What About Gifting Vintage?

By CC McGurr

When my editor asked me to write a piece about “vintage gifting,” her pressing question was: “Is it appropriate to vintage gift?”

Given that I’m engaged in the business of antiques and vintage wares, I’m of course enormously biased, but also knowledgeable, and always enthusiastic about things of the past.

Do most people enjoy receiving an antique item as a gift? It depends! In order to “gift right,” you’d have to know the recipient quite well, and find the piece that would excite them. The road of antiques, or vintage, is paved with marvels and wonders of another time. The condition of the discovered objects is mildly to absolutely irrelevant. I’ve bought shattered crystal chandeliers. Vintage artifacts are from a past era when items were made beautifully and with love, before mercantilism and mass production—a 21st-century compulsion—led to the terrible degradation of produced items.

So what’s in an antique? If it’s jewelry, it could be an amazing art deco piece, made out of bakkelite and silver sterling, timeless materials in terms of style and quality. If it’s for your mother, how about a delicate Limoges porcelain tea set? (I’m currently remodeling my kitchen around my own collection of precious antique tea cups. I worship them). The Victorian era had wonderful decorative themes for china, and a magnificent quality of porcelain, translucent and preciously elegant; that’s a delightful present, reminiscent of good manners, polite gatherings, and exquisite fare!

Children may also receive antique toys, including wooden rocking horses, vintage comic books, and puzzles—that is, if they’re young enough and not brainwashed by TV commercials! (Or beware, they may trash the house, like Dawn Davenport in John Water’s 1974 film Female Trouble—the Christmas scene.)

A consummate consumer should appreciate the distinction between a brand new item—a safe, predictable bet—and an antique, which is more of a romantic, sensitive gesture, and an act of social correctness.

While you give an antique, you’re also repurposing an existing item, thereby condemning commercial madness; while you pick a vintage gift for your significant others, you may hunt for that incredible collectible piece they’ve been wanting, or didn’t know existed (a 1990 deluxe makeup box by Versace, a Victorian braided hair necklace, a Ciciolina 1980s Playboy magazine, a deck of velour-coated playing cards, a taxidermied porcupine, an album of Maria Callas recorded live, or an exquisite cigarette holder with a lighter from the ‘60s, to name just a few).

Refrain from gifting out of your closet (only good for emergencies!). And if you don’t know any better, come and see me sometime.

The hunt for vintage is exhilarating. Let items talk to you. They have a spirit!

Happy Holidays.

CC McGurr
Le Grand Strip
197 Grand Street Williamsburg