Sunday, January 22, 2012

On Moving with Antiques and Books…and Combining Two Collections

 As a friend dragged one of Tyler’s books from the moving truck, she concluded that the “War” label on the top indicated that the box contained cannon balls rather than books.

Why the confusion? 

Tyler took the “Tetris” approach to packing his boxes, whereas I packed boxes I could physically haul myself.  If you're moving with books like we did the other week, we recommend that you do not over-stuff boxes of books. My boxes were bearable to lug from one town to the next; Tyler’s were not. 

Moving the books was difficult, but parting with those that simply did not fit into our new space was an emotional battle that played out over a fortnight.   Overall, our libraries complement each other’s well.   I was short on books about metals, warfare, and ceramics, and Tyler was short on books about textiles (especially needlework), religion in America, and history of the book and print culture.  All told, we estimated that we brought over 2,000 books into our new home.  We do not have room for 2,000 books.  So after we identified the books we couldn’t live without and placed them on book shelves, we pruned the collection and separated the rejects into books to sell/donate to Goodwill (Bands and Drummerboys of the Civil War and a Catholic Bible) and books to offer to friends (duplicate copies of Montgomery’s Textiles in America and Blassingame’s The Slave Community).   There were some cases where we had to keep two copies of a single book.  For example, I own an autographed copy of Styles’ Dress of the People, and Tyler owns a copy I gave him and inscribed.     
In the case of Demos’ classic A Little Commonwealth, we owned two revised paperback editions and one original hardback first edition.  We couldn’t discard the original, and I insisted on keeping the copy with the revised introduction.
Don’t they look nice next to each other? 

And there were instances in which each of us defended keeping certain tomes most reasonable people would have discarded.  I decided that we needed both the first and second editions of Krill and Eversmann’s Early American Decorative Arts (foundational references for material culture! One of the first books about decorative arts I ever bought! Beautiful cover on the first edition! I’m cited in the updated edition!), and Tyler insisted on keeping his beloved Biesty’s Cross-Sections: Man-Of-War (an illustrated children’s book he dubbed an “equally valuable reference” in comparison to Early American Decorative Arts).1  

But we don’t just have books.  We also have [an]‘tiques.

Pack your stuff as professionally as you can afford.  As long as you’re not moving too far and you’ll be unpacking right away, there is no shame in using cardboard boxes (which really aren’t “conservation safe”), bubble wrap, and packing paper to swaddle your gout pots, case photographs, export china, and red mid- (20th-) century lamps.   If you run out of packing supplies at the last minute, Tyler suggests using Nicole’s (clean) bath towels to fill in the nooks and crannies.

You’ll be able to stuff a lot of things into cardboard boxes or, in our case, our “empty space” (chests, trunks, and the like), but some stuff will need to be carefully transported and carried with minimal packaging materials  by hand (unless you have a more robust moving budget than we did!).   This means that your friends might be parading some unusual things out of your truck, into your home, and up your stairs.  Thus, you need to be prepared to defend your antiques collection to the friends who help you move.   You might think an early nineteenth-century mousetrap or a cobbler’s bench are cool, but you will likely need to take a moment to explain why they’re so cool to your friends (you think old mousetraps are sculptural in the case of the former and you appreciate crafts of all kinds in the case of the latter).2 

On the bright side, having a lot of books means that you have some bonus display space on top of bookshelves for your antiques.

But when you need to downsize to accommodate your alarm clock and printer, you need to know the best way to part with some things.  How many mid-nineteenth-century glass alcohol bottles does one really need?

Probably not the eleven Tyler owns. 

But if you need to downsize, find your local flea market and set up a stall some Sunday, or take to eBay.  You’ll generate some extra cash, and you won’t be tripping over grenade boxes or farming implements.  Sometimes it takes moving all the cannon balls into your new place before you can figure out which ones should stay and which ones need to go.


1. The final tally:  1,172.

2. Tyler took his cobbler’s bench to Goodwill; it’s a mid-century reproduction, and he (surprise) never uses it.

Further Reading

For a recent opinion piece on why and how historians and other humanists continue to cultivate personal libraries in the days of digitization, see William Pannapacker, “We’re Still in Love With Books,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, December 4, 2011.

1 comment:

  1. As a friend of mine says, "you can never have too many books or cool hats."