Posts Tagged antique

Find it, Fix it, Sell It – Your Done

25 September 2010

The antiques business always seemed exceptionally busy.  That was my perception anyway.  I had a schedule that never quit.  The good part was that I could control the pace well enough to keep the activity level bearable.  It helped to find tools to make my time more productive.  Quickly, some of those tools were a computer and printer,  price guides and catalogs,  reference books, a vehicle with good gas mileage and a basement suitable for stuffing like a Christmas goose.

Antiquing is part carefully laid strategy and part getting stuck with a bewildering array of things you may not be able to (a) identify (b) restore or (c) get rid of.  Clearly defined areas of interest go a long way toward establishing a productive business model.  Life is easier when you can confidently separate your eenie’s from your meenies and your mineys from your mo’s.  It is inevitable in the trade that you will often buy a group of items to get a hold of just one gem.  Naturally the gems go to the head of the class. They are either sold in very short order or they  are stored in a place and manner such that they will be rediscovered within your life time.  Think inventory control.

Reach into those musty auction boxes and you will find things that are either worn or broken.  Have a garbage can handy.  Identify each item to establish if it is worth the time and materials to restore.  Be careful with genuinely old items, especially furniture, which gains value from patina. Classic example: wooden benches.  Almost any old wooden bench with six peeling layers of paint and worn edges where the bare wood shows through can be sold in an antiques mall or flea market.  Price it low and move it fast. If you can tighten up wobbly legs that’s probably as much restoration as you will need to do.

Most furniture that is post 1930 is not precious museum quality stuff.  Restore it enough to make it attractive in the shop.  Your primary tool here is Old English furniture polish and a rag.  A badly crazed shellac fish can be re-amalgamated with a careful aplication of denatured alcohol.  Throw on a wax finish and you are good to go.  It does great on old oak desks that get surplussed out of old schools and goverment buildings.

Find some handy instructions on the technique and practice on an old piece of waterfall furniture.  Your first effort will not be spectacular but for the right price it will still sell for more than the five bucks you gave for at it a garage sale.  A handy source of materials, tools and general supplies is Thomasnet.com. You probably won’t need a fork lift or titanium sheet but they can guide you to companies with almost anything you need in finishes, solvents, tools, etc.  Their listings under varnishes give 220 results.  There is a ton of information much of which is on a larger scale than you need but keep in mind that even a small shop now a days has requirements for workplace safety and sound environmental practices.

Modern collectibles often do not fall into the patina equals value zeitgeist.  Barbies and Star Wars action figures are best presented as new, even better if they are still in the original box or packaging. Certain niches lend themselves to a lot of tinkering and repair such as model railroading.  Trains have a lot of small parts and electric motors.  there is a marketplace devoted to model trains old and new.  Those Lionel and Marx trains-in-a-basket that surface in estate sales are like a goldmine. If you have the skills to put a deader into running condition or even just reattach all the wheels floating loose in the bottom of the box then your time can indeed become money.

The best part of antiquing is the discovery of buried treasure.  Arghh! We be pirates here.  So look lively and keep a weather eye out for more booty. Once you’ve found it, identified it, and fixed it up it’s time to either keep it as your own or get rid of it.  Either way a little bit more of the world gets sorted out and maybe a little jingle goes into your pocket as well as your step.

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Antiques Between the Pages and Beyond

21 September 2010

When the going gets tough the tough go to the library or the book store.  This has been my motto since childhood.  I was the kid who at the back of the school bus who was called variously Four Eyes, Professor or Book Worm.  I did not like the former.  The second one was acceptable but the latter was a point of pride.  I am an unapologetic reader and lover of books.  This part of my personality directed a portion of my antiques business.

People often say “it’s nothing personal, it’s just business.  However, for me business is personal.  My personality and interests drive me in any business I am involved in.  I love wood and have been a professional woodcarver, I am currently a cabinetmaker.  I worked as a courier for a medical laboratory for 20 years mostly because I love being on the road day after day.  The best part of being a paralegal which I hated because I couldn’t set my moral convictions aside was the opportunity to spend time in law libraries.

