inventory on “housecleaning.”  They ran adds in the shopping newspapers offering to clean out garages and even entire houses accepting the junk contents as payment or sometimes purchasing the contents of an estate.  They would shop the best stuff around to antique dealers and take the rest to a Sunday flea market and sell it dirt cheap for some quick cash.  After all the landfill does not pay you to bring garbage in.

Sometimes they missed good items.  I scored an old John F. Kennedy election poster from some house cleaners at the Sinking Spring flea market for $2.00.  it wasn’t my regular field of interest but I thought I could take a chance.  I researched it on eBay and found a ton of reproduction election posters but none had the same graphics as mine.  I put it on for a $10.00 starting bid and watched folks run it up to $2oo.oo by the end of the week.  Ahh! the good old days.

American Pickers gives me that nostalgic feeling for the antiquing game like nothing else does lately.  Mike and frank are the kind of guys you want to hang out with.  They love to travel the American back roads in search of opportunity.  Sometimes they are pursuing leads provided by the lovely Danielle who holds down the fort at Antique Archeology, their shop in LeClaire, Iowa.  If you watch the show for a while  you learn that Frank is addicted to old oil cans and Mike is turned on by old bikes and motorcycles.  Each one has special areas of interest they have cultivated fully.  Together they possess a range of knowledge that makes them an incredible team.  They often need to make purchasing decisions on the spot and they are able to be mutually supportive in a highly effective way.  They are also smart enough to search out an expert appraiser when it looks like they are getting out of their depth.

Some of their best and most entertaining picking is done when they are “freestyling.”   A house surrounded by junk cars and dilipidated storage sheds is meat and drink to these road warriors and they have no compunctions about introducing themselves to perfect strangers and beginning an instant relationship.

The people they meet are nothing if not interesting.  Unlike so much of reality TV the participants have not answered a casting call, talent contest, personality quiz or been focus grouped to make sure they matched the viewing demographics.  Most of the people are not beautiful or buff.  They don’t have to be because they are just like me and you.  They live genuine lives and are more worried about putting food on the table than being voted off the island.  Junk with precious memories attached is real,  the American people are real and Mike and Frank bring them to your television or computer screen.  Watch them on The History Channel Mondays 9/8 Central or catch the entire first season on Netflix.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want to get in a van and go buy some junk.  Sit back and enjoy the thrill of the – hunt picker style.

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Do The Winter Doldrums Take The Wind From Your Sales?

1 January 2011

By now the ball has dropped and you’ve wished everyone a Happy New Year.  The Christmas decorations are put away and eBay looks like a Ghost town.  A virtual gust of desert wind blows tumbleweeds through the dusty circuit boards of their many servers.  Soon even that breeze may die completely as the Winter doldrums set in.  Every business has it’s cycles.  Typically this time of year features the slowest sales of the year coupled with the fewest buying opportunities for new antique inventory items.  Outdoor flea markets are closed, no one is having garage sails and many auction houses close down for a week or two while they do inventory and take a vacation.

The doldrums need not be unproductive.  It’s all in how you use the time.  There is a ton of things a dealer can do to make use of the time.  Start with taking inventory.  It’s not just a dry exercise in counting stuff.  You can take the opportunity to rearrange and categorize items fro easier access.  I used to find things I had forgotten I had.  You may also identify the dog items that should be cleared out to make space for more proven merchandise.  Have a clearance sale and get rid of these turkeys. Your profits won’t soar but you just need to have some cash flow right now.

Catch up on your accounting.  It will soon be time to file your taxes anyway and it’s easier if you lay the groundwork ahead of time.  As you look at your sales records try to identify the profit makers and include them in your marketing plans.

If you sell on eBay set up a little photo shoot area to take pictures or scan the items You are looking to auction off soon.  Stock up on packing materials.  Christmas can yield a lot of peanuts and bubble wrap if you let friends and relatives know that you would be happy to take them off their hands.  Update your software now while you can spare the time to work through the set up that often accompanies new programs.

If you have a space at an antique mall strip it out and put in as much new merchandise as you can.  It’s also a good time to revisit picking sources you haven’t seen for a long time.  Keep in mind that just like you a lot of dealers are discounted the stuff that doesn’t work for them.  Some of that stuff may be niche market items that can be had cheap and moved on to your established repeat buyers.

Of course if you are a collector and not busying yourself with all these business concerns, get out there and go shopping.  It’s a great time to bargain!

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Restore China and Glass: DIY or Leave It To The Experts?

18 December 2010

Watch the dealers in an auction room full of antique china and glass.  Their fingers are everywhere.  They fondle and stroke plates and cups, goblets and glasses.  They are especially concerned with the edges where chips so often occur.  the broad surfaces of plates may yield their secret flaws when held up to the light.  Nowhere else in the antique world do you see such a constant search for perfection.You won’t see it in furniture collector’s and dealers.  They celebrate wear and tear.  The lowliest patch of grime and grit is elevated to the lofty status of “patina.”   Most areas of collecting carry on this ethic to some degree.  But glass is meant to sparkle.  You wouldn’t eat off of dirty plates so why collect it and put it on display.  We like to have it whole and blemish free.

