Antiques, Sort of Like Archives
Leon Rosenstein, Antiques: The History of an Idea (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009).
Archivists, interested in the history and nature of collecting, will want to peruse this book on antiques by former philosophy professor and owner of an antiques business with his wife. Rosenstein contends with the concept of antiques, more complicated than one might think. He provides this definition: “An antique is a primarily handcrafted object of rarity and beauty that, by means of its associated provenance and its agedness as recognized by means of its style and material endurance, has the capacity to generate and preserve for us the image of a world now past” (p. 14). Later he provides an extended discussion of the ten criteria of what makes something antique, and archivists will discover elements that are similar to their notion of archives (including completeness, authenticity, and provenance).
Rosenstein gives us a useful review of the shifting notion of the antique over the past two thousand years, with some effort to relate antiques to civilization and human nature, such as “The antique’s form – its style and aged, enduring corporeality – enables our imagination to fancy in it the subjective spirit hibernating there. To live among the handmade is to live among the human. And particularly, to live perceptively and sensitively among the great creations of the past is to live among the historicality and universality of the human, for antiques are the materially immanent indicators of universal human historicality” (p. 37). Rosenstein’s historical analysis also suggests some connections with the development of archives, such as when he writes that the “appreciation of the antique in America during the 1890-1915 generation moved from the interest in antiques as mere curiosities and talismans with historical or cultural references . . . to an appreciation of antiques as objects having peculiar artistic and aesthetic properties as well, objects that were evocative of the past and of the world of early America and also beyond America” (pp. 142-143). This is, of course, the same era when state government archives began to be established and scientific history viewing such archives as laboratories.