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Finding Inspiration in Antiques

The editor of the Guideposts Books’ Chesapeake Antiques Mysteries series shares how his fascination with vintage treasures began.

Jon Woodhams' humpback clock served as inspiration for a new book series

Why do people love antiques? Perhaps it is the thrill of the hunt. Perhaps it is the quality and craftsmanship or the classic designs found in many older items.

Some enjoy them because of a longing for a simpler time, for the sense of nostalgia that we find in these old items. And some people love antiques because they hold memories of family members or early childhood that fade as we grow older. While I love antiques for every one of the reasons above, it is often this last one that propels my search for antiques.

When I was a child, my mother’s parents lived just down the road from us outside our small Michigan town. Grandma was famous for her homemade molasses cookies, and somehow I often seemed to arrive at her house just as she pulled a batch of them from the oven of her wood-fired stove.

Other times my bib-overall-clad grandpa and I would sit together in companionable silence on the spacious porch, and he would give me a fresh, soft piece of Juicy Fruit gum. The tastes of Juicy Fruit and of molasses cookies evoke a world of childhood memories.

Three of the things I loved most at my grandparents’ house were a humpback mantel clock, a stereoscope (sometimes called a stereopticon), and a Victor Victrola. (I won’t even mention Grandpa’s John Deere tractor or Grandma’s upright piano!)

I delighted in the clock’s rhythmic ticking in the quiet parlor and its gentle chimes playing the stately Westminster chimes, then counting the hour.

The stereoscope was an early form of View-Master, itself now an object of nostalgia for my generation, that allowed the user to view photos and engravings in eye-popping 3D. The images printed on the cards took me away to other places and other times. It was mesmerizing to study the exotic locales and peoples depicted in three dimensions.

Perhaps most intriguing to me, Grandma’s Victrola occupied an upstairs bedroom in the rambling white farmhouse. And even though we had a record player at home that I often listened to, there was something fascinating to me about the ratcheting crank, the rapidly spinning 78rpm records, and the scratchy yet vibrant tone of the records, pouring out of the opened doors on the walnut cabinet.

When I was still very young, my grandparents moved from their big old farmhouse to a newer house, just down the road. To downsize, they held a large auction that drew people from around the area. Sadly, the Victrola, along with many other items I had known, was sold to someone outside the family, and I never saw it again.

The Westminster-chiming mantel clock followed my grandparents to their new home and now belongs to my Aunt Barbara. The stereoscope (along with a large selection of the 3D picture cards), I am grateful to report, later came to me, and I cherish it still.

A close-up of the tone arm of Jon's Victrola


Still, in some fashion, I must have mourned the loss of the Victrola and the clock. For when I was still a very young man, I found a 

clock shop where I put a Westminster-chiming clock on layaway until I had paid for it and could take it home.

It was not an antique, but its sound brought back wonderful memories—and the newer-style keywound movement was far less finicky than the pendulum movement in the one my grandparents had owned. I have it to this day, nearly thirty years later.

The Victrola took longer, but I eventually purchased a similar wind-up phonograph—a Columbia Grafonola, and then later I found a Victor Orthophonic machine and brought it home—not quite a match for the one my grandparents had, but close enough. My childhood memories had again taken on a tangible and audible form, and I could enjoy them whenever I wanted to.

Over the years, I have scooped up many, many other bits of my childhood memories at antique stores from Oregon to New York, with many stops in between, and my antique obsession shows no signs of abating. So when it came time to develop a new series for Guideposts Books, it was easy for me to draw upon my genuine love of antiques as both an inspiration and an integral part of the plot.

Chesapeake Antiques Mysteries revolve around a charming antiques store, chock full of enticing and arcane treasures from ages past. In this new Guideposts exclusive set, the antiques themselves lead our heroine and hero on a quest, just as rediscovering my grandparents’ antiques did for me.

So we hope you’ll enjoy the antiques—and the charming mysteries surrounding them—in the Chesapeake Antiques Mysteries.

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