By Lois Hoffman
The old adage is true that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Our parents and grandparents remember washing clothes with the old wringer washers, cooking on wood cook stoves, and listening to the radio at the end of the day. It made life so much easier when automatic washing machines, modern stoves, and televisions were invented.
So, what is the hype now with many folks craving the old items that our forefathers were so eager to forego? Antiques and primitives are a big business with more and more people decorating their homes with primitives. I have some friends who built a new home and it is completely furnished with primitive items, including the bathroom. What a homey feeling it has when you walk in. Butter churns, butcher-block tables, old wash tubs, and countless other items from a bygone era are the norm rather than the exception.
A person’s home is his castle and whatever style conveys warm and welcoming is what is right for that person. All tastes are different. Some love the Victorian style, some like country, others prefer modern, and some choose primitives. As for me, I fit in where most people’s tastes lay, it’s affectionately called “hodgepodge.” Yep, I have a little of this and a little of that. My personal criteria for whether an item is in the home or not is whether I like it or not.
Primitives are hot items, not only for the consumer but also for the flea market, auction, and antique markets. These items are not cheap. On the contrary, they tend to be pretty pricey. Part of it is the old law of supply and demand; if the item is really old and not a reproduction, there is a limited supply and folks will pay big bucks to own their piece of nostalgia.
This whole business can be confusing, though. We hear adjectives like primitive, rustic, antique, and vintage to describe items. Although similar, there are major differences between these terms.
Primitive is described as being the first of something made, potentially the item is simple and crude made by an early artist. Primitive styles tend to harken back to recent history and they tend to be common household items that once were normally used in every home and now are rarely or never used.
Rustic refers more to a style and not the age of something, such as a reproduction. Some of today’s craftsmen can genuinely make an item look old, just like an original, by using old barn wood, distressing the wood, etc. This is why consumers have to do their homework when out shopping for primitives. They have to be able to tell a true antique piece from a reproduction. Not to say that reproductions do not have their place. Sometimes a homeowner likes the look of primitives but does not wish to pay the high price commanded by true primitives. This is the intent for which reproductions were created.
The term antique refers to something that is really old. Usually the item has been around for at least 100 years or more and more than likely is made of wood. These are your old, musty, dusty, moldy pieces that command the high dollar.
Vintage refers to something roughly between 30 and 90 years old that is “too old to be used but not as old as Grandma.” All you grandmas don’t take offense, I just borrowed this term.
Then we have retro, which is something that is between 10 and 30 years old. It is basically something that is outdated and out of style but the seller is hoping to assign a sentimental or historical value to the item. This would be like the old time toasters and other kitchen appliances of the 1950s era.
Ahh, so many terms to define old junk…in a good way!
Since the colonial revival of the early 20th century, primitives have been popular collectibles. Anyone who decorates in this style will tell you that the hunt is half the fun. They scan flea markets, garage sales, antique shops, and auctions regularly to find their next perfect item. It amazes me not only how many items are out there, but how many folks seek them out.
In Shipshewana, Indiana, every Wednesday they have a huge auction barn filled with primitives, antiques, and the lot. All of these are auctioned off by 10 auctioneers at one time. It is just hard to grasp that there are this many items out there for this to happen weekly, and this is only one place in the country.
Some of our hometown folks have started something unique. They buy up primitives and antiques, bring them home, fix and clean up whatever needs done to them, and put them in their garages and barns. Once a month they have a “primitive circuit” where shoppers can go from one place to another and shop for their treasures. There is only one downside to this venture: Obviously, those participating are drawn to these items and sometimes they find it hard to part with them. That doesn’t make for very good profits.
Primitives connect us, our souls, to our ancestors and years gone by. Also, in this day of technology where the world is always at our fingertips, primitives take us back to a simpler time, a slower way of life. They help us remember that, although life’s chores were work, they could be rewarding work.
As I look at the butter churns, sausage presses, and other tools from our past, I can almost picture my grandparents sitting around laughing and talking while performing these tasks. This is truly becoming a lost art. Sometimes I think that we communicate with our phones more than with each other. Primitives remind us that there is a better way.
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