Sandy Neilly
Sandy Neilly
 
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The Editorial Page

 
 
A place for Editorial comment and Letters to the Editor
 
By Sandy Neilly
 
If this seems like an unusual place for this editorial, it is. Here I am, tucked in on page 9 with the Events Calendar, which is typically shorter than usual due to the winter months. It is an honour to be here and share the page with the devoted show promoters who put on their worthy events despite the time of year it is.
 
Please do try to reward them with your attendance.
 
There is plenty to comment on when saying farewell to 2016, a year that, (despite the U.S. election campaigns), sped by at the speed of light. It will be memorable in many ways, measured in our hearts by events, both good and bad, that took place in our lives.
 
From a business perspective I'll remember it as a year of continued transition for the antique industry. It is slowly evolving from a very straight-forward commerce that took place, usually face-to-face, between people, to one that includes a great deal of technology (ie: no more handshakes) and the changing preferences of buyers.
 
It wasn't so long ago that the general public didn't often attend an antique auction. It seemed like there was some unspoken (mis)understanding that only dealers were qualified to bid on things that would ultimately end up in a shop somewhere and that was where a buyer sought out desired items.
 
The shops were typically solely-owned; the term “multi-vendor” had not yet been created. Most of these shops featured real, authentic antiques, often with provenance, the verbal “gift wrapping” that gave you an understanding of the where, the why and the how of a piece.
 
The legitimate scarcity of items was a result of the fact that most of these things, back in the day, were not mass-produced (or reproduced), and still existed because they had been either very well taken care of, or stored well intentionally - or by accident. Whether they were genuine articles was rarely an issue. The day of reproductions had not yet blanketed the industry... although, as in art, I'm sure there were some clever forgeries in the upper echelons of the antique world.
 
Fast forward to today’s market, largely driven by the Internet, that vast universe of technology that swallows up human contact and offers oceans of choices to wade through. It has become an entity we "can't live with and can't live without,” and it drives the engine of commerce in just about every respect of our lives.
 
I'm aware of the pros and cons and took advantage of the pros myself many years ago when eBay was an exciting new (and profitable) phenomenon. I'm now more of a consumer at the receiving end, when it comes to buying and selling, and it is still an invaluable tool… but it can be a bit like fumbling around in the dark at times, hoping for the best but ending up with less than that at times. Over and over again, I'm made aware of how much satisfaction there is in attending a show, or going into a shop in person… places with people to converse with, items to (carefully) handle and discuss; back to that straight-forward commerce of the good old days.
 
There's a bit of irony in my observation since I have less time than ever to get to shows and even shops, but I now recognize that little coil of excitement when the opportunity arises… adventure in the hunt, even if I'm not sure what I'm looking for. There is the pleasure of speaking to vendors and shop owners, learning not just about their offerings, but learning about them, too, time and circumstances permitting. This rarely happens online.
 
When I think of all the people I communicated with frequently back in the ‘90s on eBay, there is only one person I am still in contact with, a friendship born of the sale of a Bell’s. Old Scotch Whiskey bell-shaped decanter. The same is not true of the people Peter and I have come to know over the years since we literally jumped headlong into the business back in 1994. That’s when we took the leap from city to country life and opened our shop in our big old barn that still stands like a gracious old country gentleman; a testament of early 1900s construction, built without heavy machinery and so worthy of admiration and awe.
 
The old barn served, unexpectedly, as inspiration for our new business… we had rarely stopped to think about the process behind constructing such a building in 1903. The massive hand-hewn beams alone were (and are) cause for utmost respect and wonder, especially when standing inside and looking up 40 feet. It was a hands-on part of Canadian history to open our novice eyes to the wonder and pleasure in learning about our past through the objects that have survived the rigours of time. Almost a quarter of a century after that eye-opening realization we have an abundance of wonderful, knowledgeable friends whose experiences in the business have often been entertaining, but more so, valuable to our own ongoing learning process.
 
It is a business, yes, but it's not all about profit. (If it is, you might not fare too well.) There is so much more to be derived from the industry… whether it's antiques, vintage or nostalgia - we all have our preferences and they all have a place in today’s market.
 
As you are probably quite aware at this point, it is Canada’s 150th birthday this year - 2017. When measured by years and compared to other countries, that is a very young age indeed... but when measured by progress, by transition and change, it indicates a maturity and strength drawn from our good, strong foundation. There is a great deal to be proud of, thanks to our illustrious forefathers (and mothers). I hope the sesquicentennial celebrations cause a resurgence of interest in the items of our past. They all line an historical pathway that leads from then to now - our present time - they are a visual indication of how work was done, what we considered beautiful, what we considered important... all pointing, in their often humble way, to where we stand now as a country.
 
I think most of us have at least a vague idea of how we want a new year to look, but this year I hope the image taking form is a little more concise. I think we need to all take a lingering look back and truly feel an appreciation for Canada. It is a great country, Leaders come and go, some leave an indelible mark (some great, some not), but as a united people we ultimately rally and end up standing firmly on that strong foundation built so many, and yet so few, years ago.
 
There will be a profusion of events to attend this year to celebrate our 150th birthday - it's a wonderful year to look forward to, but please do visit the shops, shows and markets that gather the many items together that comprise our past for you to peruse. They would love to see you and you will benefit from their knowledge while you enjoy the ongoing hunt for that little (or big) “something” that your historical little heart desires.
 
Happy New Year to everyone. We wish you good health and happiness and hope the year of collecting ahead leads you to great discoveries, new friendships and an understanding and appreciation of Canadian history that perhaps we sometimes take for granted - or even just ignore even when it surrounds us.
 
Thanks to all of our readers and also to our writers who are delightfully driven to bring history, on many levels, to life - one page at a time in the Wayback Times. It is wonderful that we have such a diverse community of collectors covering genres that span such a huge variety of interests.
 
God bless, safe travels - and thanks to everyone for reading the Wayback Times.
 
Previous column: Try antique shops for unique Christmas gifts
 
 
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