In a post a few days ago I promised to tell you about the contents of the vintage Birks box that you could see in one of my photos. (You can check out that post here, if you’re interested. I was rambling on about the modern wonders – such as wi-fi – that would have amazed me had I known about them when I was a kid growing up right here at the Manse. In the photo, the Birks box was beside the printer in the Manse’s study that I am able to use wirelessly – magically, if you ask me – from downstairs where I usually write.) Well, tonight is the night I open the box for you, so to speak.
But first perhaps I should say something about Birks, for readers – particularly those from the U.S. and other far-flung places – who may not be familiar with the reference. Birks is a legendary Canadian fine-jewelry store, founded in Montreal – where its flagship store still stands on Phillips Square downtown – in 1879 by Henry Birks. Purchases from Birks come in a very distinctive blue box, kind of like a Tiffany’s box but more blue than Tiffany’s aqua. If you unwrap a gift to discover that it is in a Birks box, you just know it’s going to be something lovely.
This particular Birks box was a gift – a gift from Raymond to me this past Christmas. I could tell it was something vintage as soon as I unwrapped it, because the box was a little dented and worn. Given that (as regular readers well know) I love vintage – not to mention things from Birks – my heart raced. So what was it? Here, have a look!
Okay, it’s something covered in gorgeous leather, and turquoise to boot! Very good start. Now let’s open it up:
As you can see, my treasure from Birks is a vintage writing kit. Metal hinges allow you to open it up and keep it open, and inside are pockets and sleeves for writing paper – some of which is still there – and envelopes – some of which are still there – and a pen and whatnot. The surface where the writing paper is tucked into leather corners is firm enough that you can readily write on it. I can just see someone – me, in fact – opening up this sleek, elegant case while travelling in a train coach (the Orient Express?) or by airplane (first class on Pan Am?) and dashing off a letter or thank-you note or two, affixing the stamps that I’d have tucked into one of the pockets, and mailing my missives from my destination. (Hong Kong? Berlin? Moscow? Paris?)
Raymond found this lovely, lovely thing in Montreal, the home of Birks. It was one of the items that had been donated to the annual bazaar – called the Fall Fair – at the church that we attended when we lived there, and of which Raymond remains an elder. The Fall Fair at the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul is quite the event; people line up in the Saturday-morning November cold for an hour or more before it opens, to try to get to the treasures first. It raises a lot of money for the good work the A&P (as it is fondly called) does in the Montreal community. Here’s a photo Raymond took at the Fall Fair in 2010, which gives you an idea of how big and busy an event it is:
The night before the Fall Fair, the church holds an event that Raymond and I love going to. It’s another fundraiser; you have to buy a ticket to get in. Then you get to enjoy wine and cheese – and get first dibs on some of the nicest and most interesting articles that have been donated to the Fair. Over the years we’ve acquired some really great things at this event: funky glass candlesticks, richly coloured crystal goblets, fine books, and a desk lamp that was once in use at one of Montreal’s grand old railway terminals, Windsor Station.
My Birks writing kit came form this past year’s pre-Fall Fair wine and cheese night, which I was unable to attend because of commitments here at home. Raymond told me he spotted it as soon as he walked into the room, and knew he had to get it for me.
As you can tell, I adore this beautiful writing kit: its wonderful design, its vintage leather that smells so good, its golden Birks logo saying it was made in England. It is easily one of the nicest gifts I have ever received. I love it almost as much as I love Raymond! Who is the kind of husband who knows my tastes and likes well – and thus finds the best vintage gifts ever.