Antiques for Readers and Writers

Lea Wait, here. As many of you know, I’m a born and bred (fourth generation, actually) antique dealer. My great-grandfather immigrated to Boston from Edinburgh and imported antiques, Irish linen, glass, and Belleek, Scottish embroideries and other upscale furnishings for his (short-lived) shop on Beacon Hill. His oldest daughter, my grandmother, became an antique doll and toy dealer. And her daughter, my mother, and I went into the business in 1977 specializing in antique prints. My aunt and uncle were also antique dealers, with a special interest in Bennington pottery and mourning-related Victoriana, and my father was a nationally known numismatist. (Paper money.) 

Although I’m now focusing on my writing and only selling prints out of my home by appointment and at a few shows each year, the protagonist in my mystery series, Maggie Summer, carries on the family tradition: she’s an antique print dealer, too, and is still active in the business. 

One of John Dunning's Mysteries

In addition to antique prints, at various times in my life I’ve had my own collections. In my early teens I started collecting post cards and political memorabilia; at older ages I searched for first editions of favorite authors, Victorian stick pins, theatrical memorabilia, and antiques related to the Asian countries where my children were born. Now that I’m a full-time writer, I’ve found myself gathering a small collection of antiques related to reading and writing.

Collecting books — autographed, or first editions, or small print runs, or, preferably, all three — is an choices for those who love books. Anyone interested in learning more about that end of the business should read John Dunning’s wonderful mysteries about an antiquarian book dealer.  

As a dealer, I’ve had customers who collected prints or paintings of one or two favorite authors. One man had filled his home with china, glass and pottery related to Shakespeare and his plays. 

On a smaller scale, I’ve had fun collecting book ends and stands, usually made of brass or marble, made between 1880 and 1930. They’re not too expensive, very decorative — and who doesn’t need book ends? 

Statues of all sizes (in pottery, china, marble or brass) of people reading are out there. Some people collect lamps specifically designed for reading. 

But most of the items I’ve collected, perhaps not surprisingly, involve writing. Not pens, although that’s an entire collecting field for those interested. But I do have one wonderful pewter inkwell that holds two pens — in the ears of the devil. I often wonder just who first imagined this design, and what the pens of those who’ve owned that inkstand have written over the years … Doesn’t it look like an inkstand Poe might have had on his desk?

(And, by the way, in my study I have a small oil painting of Edgar himself that my husband bought for me at an auction. Love auctions – and my husband!)  

Because ours is not the first generation to compose notes away from our desks, in earlier times there

Portable Writing Box

were portable desks, or “writing boxes.”  I’ve pictured one here; the wooden box, in case this an elegant curly maple one, opens to show a writing surface, and, under that, spaces to hold writing materials. 

I also have several small books (2″ x 3″) in wood or brass that were used to hold stamps (the wooden one) or matches (the brass books) and are very decorative.  And a large brass book that contains sheets of blotting paper — a necessity in earlier times. 

Small Brass Match Holder

Boxes in the shape of books can also be found in all sorts of materials, from metal, that held cookies and candies for the holidays, to wooden ones, that held Bibles, to books made to conceal hiding places in bookcases, to “book boxes” of wood that are ingenious puzzles, made to conceal money or jewelry.

For me, pieces of the past incorporated into my home and life add depth and, I hope, perhaps, a little of the wisdom and heritage and stories of those who came before us.

If you’re interested in finding similar treasures, check out antique shows or co-op malls (groups of dealers showing together) or shops in your area. Be open to possibilities. Antiques can surprise you. And it’s always more fun to look when you’re on a quest, so asking for “book-related items” or “inkwells” or “book boxes” or whatever intriques you, makes the trip more interesting. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Antique dealers would love to tell you about what is on their shelves. 

And, as a dealer, I have to add — the right antique can be the perfect, unique, gift. Happy holidays!

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3 Responses to Antiques for Readers and Writers

  1. Pingback: Antiques for Readers and Writers | Maine Crime Writers | asumelikufo

  2. MCWriTers says:

    Love the inkwell. Years ago, in an abandoned barn, we found an old iron double bed that had devil’s heads as the connectors. I always wondered who would want to sleep in such a thing. My sister thought it was cool, though. Later, she gave it to a rock musician, and who knows where it went from there.

    Agree that antiques make a home more interesting, and can liven up a mystery.


  3. MCWriTers says:

    Sounds like a great bed! I have one with a headboard carving of Shaklespeare and characters from his plays …. the wooden panel wasn’t actually meant to be a headboard, but became one about 35 years ago when my mother found the panel and decided it belonged in my house. I do love devils, though. I have a 19th century devil’s head mounted on red velvet and framed that I had hung in my family room in my last house. One of my daughters’ friends refused to go into that room because of it. So, clearly, devils aren’t for everyone …

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