The digital age seems to threaten the printing press and bindery.  It may be that paper itself will become a forgotten artifact.   Maybe, I still haven’t seen the paperless office that used to be a sort of techie mantra.  A cashless society won’t surprise me but paper will hang around a little longer.  It is undeniable that print publishing is going to go through more than it’s fair share of changes.  But then it always has.

Format Follows Function

A glossy high quality specialty magazine or coffee table book has little resemblance to a parchment or papyrus manuscript of antiquity.  At bottom they perform the same function.   The sound that emerges from our mouths becomes a part of the past in the instant of being spoken.  it becomes Intangible but still virtual.  It’s preservation occurs not by speaking but by hearing.  Communicating with the written word developed because it froze the virtual and made it actual, able to be understood consistently by all who beheld it.  Well, that’s the theory.  Wars have been fought, fair ladies have been won,  divorces have begun, both evil and good men have risen and fallen,  fortunes won and lost all because of a few words on a document or in a book.  For a prime example read Barbara Tuchman’s The Zimmerman telegram.

Publication has gone from simple scraps of paper to leather bound volumes to slick color covers in perfect bindings.  The various ways of bringing together a collection of pages has served every ages technologies and material resources.  The rate of distribution took a quantum leap courtesy of Mr. Gutenberg.  Lithography brought us into the graphics age.  Offset printing and photography just blew out all the stops.  It’s been a long road to get to the point where ink is not something that can spill and make a mess on your desk.  Ink is just another electronic idea.  Comic books or quantum mechanics, all have spun from analog to digital expression.

This Place in Time

Our chronological vantage point is advantageous to observers of history.  I appreciate the new technologies but still get a warm feeling when I hold a fat volume with calf binding.  Marbled endpapers are high art as are good quality engravings.  Once upon a time people appreciated the craftsmanship in good bindings.  I am not an expert in antiquarian books but I delighted in buying and selling them.  Books also fit my model of niche marketing.  Specialty subjects proved surprisingly profitable. I lucked into a couple of books on slide rules by Isaac Asimov.  They have great collectible value and if you find them in a boxed assortment at a flea market you are sure to get them for next to nothing.  Operations manuals for vintage aircraft have a lively trade amongst people who can afford to pay premium prices.

Of course everyone knows about the high value of first editions.  As a result you usual find them at inflated prices.  The only one I found memorable was in a box lot of children’s books I almost gave away.  It was a first edit ion Dr. Seuss, Cat In The Hat.  It went on eBay for $400.00.  Condition is vital in well known titles but I found that to be less true of books with an esoteric subject matter.  In some cases the content is as collectible as the paper and ink.  Historical data is a commodity unto itself.

Art and books have a long standing relation.  Pre-twentieth century books often have wonderful maps and engravings that are more valuable when separated from the book.  Because of this we have the practice of book-breaking.  Destroying a great old book just to get the prints out to sell individually is a terrible practice.

Books have always been my friends.  They are good company and are always well behaved.  The libraries I have known and the booksellers I have haunted are another subject which I will cover the next time I sit down to share my digitized thoughts with you.

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Vintage Postcards Transport The Viewer To Another Time

17 September 2010

Here is your trivia word for the day: Deltiology, the study and collection of postcards .  Not that it is trivial to the millions of post card collectors all over the world.  Haunt enough auctions buying up odd box lots and you are sure to end up with a collection of old postcards.  Do not take them lightly.  When they arrived on the scene in the 1860’s they were a rather utilitarian item.  They provided a cheap means of communicating a short, informal, message.  Think, the Twitter of the letter writing era.  Later on they became a virtual art and photography publishing medium.  Post cards became collectible in short order and the variety of images gave them an appeal to people with a wide variety of interests.

My favorite postcards have always been the transportation scenes, especially aircraft, ships and trains.  The amount of available material for collecting is unbelievable.  The early real photo postcards form an illustrated history that often includes events or vehicles not well recorded in books.

Cards featuring aviation related subjects may have photos of aviation pioneers or rare experimental aircraft that have become lost to history.

Back when eBay was in full swing in time to a vigorous economy they were a good source of regular sales in the $10.00 to $20.00 range with occasional “oh wow!” surprise bidding wars.  One of the beauties of postcards is that you often get duplications in lots purchased.  On those occasions I kept one copy for my personal collection and sold the other.  It can be a hobby that pays for itself.

