Old houses mean new collections

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Old House Musings

When I was a kid, I never noticed things like tin signs or old books. I might have thought a collection of old Coke bottles catching the light on a general store windowsill was a lovely sight, and I might have noticed the occasional rusted old clock from years gone by, but I never paid any of these beauties much attention.

When I got a little older and the old house bug found me, those things that had seemed like old-fashioned junk suddenly had a whole new meaning. There's just something about an old house that makes you want to furnish it with old-house things.

The first collection is born

My first serious collection began when I owned a home with very high ceilings. The kitchen was open up to the second-story beams, and I found the airy atmosphere a bit too much. It was like cooking in the middle of an open field. I needed something to "close in" the space without actually changing the structure of the room.

Enter tin signs.

The idea of a tin sign collection came to me at a little yard sale on a back road in western Kentucky. I found myself staring at a sign from the Briggs and Stratton factory that had moved operations to another town the year before. "That big sign came from the loading dock," the owner said, but I was already sold. He wanted twenty dollars; I haggled down to twelve and took it home. The sign fit perfectly above the hutch, so that's where it went.

That first sign led to another, then another, and soon my kitchen walls were covered with tin signs. The signs hawked everything from Pepsi-Cola at five cents per bottle to Sunbeam bread to Mobil Oil. The signs eventually covered all the available real estate in the kitchen, so I then moved the best finds -- the true antiques -- to other rooms in the house, where they could be showcased.

At yet another yard sale, I stumbled upon an old RC Cola thermometer. I held it up to the sun and wondered how that might look on my front porch.

You can imagine the rest: Two years later, my porch had a nice collection of old thermometers lined up on the wall, creating a homey backdrop for neighbors who came by to sit under the wide, cool ceiling fans. Even giving directions to the house became easier.

"You know the house with all the thermometers?"

"I sure do! Is that it?"

"That's it. We'll see you soon."

A new collection takes shape

It has been years since I left that old house safe in the hands of new owners. They wanted the tin sign collection, too. They said that they couldn't imagine the kitchen without it.

My new house has floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in almost every room. Of course that led to the newest collection: old books. I have spent hours combing through used bookstores, looking for first editions. I scour yard sales and estate sales, hoping to find an elusive antique hardcover in the dusty boxes. Slowly, those barren shelves are filling up with handsome volumes that will be read time and time again.

This house isn't all that old, and it isn't adorned with tin signs or thermometers. But I still love all things antique, and what you love gets into your blood, as those ancient books on my modern bookshelves can attest.