When our downsizing clients have things they no longer need, we put on our matchmaker caps. Our job is to get those things to the places where they will bring the best return if they can be sold, or where they can do the most good if they will be donated.
Some of the vintage pieces we sell online or in our small Northborough vintage shop are purchased by people who are looking for something from their past. It can be for all kinds of reasons…replacing a favorite book or adding pieces to a set of heirloom china. It’s always nice to be able to hear their story and share it with the particular client that item belonged to.
We found a nice story in our inbox today. One item we sold online on behalf of a client in December was a vintage three piece Goebel nativity set. Here’s what the buyer had to say:
“I just wanted to send you a note of thanks. When I was a child, my mom had this set. When I was in about 3rd grade we were discussing the baby Jesus at school and were asked to bring in something related as a “show & tell.” I promised my mom I would treat the little figure with the utmost care. As the oldest of five kids, she could usually trust me. Of course, you know what happened, I lost Baby Jesus! I was sad and so was my mom. At Christmas this year, I gave the set back to her, including the Baby Jesus! It made her day.”
We can’t wait to tell our client that her Nativity set wound up making a very special Christmas gift for another family.
The Boston Public Library (BPL) reopened its rare book collection today following ten weeks of painstaking remediation after mold spores were discovered on a medieval text and other documents in September. According to Smithsonian magazine, it’s thought that construction at the library caused the carefully controlled humidity in the department to be not so carefully controlled allowing the mold to grow. The Boston Globe reports that it took a specialized crew of 20 working daily for 10 weeks to clean the 500,000 books and 1 million manuscripts in the collection.
Most of us don’t have a rare book collection that numbers in the millions, but we do have a box of favorite books from our past stored away for a future day. If those books are stored in places where the only climate control is what the weather is that day (places like the garage, the basement or the attic) chances are pretty good that like that medieval text, they may have some mold spores. Or, more likely, fully grown and thriving mold colonies. One of the most disheartening feelings in the world is opening that special box of books and getting a nose full of musty, moldy, sad book smell.
Mold and mildew love nothing better than darkness, dampness and a tasty food source like a book. Once the fungus sets up shop and begins spreading its nasty spores, it doesn’t discriminate between outdated textbooks and beloved children’s books. Mold is an equal opportunity invader.
Unless the books are rare, valuable or irreplaceable, it’s best to dispose of moldy books. Not donate, dispose. It’s painful to do, but really it’s the only choice. It’s not worth the risk that by donating you may send the book somewhere it can spread mold to someone else’s collection or even worse, send it to the home of someone sensitive to mold like a person with asthma.
Moldy and musty books can be cleaned, but it’s a time intensive process. Books that have great sentimental or financial value are likely best cleaned by a trained conservation professional. Books that are not quite so pedigreed, but are worth the sweat equity to try and save can be worked on at home. There is a lot of information about how to do this from true book lovers and experts available on the internet–a simple search will give you lots of methods to try. We are certainly not experts, but we’ve found that sunshine, fresh air and a gentle wiping can go a long way towards freshening a sentimental favorite.
If your book has rusty reddish spots, you might have foxing instead of mold. Foxing happens when the minerals in the paper change over time. Foxing isn’t pretty, but it also isn’t terrible and invasive. Mold can generally be distinguished from foxing because it comes in a dingy rainbow of colors: blues, blacks, grays, greens, yellows.
Disheartening though it may be to find that your beloved copy of Little Women, Nancy Drew Secret of the Old Oak or To Kill a Mockingbird has been feasted upon by fungus, the good news is that for many titles, another copy can be found through a reputable online seller.
You don’t need a brass spittoon. It’s not valuable, it’s not attractive and you can’t even remember where it came from. There is no logical reason to keep it. But for as long as you’ve lived in your home, that spittoon has been sitting on the fireplace hearth. You can’t let it go.
So don’t. At least don’t right now.
When you’re making hundreds of keep, sell, or donate decisions, there are always things that linger until the end because you’re on the fence about keeping them. Designate a special place to gather those items. If it’s a reasonably collection, rather than force a choice that you might regret later, call a time out. Pack them up so you can make a decision when you’re under less pressure.
Photograph the items and label the box so you don’t forget they exist. When you have time and emotional distance from your transition or estate dispersal, unpack and spend some time with them. You may find that even though you no longer have a hearth, that spittoon is fabulous on your dresser filled with poppies and ferns. Or you may find that it isn’t important after all. What matters is that you gave yourself a chance to think about it.