Antiques

From Three Men in a Boat, a novel written in 1888 and taking place in London:

... [T]hey must have had very fair notions of the artistic and the beautiful, our great-great-grandfathers. Why, all our art treasures of to-day are only the dug-up commonplaces of three or four hundred years ago. I wonder if there is real intrinsic beauty in the old soup-plates, beer-mugs, and candle-snuffers that we prize so now, or if it is only the halo of age glowing around them that gives them their charms in our eyes. The "old blue" that we hang about our walls as ornaments were the common every-day household utensils of a few centuries ago; and the pink shepherds and the yellow shepherdesses that we hand round now for all our friends to gush over, and pretend they understand, were the unvalued mantel-ornaments that the mother of the eighteenth century would have given the baby to suck when he cried.
Will it be the same in the future? Will the prized treasures of to-day always be the cheap trifles of the day before? Will rows of our willow-pattern dinner-plates be ranged above the chimneypieces of the great in the years 2000 and odd? Will the white cups with the gold rim and the beautiful gold flower inside (species unknown), that our Sarah Janes now break in sheer light-heartedness of spirit, be carefully mended, and stood upon a bracket, and dusted only by the lady of the house?

That certainly sounds like a timeless-enough musing. Here we are, "in the years 2000 and odd", and most anything Victorian-era that has survived to today is now an antique. But the narrator delves into his reasoning, and quickly finds himself (as he so often does) at odds with reality:

That china dog that ornaments the bedroom of my furnished lodgings. It is a white dog. Its eyes blue. Its nose is a delicate red, with spots. Its head is painfully erect, its expression is amiability carried to verge of imbecility. I do not admire it myself. Considered as a work of art, I may say it irritates me. Thoughtless friends jeer at it, and even my landlady herself has no admiration for it, and excuses its presence by the circumstance that her aunt gave it to her. But in 200 years' time it is more than probable that that dog will be dug up from somewhere or other, minus its legs, and with its tail broken, and will be sold for old china, and put in a glass cabinet. And people will pass it round, and admire it. They will be struck by the wonderful depth of the colour on the nose, and speculate as to how beautiful the bit of the tail that is lost no doubt was. We, in this age, do not see the beauty of that dog. We are too familiar with it. It is like the sunset and the stars: we are not awed by their loveliness because they are common to our eyes. So it is with that china dog. In 2288 people will gush over it. The making of such dogs will have become a lost art. Our descendants will wonder how we did it, and say how clever we were. We shall be referred to lovingly as "those grand old artists that flourished in the nineteenth century, and produced those china dogs." The "sampler" that the eldest daughter did at school will be spoken of as "tapestry of the Victorian era," and be almost priceless. The blue-and-white mugs of the present-day roadside inn will be hunted up, all cracked and chipped, and sold for their weight in gold, and rich people will use them for claret cups; and travellers from Japan will buy up all the "Presents from Ramsgate," and "Souvenirs of Margate," that may have escaped destruction, and take them back to Jedo as ancient English curios.

Some things he gets right: "We, in this age, do not see the beauty of that dog. We are too familiar with it" recognizes that something cannot be valuable unless it is rare, which is pretty much necessary for anything old to be considered value.

But it is not sufficient. The many relics of recently bygone eras that are in less than perfect condition are worthless, unless they are an example of something extremely rare or amazing. Here the narrator fancies that, rather than being at the forefront of an era of ever-improving manufacturing and artistic technique, he is at such a pinnacle that his despised trinkets will be future marvels, regardless of condition or skill.

Given the tongue-in-cheek buffonery of his character's actions, I would guess that rather than believing the latter, the author actually disbelieved that his era's manufactured goods would ever be of value. And in that I can sympathize: What of today's mass-produced plastic goods will survive the test of time to be treasured in the future? Perhaps it's the very destructible, disposable nature of today's goods that guarantees that what does survive 100 or 200 years will be rare and treasured.

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