Trains are another universal favorite.  They suited early photographers because they were good still subjects.  Quite a few early cards featured train wrecks.

Later on when cameras got better at stopping motion trains were often captured moving through dramatic scenery.   The railroad companies found postcards to be a handy advertising medium.  As a result a lot of railroad history is preserved for both scholars and railfans.

The hunt for old postcards is fun because so many people saved the cards informally. You find them in desk drawers and pigeonholes, in shoe boxes and coffee cans. They appear to have been the number one bookmark of all time.  They often come as part of a stack of paper items perhaps meant to be scrapbook material. You can find some good old advertising items, trade cards, tobacco cards, or small engravings.

It seems like printed cards of all types become handy items to trade.  Barter and baseball cards is practically a rite of passage for American children.  The value of post cards varies widely, naturally, the older the better. Condition counts a lot. It’s not unusual to have messages written on the front of early cards as the postal regulations reserved the back of the card for addresses only.  Tears and bends are what really downgrade a card.

When I started selling collectibles postcards came on to my radar screen along with vintage photographs.  They go hand-in-hand.  So much history was preserved at the same time that it was made accessible to the public.  We take that aspect for granted in the internet age.  At the time postcards were invented America was a largely rural society.  Radio was largely theoretical and the modern marvel of the day in personal transportation was the bicycle; another worthy topic for a post card collection.  You have the advantage to explore a century and more of our world unfolding before you in a handy format that is very user friendly.  Hitch a ride on history and be transported.

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Where is eBay Going?

8 September 2010

I was an eBay seller near the beginning.  I saw it go from a kind of curiosity that fed the popular press with stories of unusual and bizarre items for sale to a a wide open and profitable collectibles marketplace.  Some strange articles offered for sale included a U.S. Navy F/A-18A Hornet jet fighter, a man’s kidney, and Britney Spears’ chewed gum (note the past tense).  At it’s peak a seller could make something like a living wage.  I used it in conjunction with several stands in antique malls and occasional consulting jobs for antiques dealers who were anxious to get a piece of the ebay pie.  Today I can’t help but wonder what has happened to the pie.

The simple answer is, to borrow a political catch-phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid.”  The same economy that has wreaked havoc with everything from blue chip stokes to hog futures has brought us an eBay that seems to be winding down.  In the last two weeks I have sold only one thing and the buyer has not answered his email or paid what he owes.  So the item will wait until such time as the funds arrive.

In conversations with other users I have heard a generally critical tone aimed at eBay itself.  I don’t think that eBay has endeared itself to sellers over the years.  rising fees and more restrictive rules have chased some people away.  Personally I was irked way back when they added the Buy It Now feature.  The auction fever aspect of eBay was part of what  gave me unexpected chunks of cash.  I had no idea what that JFK campaign poster I sold back in 1997 was worth.  I paid two bucks and there seemed llike plenty of gravy left over.  There were JFK poster reprints all over the auction site but none like mine.  By the second day the poster was up to $50.  It top out at $200.  That kind of thing was not unusual but it hasn’t happened to me in a long while.

Once upon a time I used a simple formula to estimate my sales total for the week.  It was simply 10 times the number of auctions listed.  If I listed 30 items I would sell $300.  No science was involved, no analytics or deep thought.  It was what I observed when I first started.  It held for about four years, better around the Christmas season.  There were big dips when Clinton jumped on Microsoft with both feet,  The dotcom “bubble” burst, and when a beautiful morning in September was ruined as airplanes crashed into the heart of America.

Lately eBay seems to be making some efforts to improve the situation with such things as free listing periods.  I guess they have figured out that they  are not a store with their own inventory.  It is the many individual sellers who bring the goods to market.  Furthermore it is the people who know antiques and collectibles that bring the unique and desirable items that make this market exciting.  One more electronic gizmo starting at 99 cents with an overcharge on shipping is not thrilling.  Even if it’s a bargain it is a dead common bargain.  The thrill is in finding something that you don’t see every day or that you can’t by within a days driving distance of home.

