As a little girl I packed my treasures in various boxes and bags. Around kindergarten, the object of my affection was a shiny black patent leather (well, probably plastic) purse. Inside it I kept one or two mini red pencils from TIME, bazooka joe comics, a princess phone key chain and a fake garnet ring. I’m sure it had other treasures, too, but I remember those in particular. And somewhere along the way, I lost that purse. Despite much desperate seeking on my part, it never reappeared and over time I stopped grieving for my lost things.
But not really. For some reason, that particular collection of items was special to me, and I’m not really sure why. I think that it must have represented some sense of my unique 6 year old self such that all these years later I can still recall the texture and feel of those objects.
I’ve noticed there is a great deal of interest in meaningful, with a capital “M,” objects these days. You can check out the Smithsonian’s list of 101 Objects that made America for a truly historical look at meaningful objects. For a more intimate look, The Washington Post has a great series, MINE , chronicling people’s one special object that defines them in some way. (My own contribution would have to be the anvil my dad made, which I wrote about last month). The relatively new site Zady, a purveyor of fine, handmade items, takes such pride in the idea of distinguishing stuff from meaningful objects that they have started an Instagram campaign to chronicle people’s thoughts. And in a twist on all of that, I ran across a story about a performance artist who gathered thousands of items in a Meta-Monumental Garage Sale, letting people select and take home an object to uncover their own sense of “art.” Sorry I missed that event, as it lifted the notion of “one man’s trash, another man’s treasure” to an actual art form.
Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that I love tiny little objects that are meaningful only because they were once so common. In particular, I am fascinated by Cracker Jack toys from the first half of the 20th century. Many of these charms were made from an early plastic called celluloid and they have a depth of color and precision that puts modern toys to shame. The earliest charms were often made of metal, tin, or glass–and some of them are incredibly lovely. Stuffed away in drawers, pinned to moldering felt hats, or lovingly placed on a charm bracelet, these tiny toys were a treasure far beyond the price of a Cracker Jack box. I use them to make jewelry because they add an unusual element to my work, especially for mixed media projects, but I also just love looking at them. Here are some of my favorites:
Six year old me would have loved these items, too, just because they were so, well, cute.
But grown-up me cherishes them because they have retained their charm, despite the many years that have passed. In fact, I think it is the notion of time bound up in these objects that makes them so fascinating. I may not own big pieces of the past, but these tiny little objects of desire (and collectors will pay a lot for some of the truly rare ones) that once belonged to someone else, are now mine to cherish, preserve, and
perhaps, pass on.