Friday, January 28, 2011

Mail-Order Country!

Like everyone else, I get a lot of mail-order catalogs. My wife Beth, who is 5'1", receives catalogs for petite fashions. Someone's got my number. Lately I've received several country catalogs.

These peddle "country" furniture, crafts, and gifts. Many of these items have been altered, the paint roughened up to simulate an antique look. Here's an item from a catalog which came the other day. The picture is of a small beat-up-looking table.

#6145. FARM TABLE. Handsomely reproduced in cherry wood with scalloped skirt and beveled legs painted in distressed green, our table has a planed hardwood top. Works well as serving table or dining room piece from Homerre and Jethrot, French crafters. $699.95.
Sounds pretty. Trouble is... it sounds like the table I bought several years back at a garage sale. I paid a dollar for it and later sold it at my own garage sale for another dollar. You're telling me I could've used some sandpaper on that table and sold it as "distressed" for seven hundred bucks?

That makes ME distressed!

Here's another one:

#4576. SPOOL CHEST. Our chest is reproduced from those of yesteryear, when ladies stored bobbins and spools of thread along with notions and fancy goods. Lightly finished in honey pine. All edges and corners have been rounded. $459.00.
Nice. I'll have to admit, that's a good price. I saw an original for sale twenty years ago, without "rounded corners" (i.e. in good shape) that went for close to that price. What would it bring today? What will this honey pine spool chest bring in twenty years? If I were "in it for the money," that's what I'd fret about. But the money's the least of it.

#2111. SHAKER PEGBOARD. Maple pegs are assembled with 3-foot board. Both beautiful and useful! $45.00.
Also beautiful and useful is this SHEEP DOORSTOP (#6700). "Heavy and handy, this happy lamb is hand painted to exacting specifications. $32.00."

#2289. ROCKER. Crafted from solid oak and rattan can back and seat, our chair gives years of leisurely pleasure and good support for your tired back. $210.00.
Some of these items are pretty. I've seen similar items in various shops around the country. But some items, I'm afraid, go too far.

#3900. WOODEN CATTAILS. A lovely bouquet, painted in lifelike colors. Remember the ol' fishin' hole by placing these around your swimming pool! Bouquet of 6, $35.00. 12 for $62.00.

#7844. COUNTRY SCENE. Beautiful three-dimensional wall hanging of a quaint country town. A perfect accent for your Jacuzzi! $70.00
Norman Rockwell lives, and his vision of simpler times.

I'm looking for more authentic country things. How about this one?

#3514. GOOD HOUND DOG! With distressed fur. Missing one ear. Walks with a limp. Neutered. Answers to the name "Lucky." $100.00.
That's an old joke, but why not? Or in my imaginary catalog, I might find this one:

#4477. KILLDEER NEST KIT. Comes complete with gravel for your driveway, carefully packed for shipment. Attract these lovely if neurotic country birds! $25.00.
Or these:

#5800. RAIN GUAGE. Every farmhouse, from Brownstown and Augsburg to San Bernardino and Providence needs one of these useful and homey devices. Attaches to any post or plank (not included). $29.95.

#1156. CALENDAR. Reproduced from a real feed store calendar! Each month treat yourself to a new country scene. Some scenes depict real Purina-fed barrows & gilts! $15.00 for 2011 calendar.

#4009. COFFEE CAN. Filled with nuts and bolts that don't fit anything! Brands of your choice. $20.00

$8778. HUBCAPS. Collected from real country ditches along real country roads. Decorative for any wall of your home, office, or woodshed. $79.00 each.

#7771. WOODEN MEADOW MUFFINS. To go with your herd of lawn cows! $12.00

#2587. PAWPAW TREE SEEDLINGS. Package of 12. $9.00.

What's the appeal of "country" products? The originals of some "country" products cost a lot of money. I collect antique metal signs for soft-drinks and brands of gasoline, and it's hard to find a bargain on these things. Coffee cans can be antiques, too, and milk bottles, old furniture and the like. (I'm not sure about meadow muffins...) Who'd know that store advertisements and everyday household items would be tomorrow's reproducible treasures?

I can't speak for collectors who have no foothold in rural life. But for many of us, thoughts of country living and "times past" are precious. That everyday "stuff," once taken for granted, now reminds me of childhood's happy times, as well as family heritage. It's no surprise that some of us will invest money for an item that brings those memories back. They're mementos, inspiring life's joys, sorrows, and blessed moments!

So....I'll see you over at the sale table of geese flowerpots....

(Originally published in Springhouse magazine and my book Journeys Home.)

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