Let’s face it there is a lot less loose change in the average American’s pocket in the present day.   Inevitably eBay will scale down.  It looks like it already has.  The company I work for has become leaner and probably yours has too.  Let’s hope our favorite auction site leans itself down to a vigorous marketplace with exciting merchandise that will continue to be worth our time. and effort.

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Coffee Tables as Collectibles, Ecclecticism Is Good For Business

20 August 2010

We think of  antiquing as being all about old stuff.   Mostly it is but there is also a process of evolution.  Everything new becomes old.  A trip to any antique mall will show you artifacts of our culture over a large span of time.  Some dealers resist this, others give themselves up to it eagerly.

I used to have a stand at Meadowview Antiques on route 322 in Campbelltown, Pennsylvania.  At the time they had two buildings full of dealer’s I was in the old milking barn.  It had a lot of rustic charm and an interesting group of  characters making some portion of their living dealing in a wide variety of antiques and collectibles.  The sales approaches and marketing niches varied widely.  Once you leave behind the old notion of “antiques” as museum pieces for the home you open up a lot of possibilities.  The “collectibles” dealer doesn’t mind reselling items that are virtually new as long as the demand is there in the market place. It seemed like the younger dealers often had a more open attitude to what they would sell.

Joe Plebani was one of the younger dealers in the barn.  He was very laid back, a skateboarder and aficionado of  the Plymouth Barracuda.  His stand was an eclectic mix of items that at first blush might seem out of place in anything styling itself as an antiques market.  Among the comic books, postsers, action figures and assorted elements of popular culture you could usually find furniture items far removed from the worlds of Chippendale and Sheraton.  Much of it was Online Pokies rescued from the garbage man or hunted down at garage sales and lower end auction houses.

A regular feature of his inventory was old lamps usually from the fifties, sixties, and seventies.  He would have everything from wierd abstract art floor lamps, and elegant plug in chandeliers to ceramic panthers with the avocado green shade that graced many a middle class living room one upon a time.  Joe had an eye for retro when retro was just becoming cool.  He was riding the wave and enjoying every moment.  I admired his courage.  To sell things that are patently unlovely takes guts or incredible good luck.

Joe’s furniture items were unlikely to include mahogany china cabinets and buffets.  A more likely item would be the time-honored icon of American decorative arts – the coffee table.  And, not just the standard round coffee table but also the classic kidney shaped “Judy Jetson” bleached mahogany model.  I’ve known people to fight pretty hard for these at auction.  For those who are not enamored of wood he was likely to have a glass top dining table just for a change of pace.

In the beginning my own stand ran more to walnut china cabinets and the like.  The furniture was definitely more pricey.   That began to change as I learned what the tourists were taking back to New jersey with them.  In business being a little hungry is educational.  I learned as much from young Joe as I did from some of the old-timers.  Know your niche markets from the inside out and don’t underestimate the value of popular culture.

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SeeAuctions.com Takes on eBay

13 August 2010

There is a new game in town known as SeeAuctions.com.  At last someone has stepped up to take on an internet industry giant.  What does this mean for you?  The Internet has it’s thousand pound gorillas.  They get that way by building something new and attractive to a large share of the bandwidth hugging crowd.  When branding goes viral it is very difficult for anyone to compete.  So it has been since eBay appeared on the scene in 1995.

I have been involved in selling on the Internet’s largest auction site since 1996.  At one time I hired myself out to less tech savvy antique dealers as an eBay consultant.  In the good old days It was simpler and less expensive to do business on the web site.  As time went by I saw many dealers leave the fold in frustration.  Recent trends have caused my involvement in eBay to be sporadic.  The question is often asked, where else can I go to sell online? Why hasn’t a competitor appeared to scoop up all the disappointed dealers and buyers left in eBay’s wake?

You can build your own web site and sell directly to anyone who can wade through the cluttered wasteland of cyberspace  to pick you out of the thousands of other search engine hits.  That could be expensive to do well and who has time to be their own webmaster and run an antiques business at the same time?  Find another online auction?  Good luck with that.

