Collecting History

Wherever you travel in this country, you have a good chance of bringing a piece of the past home with you

I drove twenty thousand miles and got just one real bargain. That was up the Hudson River on a boisterous, wind-scrubbed October day fifteen years ago. My friend Harris is an antiques dealer who at the time was specializing in live steam: elegant old working models of freight locomotives, tugboats, ocean liners. He had spotted a tiny ad buried in the part of The New York Times where they usually herald auctions of kitchen equipment; it announced a live-steam sale that Saturday in Claverack, New York. Harris was jubilant.Read more »

A Fascination With The Common Place

The vast jumble of objects that once brought solace to an eccentric heiress has become a great museum of the middle class

When Margaret Woodbury Strong died in her sleep on July 17, 1969, the demise of the seventytwo-year-old widow did not go unnoticed in Rochester, New York. For one thing, Mrs. Strong was one of Rochester’s richest inhabitants. She also wore sneakers and dressed, people said, “like a charwoman.” Most of all, Mrs.Read more »

Dime-store Doughboys

Fifty years ago these rough-and-ready tin soldiers were sold from bins cheap and by the handful. Today collectors are seeking them for their bright, simple vitality.

Commercially made metal toy soldiers date back to the late eighteenth century, when German tinsmiths began casting two-dimensional or “flat” figures of the sort immortalized by Hans Christian Andersen in “The Steadfast Tin Soldier.” European firms went on to develop sturdier, solid-cast three-dimensional figures of lead alloy, and in the 189Os an English toy maker named William Britain revolutionized the field with a line of less costly hollow-cast toy troops.Read more »

Henry Francis Du Pont And The Invention Of Winterthur

How a shy millionaire’s peculiar genius transformed his “country place” into an unparalleled showcase of American furnishings

SOME SIX MILES north of Wilmington lies a stretch of countryside chiefly inhabited by du Ponts, du Pont servants, and some two dozen major du Pont estates. Of these the largest, the loveliest, and by far the most eccentric is Winterthur, for seventy years the home of a shy, fidgety collector of antiques named Henry Francis du Pont. In Winterthur’s heyday as a private residence, between 1930 and 1950, it was far more than a rich man’s estate.Read more »

Electra Webb And Her American Past

How a brave and gifted woman defied her parents and her background to create the splendid collection that is Shelburne

What do the following items have in common—a peerless collection of old American juilts, a 220-foot steam-driven side-wheeler, last of its noble race, and the exact replica of six beautiful rooms in a millionaire’s Park Avenue apartment? The answer is nothing except that they all can be found at one of the most amiable public places in America: the Shelburne Museum at Shelburne, Vermont—”35 buildings on 45 acres and the S.S. Ticonderoga ,” as the little guide to the place puts it.Read more »

England’s All-american Corner

At Bath the British can catch glimpses of their rebellious daughter country’s history in an unusual museum

The scene is one of a quintessential Englishness: a stately manor house with sparkling bay windows giving out upon a broad expanse of finely trimmed lawn that reaches out toward the river Avon in the valley below, an exquisite formal garden with pebbled walks and a delicate fountain, the whole set off against a stone balustrade supporting a majestic row of classical stone urns. But there is something weirdly wrong with the picture nevertheless—what is that huge tepee, with all the children running in and out of it, doing out in front of the manor?Read more »

Pricing The Past

A splendid gathering of American folk art—half a century before its time

In recent years Pine Street has become the center of Philadelphia’s antiques market, and the shopkeepers there would give a great deal to be able to visit a store that must have been the object of considerable ridicule to their turn-ofthe-century forerunners. It stood at 1237 Pine, but we have no record of what the owner called it, or even of his name. Yet, as this photograph attests, he was something of a pioneer. Most of his stock anticipates by a good half century the recent boom in folk art. Read more »

Greenfield Village

What happened when the richest man in America decided to collect one of everything

The whole curious enterprise puzzled Americans in the 1920’s. Here was mighty Henry Ford, the man who said history was “more or less bunk,” collecting on a titanic scale every jot and tittle of the American past that he and his emissaries could lay hands on—four-poster beds, banjo clocks, cigar-store Indians, old boots, gas lamps, rusty old threshers, and wooden flails.Read more »

Art Out Of The Attic

Along with their rusty bedsprings, broken chairs, and other relics, the attics, closets, basements, and barns in this country are stuffed with pictorial surprises. Some of them are, very occasionally, works of real art, but most are the humble efforts of local or itinerant painters of the past who preserved on canvas the faces of families and friends or the simple events of daily life. Usually it is in old houses that these treasures of a younger America are found, and for years they have been neglected by scholars and left to gather dust, their stories hidden as well.Read more »