Monday, November 30, 2009

End of an era.

I grew up in the military and we lived in base housing, which was nice, but never really ours. I was fifteen when my parents bought the house across the street from where I live now, and we moved for the first time into a home that was all ours. At the time my current house was occupied by an old man named Sylvan A. Wright. He was 75. Sometime after we moved in he had a household sale. He was getting remarried and was going to be moving to his new wife's house over on Wright Street. He was selling a beautiful 1917 Magnavox radio. You can see it here in this picture.

I have always loved old things and was begging my mother over and over to lend me one hundred dollars so I could buy this lovely piece. Mr. Wright heard me and surprised me by giving me the radio. Along with the radio he also gave me a dresser scarf (you can barely see it on the radio), his former wife's stethoscope (she was a nurse), and a lovely dresser set that also belonged to her. The dresser set consisted of a mirror, brush and small jewelry box. The jewelry box came with an assortment of odd little jewelry pieces. There was also a matching set of his that consisted of a cigarette case, a rectangular locket, tie clip and cuff links. These were engraved with his initials. I still have the locket, but someone stole the cigarette case and I'm not sure what happened to the clip and cuff links. I'm a very sentimental person and these things were very special to me and became even more special to me when I moved into this house, the house that used to be his.

Over the years I found a really nice antique dresser and I always displayed my three piece dresser set on vintage doilies on that dresser. Then came a time when it had to go in storage. When I got my stuff out of storage the brush and mirror were showing some damage. I thought they had been under something heavy or something. They went back on my dresser. Then when I moved to another smaller house, they had to go back in storage again. When I got them out the next time, they had even more damage than the first time. I was curious what was happening to them, but couldn't find any information. I had a computer, but things weren't like they are now where you can find almost anything on the internet. I was saddened to see them chipping away and made sure they were out of reach of any small children. One day I noticed the "chipping" had increased. I decided to wrap them and put them away. I would later find out that turned out to be a really good decision on my part.

Fast forward to the present.
I wanted to change some things around the other day and so I needed this little bookshelf that was in my closet. The brush and mirror had deteriorated again in the meantime and I had wrapped them in layers of tissue paper and they were in the closet at the back of the shelf, so when I pulled it out I had to remove them first. My friend wanted to know what the package was so I opened the wrapping and showed her the set. I almost cried at that point because the damage had greatly increased and the mirror was now showing mold and the back of the brush was bubbling. When I picked up the brush to show her the bristles it was sticky and left the stickiness on my hands. I became very determined to find out what was happening. The trouble was that I couldn't remember just what the material was called. I knew it was an art deco plastic, but didn't know the terms.
I put art deco plastic and whatever other terms came to mind into the search engine until I finally hit upon "celluloid" and "bakelite". Then I knew I was on to something and searched sites until I found pictures of sets like mine. I found a site highlighting a lady named Julie Robinson who wrote two books on the subject and studied it in school. She said on her site, "Contact me" and gave her email address. I immediately sent an email to her, outlining my experience and describing the damage I was seeing. When I got the email back from Julie, I actually sat down and cried.
I finally found the answers I was seeking but they were devastating. My lovely set had a terminal illness. There was nothing that could be done to save it. The jewelry box was still in very good condition, looking very much like it did the day I got it, but the brush and mirror were not going to survive. I realize now that it was a very good thing to put those two pieces away when I noticed the damage. I think that might be what saved the box from a similar fate.
I put the box on a cloth with the brush and mirror to take some last pictures of the set and then I did as Julie told me and washed it out with warm soapy water, dried it and then let it air dry completely before putting the velvet pad and jewelry back into it. I then had to say goodbye to my lovely set, the brush with natural hog bristles and the mirror. I was looking at them sitting there and I decided I had to save the glass. I put the pictures from that endeavor in another blog.
It is a lovely piece with beveled edges. I can either have it re-silvered or wash the silvering off and use it as a clear glass piece. Maybe I will throw it into a stained glass piece as the center. In fact I am leaning more and more toward that answer. I have some other pieces of very old glass and I think it would be neat to do a piece with all of them. I will have to work on a design.
In the meantime I will cherish the little box and all it's belongings and continue to love the fact that the stuff belonging to the first Mrs. Wright still lives in her home. I never knew her. I think she died quite some time before we ever moved here, but having her stuff "return home" always gave me some little sense of satisfaction. I know. I'm weird.

The whole set. Doesn't really look that bad in this picture.

Here you can really see the damage on the mirror.

Here if you look closely you can see the bubbling on the back
of the brush.

The little box.

The hog bristles.


Becky said...

Awe. They're so beautiful. That's too bad.

Christine said...

That is so neat that her things ended up back in her home. I would cry too. They are beautiful old things.

The Invisible Mo said...

Thanks. I think they are beautiful, too. I could get another set similar to them, but it just wouldn't be the same.

mental mosaic said...

I am very sentimental, too, and can understand your feelings! As the youngest, I was the last in line for most hand-me-down things, and I felt a responsibility towards them, as though I was a museum curator.

How sweet of your neighbor to give you those things. He must have known that you would truly cherish them - as this post proves!