Well-made Things

Under the labelsThe replacement jar for my now-apparently-vintage Hamilton Beach blender arrived this past weekend from eBay. A blank label under the inventory label, carefully obscured the data on origins which proclaimed that the replacement jar was “Quality Constructed in China.” It came complete with two tiny insects squished and preserved on the rubber gasket, a lid of dubious quality plastic and a rotating blade of creaky construction.

This is not a complaint (the glass jar will work fine) so much as a comment on how much has changed since eBay first appeared as a venue for selling and buying gently-used genuinely second-hand things. Much of the clothing and household items now sold at thrift stores such as Goodwill are of such low quality that they probably should not have been made in the first place. My sense is that it is much more difficult for students, artists, and young people starting out or older ones living on a limited pension to stretch their dollars in a reasonable way. Being able to buy well-made things – even if they are second-hand – imparts a certain dignity to one’s daily life.

I do love things that truly are quality material objects, such as the handsome table and bench set that my father-in-law made for us when we were living in our first home – a 1930s craftsman bungalow with a thirty-inch wide and seven-foot-long counter made of old-growth Douglas-fir in the kitchen and French doors looking out on an enclosed back porch across the entire width of the house. We were not able to take our lovely Highland Drive home with us on our many adventures since then, but the bench and table set – with its Douglas-fir inlay back and maple trim – has come with us and we’ve found the perfect niche for it in nearly every house to which we’ve moved.

Bench set

I’m sometimes working at this very table as I am writing my version of The Great American Dissertation. You can find out more about my research on things material and ephemeral in eighteenth-century France here.


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