Life happens and unless it is locked away for all time our precious bits of china may fall victim to breakage.   China and crystal are often family heirlooms soaked in memories and not easily discarded.  Repairing these items can be a difficult task ending in a thing of beauty degraded to a faded dream.  Before repairing these items take the time to think through your process. Assess your skills realistictly and use the right adhesives.

white glues don’t do much for smooth nonporous surfaces.  I have found that cyanoacrylate or “super glues” are overrated for this type of job.  I like epoxy because it give one the time to bring pieces together and reposition them more precisely if necessary.  always try to arrange a system of clamps to provide a bit of pressure to the mating surfaces.  With epoxy it need not be excessive pressure as long as good alignment of the objects with no gaps can be achieved.  Squeeze-out or smudges can be cleaned up with denatured alcohol.

If the do-it-yourself approach takes you out of your comfort zone or if you wish  to preserve as much of an object’s value as possible then consider handing it over to a china repair expert.  In homemade repairs one often sees that parts were glued together well but small chips were not recovered.  The result is something like a break in dark colored areas where the lighter ceramic shows through.  Experts use special ceramic fillers and dyes to patch cracks and create seamless repairs that are almost impossible to see.  Glass and crystal repair is even harder to perform satisfactorily by yourself.  In a professional repair shop, chips in crystal are ground and polished for a completely invisible repair.  They take advantage of non-yellowing epoxy formulations to glue broken pieces of glass together.  Some even provide materials or repair kits so that if you still want the satisfaction of making a repair at home it can be done with superior materials as well as expert guidance.

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Invisible Mending With Shellac Sticks

19 November 2010

You can pick up some real bargain furniture from a variety of sources: auction, estate sales, knocking on doors and being a pest or even cruising alley ways to see what people have left for the garbage man.  This can yield  some amazing pieces of trash which can be turned into something less trashy for profit.  Finding real Chippendale, Sheraton and early colonial furniture that will make millionaires get in line does not happen to the likes of me.  However, good solid American furniture classics from the late Victorian era onward are tucked away in basements, barns and sheds of all sorts.  It’s the old furniture that was in Granny’s parlor. Unloved and uncared for, when it sees the light of day it usually needs some help to make it pay for it’s keep in your little corner of the antique mall.

There are a lot of resources available to the restorer to deal with a host of issues.  Finishes on wood break down in time and ill treatment can leave a piece of furniture with dents, dings, gouges and other mechanically introduced impressions.  Sometimes they add to the look of age in way that adds value, especially in primitives.  Classier furniture may want to have some attention payed the bruising.  There are various ways to fill holes and cracks in wood.  All of them work best on a raw wood surface.  If you are stripping and staining you can effect a basically invisible repair with wood putty.  some old-timers have used a mixture of sawdust and glue.  That usually doesn’t work as the glue tends to reject new stains.

The king of hole fillers is the shellac stick.  This type of repair goes back to the day when shellac was the primary clear finish on most furniture.  A filler made from the same material as the finish is naturally compatible.  It can accept shellac coatings without making itself known.  The application of shellac sticks involves a heat source and a knife like applying tool. I used to use an electric burn in knife but you can also use a palette knife and an alcohol lamp. It takes a bit of practice and experience to get the right amount of shellac where it’s meant to go. To protect the surrounding finish from the heat of the knife there is a product called burn-in balm that does the trick.  Basic directions for application techniques can be found at Shellac.net.

Once you have the process dialed in it will become readily apparent how useful this method is.  A primary advantage is the wide range of color choices available for matching up to grain or existing stain color.  Behlen’s makes at least 21 shades including variations on maple, oak, mahogany, walnut, cherry, and pine. A seven inch stick costs about $4.00 and goes a long way.

The next time you bring home a furniture piece that needs a bit more care than a quick rubdown with Old English polish, remember the time-tested shellac stick.  With a little practice you can make defects disappear and keep a classic beauty from becoming firewood.

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Book Collecting Warms a Sailor’s Soul

2 November 2010

Old books are a lifesaver on the stormy seas of circumstance. This is especially true as the autumn mornings descend icily on sailors that are landlocked for the coming season.  It is time to seek comfort in book-lined anchorages where time is suspended like a boat in a gale hanging on the crest of a wave.  Somewhere beyond the multitude of whitecaps is a blue sky and a kinder wind.

There are various kinds of book collector.  The antiquarians are seeking the oldest and rarest volumes.  Speed readers tend to get through a volume and then pass it on to someone else.  I like to savor a book and will reread some if they are particularly useful, meaningful or well written.  Selling books is interesting because you can get an insight into a person by what they choose to read.