There was a time when a large group of  net entrepreneurs were attracted to the gold that could be seen glittering brightly in them thar hills.  Nobody ever seemed to attract the traffic that eBay drew and the rules were usually just as complicated and the fees still seemed endless.  SeeAuctions.com  is seriously trying to garner market share in eBay’s back yard by offering commission free trading and no fees of any kind for the first year.  They are quite clear about there objectives as stated on their website:

“All new sellers receive a 1 year free trial at SeeAuctions.com! No listing fees, hidden fees, commissions, premiums, or funny contracts. We are confident that sellers will love our marketplace, so there is no requirement to stay after the first year. We plan to be the #1 online site for antique and collectible items. To that end you will notice an aggressive advertising campaign to let the world know about us. This will drive more buyers to your listings and result in higher sale prices. Selling will be 100% free until we meet that goal!”

What truly attracted me to SeeAuctions.com is that it is specifically an antique and collectible marketplace.  Your Victorian trade cards or Beatles memorabilia won’t be lost among the 99 cent mp3 players and CD collections of public domain documents.   As experienced antique dealers themselves the creators of this web site say, “We are dedicated to provide a better Internet trading site. We ensure a safe, flexible and fun experience, for buyers and sellers alike, offering such features as 1, 3, 5, 7, 10, 21 & 30 day listings, commission-free trading with no extra costs or fees, options like 0, 1, 5 & 10 minute extended endings, instant payments from both Google Checkout & PayPal, automatic insurance calculation and never a buyer’s premium.”

I have registered with SeeAuctions.com and awaiting verification of seller status.  In the coming days I will post some auctions and see how things shake out.  I encourage my readers to do the same.  It’s free and it looks like fun.  Let me now what your experience with SeeAuctions.com is like.  Maybe we can participate in real economic recovery.

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Selling for Free On Ebay Update, How are You Doing?

5 July 2010

We are well along in the current eBay free listing opportunity.  How are you doing?  I’d like to know if there are lots of people taking advantage of this or is everyone just kicking back enjoying the fireworks and beer. I have been busy posting auctions.  As of this writing I have 23 active auctions.  I have kept all of the starting prices low.  About half are relisted items that i would like to clear out of inventory.

I started posting on Sunday and added several more today.  I will probably put a few more into gear tomorrow.  I never seem to have good luck with items posted later in the week than Tuesday.  If you are interested in what i am offering check my member ID, gwynnsmom.  I have no bids yet but there are a bunch of watchers and page views.  The real action happens at the end anyway, so I’m feeling good right now.

My favorite item is the Naval Air technical training Center photo book.  I wrote a post about it when I first offered it for sale and I am surprised it is still hanging around.   Write a comment and share your experience.  Tell us what you have high hopes for or what is just a dog you hope to shed soon.  Have a happy Fourth of July.  I hope you all make the big bucks.  It’s the American way.

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Sell For Free on eBay, Right Now!

1 July 2010

We all love the rare occasions when eBay has an event allowing auction style listings without an initial insertion fee. They did back around the Memorial holiday.  I was very pleased but did not expect it to happen again soon.  well, expect the unexpected because it’s here again for Independence Day.  the dates for this special event are June 29 through July 12.

You can get all the details from the horses mouth by going to auctions to begin and end on Sundays between 5:00 and 6:00 pm eastern time.  Be advised that other premium fees may still be in effect.  I would suggest keeping your auctions simple and starting bids low.  this is the ideal time to give those items that didn’t sell in the past and are just languishing in your inventory another chance.  Whenever possible offer free shipping.  Consider the occasion a clearance sale and make a little cash to spend on some truly hot collectibles.  Good luck!  Think like a capitalist and prosper.

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A Passion for Paper

1 July 2010

What does a dealer in collectibles collect for himself?  For me it was paper.  There is something about printed media that interests me on many levels.  Maybe it’s the pack rat in me.  As I grew into the antique and collectible field I continually came across what is called in the trade “ephemera.”  It fascinated me like nothing else in the profession.  I like the way the name suggests something that is lacking in substance and liable to imminent decay.  It suggests that not only our lives but the physical traces of our path through history are but dust in the wind.  The great paper trail of society comes in many forms: advertising, books, maps, documents, trading cards, lithography, prints and engravings.  The field is a grand combination of history and art.

