May 22, 2011

The lives of vintage items before they reach you

Day 142 of Vintage 365


The second half of May might seem like a rather odd time to suddenly wax poetically about the smell of a wood fire, but that's precisely what I'm in the mood to do this crisp, buttercup sunshine kissed morning.

You see, a few days ago a small parcel containing vintage recipe booklets (aka, cookery pamphlets) I'd ordered online arrived and the moment I tore open the bubble envelope, I was greeted with the unmistakably sweet, soothing, instantly recognizable scent of a wood fireplace (I'd even go so far as to say that the scent was distinctly that of hickory wood, but as I don't profess to be an absolute expert on smoky odours, I'll simply call it a robustly scented wood smoke).

The items themselves are in wonderful condition, especially given their very fragile nature and age. I like to close my eyes and picture that they've been stored loving for the past several decades in a country farm kitchen, on a shelf near an old wood burning cast iron bot belly stove, taken down every now and then when their owner needed a time-honoured dish for a church potluck, baby shower, or anniversary supper.

I see  her as being a charmingly sweet women in her 70s or 80s, soft white curls framing her sweet-as-a-baby-doll round face, a beloved, well worn apron covering her handmade dress, named something sublimely grandmotherly like Mae or Elsie.


{I can't help but imagine that it was a deeply beautiful vintage wood burning cook stove like this splendid example, which comes by way of 7thswan on Flickr, that produced the tell-tale scent my "new" cookbooks are imbued with.}


In Elsie's house that same scent of good old fashioned wood smoke had permeated everything, from the patchwork quilt on her four post bed to the lace curtains she'd hung up on the sitting room windows back in 1952.

It would be stronger - more heady - in the winter, but always there, even on the toastiest of August afternoons, when the stove was turned off, diner coming instead from the incomparably fresh vegetables she'd picked from her verdant garden earlier in the afternoon, her beloved collie Annabelle trailing her around the rows of butter lettuce, plump radishes, and ready-to-tumble-from-the-vine heirloom tomatoes.

Of course, I'll never know the true back story of these simple, wonderfully charming recipe booklets, nor where - or when - they picked up the delightful wood smoke perfume they came packaged with. In collecting and buying vintage and antique items we so often are in the dark when it comes to the lives these pieces have owned before they became our own.

I don't create quaint little tales for every yesteryear item I get the joy of adding to my collection, but any time one arrives with a distinct (pleasant!) scent, I can't help but let my mind spin creative stories of the people, places and years that that something I now call my own were an important part of.

In collecting and treasuring vintage pieces, do you also find yourself, my sweet dears, captivated by thoughts of the people who possessed those treasures before you? (Whether they smell, soothingly, of decades worth of fireplace smoke or not Smile)


  1. Great post, many thanks. I do see soul and story in vintage onjects. When you get the chance, please visit a blog post I made that sort of resonates with your musings on the lives of vintage items:

    "Meet Filmo,the storyteller"

  2. I thought I was the only one who wondered where vintage items came from. From vintage curtains that were hand sewn to dishes and cutlery that I use every day, I would love to know their history and how they ended up in a store or a flea market. Great piece you wrote.

  3. I always think about my vintage items. I wonder who carved my big dough bowl and how many breads were kneeded inside. I wonder about all of my worn antique furniture pieces and hope that someone doesn't miss them.

  4. Did you know there are still kitchen wood cooking stoves available on the market? Also would you know where could I find information on how to cook on a Antique wood cook stove ?

  5. Yes, that is one of things I love so dearly about vintage, imaging the items previous life. I love imaging who was using a cookbook I have or thinking about wear they wore the dress to. Every so often the seller of a vintage item knows part of the story behind it, which makes it even more fascinating.

  6. Oh, I love this. I never would have put the wood fire and stove together. What a neat way to think about this cookbook.