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Provenance vs Family Memories

Posted by Donnah 04/22/2013 0 Comment(s) Let's Talk Glass,

I call it the" little old lady syndrome". You know what I mean: A seller states "I bought this from a 90 year old woman and she said this belonged to her mother, so it's an antique."  Really? I've got an orange and white cat figurine from the estate of a 97 year old woman. It was given to her years ago by her 98 year old mother who remembers playing with one just like it as a child. So that makes it... 

25 years old. That's right. My great-grandmother died about 25 years ago at 98, my grandmother died last year at 97. The figurine was bought at a big box store in the mid-1980's. I know. I bought it. But she remembered having one as a child? What my great-grandmother was saying is that she remembered having an orange and white cat as a child, not the figurine.
Sometimes though, memory can play tricks on us. When friends or family members tell stories, that's all they are doing - chatting, telling a story. Their intent is to entertain, not establish provenance. And perhaps the person listening isn't paying close attention. I have a necklace that my granny gave me. I remember she said that she got it when she and granddad were dating, around 1920. Wait..... She was born in 1910. So maybe what she really said was that she got it when she was 19 OR 20, not "in 1920". See how easy it is to accidentally get facts mixed up.
There is a children's game called "gossip". Here is how it works. People stand in a circle. A statement is written on a piece of paper. The first person reads the statement and then whispers it in the ear of the next person. The others, in turn, whisper what they think they heard into the ear of the next person. The last person says out loud the statement they think they heard. It is usually totally different than what is written on the paper.
We all know co-workers or family members who embellish the truth a little about how much something is worth, where it came from or how old it is. For them it is a matter of pride or one-upmanship. These little white lies often get unknowingly passed along as fact.
The bottom line is, make sure you know the difference between stories and provenance. Having someone's personal recollection of an item is just the beginning. Take that info as a starting point for your research. If possible, find out when the item was actually produced or popular. Look for an old photo of the person with the item. Don't believe what you are told unless it is consistent with you already know to be factual. And please don't pass on stories and old wives tales, no matter how charming, until you have done your research and are confident about the facts.

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