When I was in high school, my best friend Jenny and I collected paper ephemera and Americana – mostly Victorian postcards – and we used to love to spend Saturdays sifting through bins of paper offerings at flea markets. (I know, I know, we were sooooooooo badass. You wish you were edgy like us.) All summer, I’ve had a powerful nostalgic urge to do it again, so I spent a couple of my last summer Saturdays in flea markets and antique malls, getting my hands dirty, burning up camera batteries and picking up treasures. Jenny and I both transplanted to Illinois for college, and she still lives here too, so we reprised our flea market shopping at an enormous outdoor market in St. Charles three weeks ago.
I was mainly looking for interesting pieces of vintage costume jewelry that I might be able to take apart and rework. I didn’t find much, but I did pick up a handful of unusual oddments that will be appearing here and there over the next few weeks. I did find two prize pieces of jewelry that I have no intention of taking apart, however. The first was a long chain of handforged sterling silver round links in varying sizes, with a hook at one end to allow you to wear it looped twice as a choker, looped three times as a bracelet, hooked in the middle as a lariat, or as one long necklace. Very, very cool, and a sweet $7. I seem to have neglected to take a picture of it yet. The second was a piece that I found in a booth full of eclectic jewelry very badly presented, tangled up together in shallow trays. I found what I thought were two pieces that I wanted to see untangled, and so I embarked on a ten-minute project to get all the bits clear. When I finally got it free, I found that all the parts that interested me were in fact part of one very large brass necklace. It turned out to be a vintage piece from the mid-70’s designed by Rafael Alfandary, a mechanical engineer turned jewelry designer. I held it up to Jenny, browsing two booths over, who made a face and said, “It doesn’t look like it belongs on a person.” I mouthed, “I love it!” back at her, and proceeded to try to get the attention of the frazzled woman who ran the booth. As I had no idea at the time who Rafael of Canada was, I was unimpressed when she said, “Oh, that’s by Rafael of Canada. See the signature on the back?” and I tried to haggle. She was only frazzled in appearance. No haggling for Kateri. I decided she wanted too much for it, and we moved on elsewhere. But my attention was compromised, and I fretted and fidgeted, and said, “Well, I did just make a biggish jewelry sale…” and finally Jenny said, “All right, go get it.” So I did, and I’ve not regretted it. It’s a gorgeous, enormous, organic piece of distinctive jewelry and I’m proud of it. Here ’tis:
The second noteworthy thing I encountered in St. Charles was a pair of Civil War era handcuffs. This is one of the most brutal-looking things I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to tell from the photographs, and the owner of the booth wouldn’t let me open the case (it took some convincing to get her to let me take a picture), but these don’t appear to have any apparatus for opening them once they’re on. Ruminate on that a while. The tag on these reads “Civil War Era Wrist Shackles: Obtained from the descendants of John Crowe, an Alabama soldier who transported slaves.”