Monday, May 3, 2010

My small window into a stranger's life

DH and I love antiques and antique shopping.  Although we sometimes have a goal in mind, it is the unexpected treasure that really fills us with joy.  I have long lusted after a wooden spool chest but the price always seems ridiculously high for a decorative item.  I rarely see them under $500 and most are much more than that.  While rummaging through one of our local antique markets last week, I noticed a metal spool chest and zoomed in like a torpedoe.  The price wasn't out of reach ($249), I had the money squirreled away from my Etsy sales, and I thought I could bargain for a better price since it was the last day of the month.

The prudent part of me took hold, so I slept on the idea.  Or, I should say, I tossed and turned on the idea for the night!  By morning, I had convinced myself to go for it.  I called the shop and asked them to contact the dealer to see if he would accept $200.  Whoo hoo!!  Price accepted, and I was off to bring back my new treasure.

I was so excited when I first saw this piece that I did not really appreciate the contents.  It has four glass-fronted drawers; each drawer was chock full of goodies.  I soon realized that this piece was used as someone's sewing box.  I love that idea!  Then and there I decided that I, too, was going to use this lovely piece as part of my daily sewing life.

It's hard to tell when this was actually last used by the owner, but it was pretty dirty.  I doubt that a seamstress would allow her possessions to get in such a state.  I surmised that this chest has been in someone's garage or someone's antique store for quite awhile.  As I carefully removed all of the items from the drawers so that my wonderful DH could clean this baby, I realized that I was uncovering pieces of another person's life.

The top drawer held only thread - silk thread!  Manufacturers I've never heard of:  Champion, Belding Hemingway, Corticelli.  Silk thread is expensive, so I decided that the seamstress was not just mending and making doll blankets!  This was a person who loved quality in her craft.  Did she do alterations on expensive clothing?  Did she make designer fashions for herself?  Did she create beautiful appliqued quilts with tiny, tiny stitches?

As I worked down into the next drawer, I found crochet needles, zippers, several hemmer feet, hat pins!  A bobby pin - that reminded me instantly of my own mom who thought bobby pins were the best invention since the wheel.  What would I find next?

Scattered throughout the 3rd and 4th drawers were plastic pill bottles (snap on caps - nothing childproof back then) from a Rexall drugstore filled with various items.  Fabric-covered buttons, small white buttons, pink sequins, pearls, small metal "coins" with a punched hole for sewing.  Costumes!  Maybe my seamstress worked on costumes!

Eureka!  Tucked at the back of the third drawer were two more pill bottles.  This time, however, the prescription paper was still in the bottle.  Lydia Nicklesen had a prescription filled at the Rexall Drugstore in Montebello, California in November 1959.  The second bottle was for Aron Nicklesen in 1966.  If Mrs. Nicklesen was sewing in 1959, she would most likely be in my parents' generation - the Greatest Generation - those who lived through the depression and were in the prime of life during World War II.  No wonder all the bits and pieces from her sewing life were saved in these little bottles.  No one from the depression era ever throws out a single thing without a fight!

More odds and ends:
  • A sewing machine lightbulb
  • A penny
  • Tailor's chalk kept in a small box marked "Helena Rubinstein, Apple Blossom Time Perfume Purse Flacon"
  • Two small boxes of matches carefully covered in yellow and green felt and decorated with tiny metal shells - perhaps a gift from a child?
  • A bandaid marked Long John No. 100 Adhesive Bandage
  • A box of glass head pins from K-Mart - 61cents!!!!
  • A receipt from the Montebello Sewing Center (a Singer approved dealer)
  • A tiny plastic camel - did a grandchild come to play in grandma's sewing room?
I'm going to keep some of Mrs. Nicklesen's things in her sewing kit along with mine.  I want to remember that someone else used this chest as part of her creative life.  Glass head pins have been on my "to buy" list for quite awhile.  I'm going to use the ones from K-Mart.  Thank you, Mrs. Nicklesen, for your pins -- and for sharing a bit of your life with me.


  1. Excellent find!

  2. Thanks - I'm enjoying it. I put all my thread in it today. It'll be nice not to rummage through my old hat box to find the right color thread!

  3. Came across your blog when searching for Coricelli silk thread. I recently acquired an empty thread chest and am looking for antique spools to fill it. Loved your post and the description of all the treasures you found inside. :)

  4. Came across your blog when searching for Coricelli silk thread. I recently acquired an empty thread chest and am looking for antique spools to fill it. Loved your post and the description of all the treasures you found inside. :)