“Are you building a museum?”

Manse telephone table

One of the best “museum”-style objects in the Manse: our vintage telephone table. It is comfortable and useful, and I love it. It’s one of those old-timey things that people who don’t like old-timey things are totally missing out on.

“Are you building a museum?” That’s the interesting question that Jim, who’s a friend and former Montreal Gazette colleague of Raymond and me, asked in response to my post of a couple of days ago – the one in which I announced that I felt I needed to acquire for the Manse one of those colourful 1950s-’60s metallic folding-step step stools that we all used to have.

Jim’s question is a good one. I expect there are others among you good people who read Meanwhile, at the Manse who have wondered the same thing, as I ramble on about cool and funky midcentury (mid-20th-century, as I always realize I need to explain) stuff that I’ve managed to acquire, or would like to acquire. I think it’s a polite way of saying, “Why the heck are you collecting this old junk?”

But let’s keep the question to “Are you building a museum?” Here is the answer: “No. But.”

No, I am not building a museum. (And neither is Raymond.) But: the more time we spend on this Manse adventure, and the more time I spend remembering and reflecting on the years when I was growing up here, the 1960s and ’70s – well, the more interested I get in vernacular mid-20th-century design, in things that we all had and used back in those days and thought nothing of, but that we realize in retrospect were beautifully designed and are kind of worth retrieving now, in the 21st century, when so much of what is made is disposable and (not to put too fine a point on it) crappy.

Things like a red dial phone (you can find it in the photo at the top of this post), the receiver of which feels comfortable and beautifully ergonomic in your hand when you are making a call. Especially if you are making that call from the comfort of a 1960s-era telephone table!

And a made-in-Peterborough (Ont.) Westclox clock that is easy to read and brilliantly precise, and beautiful to boot:

Westclox clock

And timeless children’s toys, like the Fisher-Price garage:

Fisher-Price Garage

And, yes, a useful and space-saving folding-steps step stool:

Gorgeous step stool

Which I have now absolutely determined I must have, sooner or later.

Is the Manse a museum? No. It’s a place where the ever-patient Raymond and I like to have, and use, and appreciate, thoughtfully designed stuff, no matter what era it’s from. It is, I hope, an interesting place. A little on the eclectic side.

A place where every object has a story.

2 thoughts on ““Are you building a museum?”

  1. I share your affection, Katherine, for vintage things (do-dads, objets d’art, furniture etc.) and music that evoke happy memories of various points along life’s journey. Being an old-timey thing myself, how could I not be fond of old-timey stuff? I’m also a bit of a hoarder, although not one lured by garage sales. Four years after moving into our current home I still have a basement full of stuff I haven’t been able to part with. Like you I appreciate more and more how beautifully designed and underappreciated things often were in the mid-20th century – and before. Especially cars. Our dining-room table came from a Quebec convent and is more than a century old. Among other things, I’ve decorated my cosy little study with one of those pneumatic tubes in which copy used to be sent from the newsroom to the composing department (before the days of pagination), plus a radio from the ’40s, and a couple of vintage phones (one being of the candlestick variety that film stars like Humphrey Bogart used in movies. I inherited the radio and phones from my late father, who was quite the collector (phones, radios, cars). I also have an ancient chair that my grandmother once owned. I recently acquired a Strat-O-Matic baseball board game like the one my buddies and I loved to play 50 years ago. Just having all these old things around gives me a good feeling, a connection to the past. Museums are good. They remind us of where we came from, and we all need that.

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