A niche market grows from niche interests.  If you are a stamp collector you will like selling stamps.  If you are a sports fan, sports memorabilia, autographs or trading cards are will suit you.  I am a sailor.  You can get an idea of the depth of my interest by looking at my other blog: Seaward Adventures.  Although I have always followed a broad array of interests sailing is the one that never wanes in my worldview.  Back in 1985 I spent a year of my spare time and a lot of money getting my private pilot’s license.  I have an interest in aviation that goes back to my childhood. My passions have been expensive ones and in deciding between boats and airplanes the winner has always been sailboats.

Books are at the foundation of all my interests and so it is with sailing.  They teach, entertain and encourage like loyal friends.  Thus, I have always been a collector of books on my favorite subject.  Life sent me in directions which have caused me to leave behind a large library of precious friends but I am making an effort to recover them.  In the world collecting few things are as ubiquitous as books.  The opportunity to find new treasures or replace old ones is everywhere.  There are used bookstores in every city.  Antique malls always have a loose selection of old books and often some very good dealers in printed matter.  Flea markets and estate sales teem with boxes of books to be had at dirt cheap prices.

There are many classic stories of the sea, from Moby Dick to Mutiny on the Bounty. Everybody knows these from school but the wider body of work is immense.  Fiction is just a part of the whole.  There is a vast array of real life accounts of voyages short and long.  There are instructional books on sailing, navigation, boat-building, seamanship,  pirates and more things naval than I care to contemplate.

Certain classics have been in print for many years.  Ashley Book of Knots is a big heavy book.  It is formatted in an encyclopedic style showing every conceivable way to use rope From the practical to the irrelevant.  If you are into marlinespike seamanship it’s an essential text.  When I settled into life in Washington state it was the first book in my new library.

Maritime history in our country has had no stronger preservationist than Howard I. Chapelle (1901–1975).  He roamed the country documenting and measuring traditional working craft that were disappearing from the waterways.  His books are part history and part studies in naval architecture.  I have been rummaging through these volumes since electronic cigarette brands I was a high school student hiding out in the library.  The Search for Speed Under Sail, The History of the American Sailing Navy, Boatbuilding: A Complete Handbook of Wooden Boat Construction, and American Small Sailing Craft: Their Design, Development and Construction are essentials of which I am still missing two.  As money allows it will be easy enough to pick them up on ABE books.  Fortunately they had a long print run.

L. Francis Herreshoff (1890-1972) is one America’s premiere yacht designers.  He published several of my favorite books, The Common Sense of Yacht Design, Capt. Nat Herreshoff: The Wizard of Bristol, The Writings of L. Francis Herreshoff, Sensible Cruising Designs and An L. Francis Herreshoff Reader. The Compleat Cruiser: The Art, Practice, and Enjoyment of Boating is one of the most engaging and informative books on cruising under sail ever written.  Some would find the book to be very outdated but if you are paying attention you will learn more than you expected about anchoring, boat designs and simple navigation tricks. Such tricks might save your bacon when the GPS goes unexpectedly silent.  I will never understand why the same people who will deny the existence of a holy God will put blind faith in battery powered electronics in a salt water environment.

For the kind of entertainment that can only be had in the pages of fiction I have always preferred C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series. These 11 novels tracing the career of a British naval officer during the great age of fighting sail ring with authenticity as well as drama.  I have read the whole series at least five times.  I also like to have a shelf full of Alexander Kent’s Richard Bolitho novels.  More ripping yarns from a British pen.  Many people like the more modern equivalent in the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian but I have never quite warmed up to the characters.

A favorite part of the nautical book genre is books that review various sailboat designs or feature the work of a particular designer.  They are usually illustrated with photos and plans.  Prime examples are Good Boats, More Good Boats and Still More Good Boats by Roger C. Taylor.  It’s a little like motorheads who can tell you the make and year of any car you see on the road and can give you an opinion on it’s performance.  In my head is a catalog of boat designs built up over more than 40 years of absorbing everything I could about sailing vessels.  Wooden boats take precedence but I don’t discriminate against other materials. The best boat I have owned so far was fiberglass.

The best of vintage nautical books have either great engravings or maps bound in.  One of my other collecting passions has always been maps.  This goes hand in glove.  The art of navigation begets the art of topography.  I cannot see a detailed chart, old or new, without concluding that it springs from an artistic sensibility as well an applied science.  I give all the credit to God for creating both the canvas, the paint and the brush.

Nothing makes me feel more secure and at home than to be snuggled up among my books.  A chill is coming and the soul must have some fuel.  Literature can be a beacon to a sailor, even on dry land, as snow falls softly amid the ranks of sleeping hulls in the Wintry boatyard.

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