I am fascinated with the artwork found on old documents.  Check out an antique stock certificate.  The engraved illustrations can be quite beautiful.  A postage stamp album is an art gallery in miniature.  Old checks and bank drafts often have very well done engravings or lithographed pictures.  As an item to collect collect old paper can include a broad array of subject matter or be highly specialized.  I have enjoyed maps since I was very small.  they feed the imagination as well as keep one from getting lost.  They record the locations of history and remind us of so many things now gone.  I used to have a climber’s map of Mount St. Helens that I kind of took for granted until one day it became instantly collectible as it became apparent that they weren’t going to need to print anymore of them.

Remember when road maps could be had for free at any gas station?  They are quite collectible especially if they have the right art work on the front panel.  If you are new to collecting road maps be advised that the printers didn’t always place a date on them in an obvious way.  Instead, they had a code in one of the margins.  you can read the date codes at websites such as http://www.roadmaps.org/date.html.  Maps were one of my first surprises in the collectible business.  I had always appreciated them and enjoyed them and didn’t realize what a treasure they were until I put one on eBay for a dollar and it got bid up to sixty.

One of my other favorite items were Victorian trade cards.  I had hardly known of their existence.  They keep showing up in box lots and stuffed into old books as page markers.  I admired the many charming lithographed designs and appreciated the historical detail they conveyed.  The light soon came on in my head and I adopted them as a lively little niche market.  They were doubly fun as I could gather them up at estate sales and flea markets. I kept the ones that interested me and sold everything else.  It was the first hobby I ever had that paid for itself and then some.

Of course the category includes books but that is a huge subject I will leave for another day.  There is so much more to cover in this fascinating area.  The use of paper spans centuries and the printers art has been so important in developing civilization it can hardly be grasped.  The invention of the printing press was every bit as world-changing as the invention of the Internet.   Before photography brought every man’s eye view to printed pages the graphic arts flourished wherever ink landed on paper.   Art in the hands of the common man is democratizing.

There seems an endless supply of ephemera stashed away in attics, basements and store rooms.  A good specialty shop in the field is like a god mine.  Back east I loved to go to Mr. 3L, Leonard L. Lasko’s shop on The Lincoln Highway east of Lancaster, PA.  Mr. lasko is a character and he’s been in his business for a long time.  The shop is not the neatest and if you like organization forget it.  This is a place to adjust your attitude and surrender to the thrill of the hunt.  You can find a staggering array of old advertising sometimes in new old stock wholesale units.  I remember finding packets of old Seven-Up soda bottle labels that had never been used.  They were just as they had come from the printer.  I bought them for a good price and sold them in small lots on eBay for over a year for a healthy profit.  Deals like that are just the ticket for steady cash flow.

Lasko doesn’t have much of  an internet presence but apparently he is still in business if you are interested.  You can find him at 2931 Lincoln Highway East, 17529 Gordonsville, PA, Phone: 001 (717) 687-6165.  oddly enough his favorite advertising strategy is announcing a “going out if business sale.”  he’s been going out of business for as long as I can remember.  Maybe he will shutter his shop someday but it’s still worth stopping in sometime just in case.  After all business in this day and age can be somewhat ephemeral.

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An Antique Attitude

23 June 2010

Som where on the way to 57 I became cranky.  Not mean and nasty, just cranky.  I got into the antiques trade as a stress reliever.  The law firm I worked in as a paralegal was a collection of tightly wound people crouching behind typewriters. They dug through endless file folders for the scattered parts of statutory weapons with which to bludgeon their prey.  You can probably tell I wasn’t happy in that job.  On Saturdays I spent most of the day cruising garage sales.  It was where I first got caught up in the thrill of the hunt.

Antiqueing brought me back into a saner world.  However, some baggage remains from those times and here I am – a crank.  let me use an “antique” word and say curmudgeon.  A curmudgeon is a guy with an antique attitude.  The motivation comes from the past.  you can’t be a proper curmudgeon without a sense of history.  The things I get cranky about are based on ways of living that the world has passed by.  I see a worn and work polished old hand tool and it seems like any one of various abandoned moral codes.  I have a fine old low angle block plane of a type Stanley doesn’t make anymore.  It is beautiful in it’s simplicity and reliability.  Only a cranky guy like me would actually use it in a modern electrified cabinet making shop.  It delights my soul when some young woodshop wunderkind asks to borrow it.  Why is there an antiques trade?  Because quality endures.

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