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Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate: Consuming the World 
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Coffee, tea, and chocolate were all the rage in Enlightenment Europe. These fashionable beverages profoundly shaped modes of sociability and patterns of consumption, yet none of the plants required for their preparation was native to the continent: coffee was imported from the Levant, tea from Asia, and chocolate from Mesoamerica. Their introduction to 17th-century Europe revolutionized drinking habits and social customs. It also spurred an insatiable demand for specialized vessels such as hot beverage services and tea canisters, coffee cups and chocolate pots.
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In this new periodic feature, Bob Brooke offers personal insights into the world of antiques and antiques collecting.

LATEST EXTRA!_______________________________________

The Stigma of Antiques
by Bob Brooke


When I was in my early teens, my father took me to visit an antique dealer in our town, not to buy antiques but to purchase a stamp collection for me. My father had collected stamps since he was a young man. I had never even considered it.

The facade of the antique shop was unremarkable. Painted a dark brown, it had large windows, the type of storefront that probably dated to the late teens or early 1920s. We passed through the door into the dimly-lit interior. It seemed to me at the time that dusty old furniture lined the pathway through the shop to the back where the owner, a Mr. Egolf, sat at an old desk under a bare bulb hanging overhead. I remember the light reflecting off the dealer’s shiny bald head as he looked up at us through his wire-rim glasses. He was slightly rotund and looked like a little old elf.

I got my start collecting U.S.stamps with a collection sold to the dealer, who bought and sold stamps to collectors, by a guy who was getting a divorce and needed the money. But as for the antiques, they seemed to me old, dusty and lacking life.

Antiques have always been the realm of the rich. Only wealthy people had the discretionary income to spend on collecting valuable old things. Art is very much the same. Artists were mostly poor but the collectors who assembled collections of their art were not.

Back when I was a kid, visiting a rich uncle who collected antiques was an exercise in frustration. I was told not to touch anything for fear I would break it. Back then, antiques to me were untouchable.

And so was the stigma of antiques—or so it was until the 1960s when all the belongings of the Victorians started to emerge from attics, garages, and old barns. The U.S. Congress passed a law in 1930 which defined an antique as an object produced at least 100 years earlier. This became the unwritten law of antiques. Congress chose 1830 as the transition between handcrafted objects and those produced as a result of the invention of steam—the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

The 1960s brought on a major change in the antique market. Restoring old furniture became trendy, thanks to decorating magazines like American Home which featured articles telling readers how to “redo” old furniture by employing the new “antiquing” paint kits which utilized a base paint and a glaze coat to produce an “antique” look. Stripping furniture was in, whether a piece needed it or not. People ruined a lot of great late 19th and early 20th-century pieces by “antiquing” them.

But this process got a lot of people to notice antiques, especially those from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century. And because the Industrial Revolution mechanically produced lots and lots of furniture and accessories for American homes, there was a vast amount available at reasonable to downright low prices at flea markets. The American middle class had entered the antiques market. But the wealthy continued to collect the “real” antiques—those produced before 1830.

For the next 40 years, collectors of the real antiques considered much of what had been produced in the second half of the 19thcentury as junk or at least old because it had been made mechanically, often in factories. But by the late 20th century, attitudes about antiques began to change. Collectors who took advantage of the lower prices of these items began to look upon Congress’ act of 1930 in a different way—that antiques now included objects that were at least 100 years old.

And while the stigma of antiques is still around, it’s not as prevalent as it once was. Unlike the market for traditional high end antiques made before 1830, the overall market of antiques and collectibles is now much broader.

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