Many years ago, when I was in my twenties, I spent several memorable days in Charleston, South Carolina, in the company of my dear friend George Pinckney, a southern gentleman if there ever was one. At that time, George and I were more than "just friends," and our visit to Charleston—a city he spent much time in as a boy—was a honeyed journey down the memory lane of George's then recent youth. It was a place he took pleasure in showing me, when we were callow young men starting out in the world. I remember the trip with great fondness and pleasure.
|A French porcelain cornflower-decorated saucer, ca. 1780s|
Photograph by Boy Fenwick
During our visit to Charleston, George and I came across an old-fashioned antiques shop of the kind that is rarely seen anymore today. It was a shop devoid of decorators' tricks or furbulows, and the interior was an unadorned, whitewashed shell containing the owner's wares on display for sale. That's it. It was all about the goods. The shop was owned by a woman who seemed positively ancient to me at the time, probably then in her late seventies, a contemporary then of my grandparents. Today she would be a contemporary of my parents, if they were still alive. My how time flies.
|A botanical print of a cornflower, ca. 1895|
Image courtesy of Vintage Collectibles
In the shop I was captivated by a fine porcelain saucer, decorated with blue cornflowers, to which I had a visceral I-must-have-this reaction. I learned from the dealer that it was probably French, dated from the late eighteenth century, and was in a pattern that was supposedly a favorite of Marie-Antoinette. The saucer's marked price was well beyond my pocketbook at the time. The dealer, however, graciously offered the ceramic bit to me at half the asking price, for—as she said—she recognized in me someone who had the potential to become a collector, and she wanted to encourage such an inclination. So I bought it, and I was thrilled to have it, as I have been ever since. It is one of my treasures to this day.
|A similarly decorated bowl in the collection|
of the Victoria and Albert Museum
Image courtesy of same
It is my understanding that Marie-Antoinette was responsible for the popularity of cornflower-decorated china, which became all the rage when the doomed Queen commissioned a service of it from Sèvres in the early 1780s. It has been popular ever since, as can be seen in the following photograph:
|A cornflower-decorated Corning Pyrocerama® casserole, ca. 1970|
in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum
Image courtesy of same
I ask you, Dear Reader, to keep in mind the influence that you have on others who are younger and more impecunious than you, and I implore you to share your passions with them, as the Charleston antiques dealer did with me thirty years ago. For, if appreciation for such objects is to continue beyond the madness of our times, it requires that we pass the flame of ardor for such things along to those who can carry it forward, when we are gone. Not as a labor, mind you, but rather on the wings of love. We are all but stewards of our possessions, and good fortune and responsibility come with them hand in hand. It is our duty to ensure that they be well cared for during but the whisper of time we are fortunate to own them, before we pass them along to the next generation.
Tell me, have you engaged a younger person in discussions of your collections yet? It is well worth it, I believe.