Monday, May 6, 2013

Object lesson: Why do we buy what we buy?

Sorry, I made a reference to a pretty decent score over a month ago and I never followed up with what it was. This is what it was, a set of breakfast china, made in West Germany by Thomas for Rosenthal.

I mentioned I didn't want to start any new collections, right?

Well, I saw this set at a really fab sale in my hood and I thought it was so fetching. It has egg plates. Anything with egg plates or egg cups is aces in my book. I turned the pieces over to look at the mark and it said West Germany, which is always a good sign (predates the wall coming down, so it's at least a little bit vintage—though hell, that was 24 years ago, which doesn't seem that long ago. Sometimes I do forget that I am vintage; my memories tend to be hazy and glowy as if seen through Instagram filters).

Trouble was, I was already laden down with stuff to buy and it was the first day of the sale so—quelle horreur!—I was paying full price. I almost never pay full price. Thus I carefully put the egg plates back on the table and backed away slowly, despite the estate sale saleslady watching me and saying, "You're not going to buy those? But they're so precious!"

I know they're precious, woman! The colors! The stripes! The espresso cups! But I don't need another set of china. I have several yet we insist on eating off the boring casual-white Villeroy & Boch set we'd registered for when we got married 13 years ago, when we weren't so goddamned choosy and always overthinking our aesthetic choices the way we do now because....because... I've got too much time on my hands? And I think it's fun?

So I paid for everything else and hightailed it out of there, thinking I would return on the following discount days and try to buy the china I totally didn't need and wouldn't want to sell cuz there's no room in my booth/stall for that sort of thing and I can't be bothered with all the bubble wrap and peanuts that must be involved with selling such an item online.

But while I was killing the last hour I had before picking up my kids from school and getting sucked into the post-3 o'clock vortex that is chauffeuring them from activity to activity, I started googling the Thomas for Rosenthal china, in an unhealthy, obsessive way. I learned that Rosenthal is a venerable porcelain company in Bavaria, which has been around since the late 19th century, and that Thomas merged with them in the 1960s. I only found a couple pieces from this line for sale—and they weren't crazy expensive though it was obvious they were priced well below market value at the estate sale... Which made me want to get them. ASAP. But why? If I wasn't going to use them or sell them or even necessarily make room in the Danish modern china hutch to display them properly. WHY?

Then the coup de grace: Following some link from some European etsy seller to some Wikipedia entry (neither of which I can now find), I discovered that this particular set of china was purportedly designed by a Swedish woman of some renown in midcentury-Scandinavian-loving circles and even though I had never heard of her and was not familiar with her work and even now can't remember her name, I had to go back and buy the china. For full price. Which is what I did, managing to only be a few minutes late for school pickup.

The estate sale ladies didn't seem surprised to see me back, even though I seemed to think it was necessary to explain why it was so easy for me to drop by again ("Oh, you know, I live in the neighborhood and the house is on the way to my kids' school—no big deal!"). I'm not crazy.

This is when estate sales are bad news: When they make you want what you never knew you wanted and if you hadn't gone you never would have known you wanted it. Ignorance is bliss, and then it isn't.

That much I've learned after two years of blogging about my stuff (hey, happy anniversary, blog!): If an object has a story behind it—the story of how it was made or how it came to be possessed—then it becomes that much more irresistible.

Where is the irresistible china now? I managed to make room for it in the kitchen cabinet, two shelves above the Villeroy & Boch, just out of comfortable reach. I plan to boil an egg very soon.

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