Second hand things are great, and second hand shopping is amazing. It’s cheap, you get shoes that are already broken in and if you choose the right shop, your money can go to a great cause. If you’re wearing second hand, it’s also less likely that you’ll end up on a bus with 7 other people wearing exactly the same shirt.
A couple of weeks ago I took a second hand shopping trip to Corner Brook with an equally enthusiastic friend. She was looking for supplies for a sculpture, I was just browsing and got a great haul! A globe, a silk scarf with a luridly coloured map of Florida on it and a cow shaped milk jug. Happy times!
Whilst I really like quirky things, and scoring a bit of a bargain, what I really love is finding things that bear traces of their previous owner. I used to have a bit of a thing for antique doorknobs; where you can see the wear hundreds of hands have inflicted. At a second hand market in the UK I bought an album of someone’s holiday photos from a trip to Llandudno in 1926. Every photo was labelled in fountain pen ink and the album cover had a hand written dedication to a sweetheart. It struck me as being just too precious to be left in a pile of ‘stuff’. And was possibly the best £1 I’ve ever spent. I also own the pocket diary of a soldier whose pencil notes indicate that he spent the post World War 1 years being a bit of a ladies’ man.
These things were all brought to mind when I recently hiked to a defunct dump in Gros Morne National Park. It was used in the 1930’s to 50’s and it was amazing! There were mounds of broken weathered glass and bottles that glinted and sparkled like magic. The rusted frames of old bicycles and a car bonnet with the bullet holes of bored teenagers. A licence plate reading ‘Newfoundland and Labrador- Canada’s Happy Province’ There were old shoes that have baked in the sun and curled into Wicked Witch of the East oddities.
It struck me that the things that I enjoy about second hand shopping and the things that interested me at the dump were actually just the same. It was really intriguing to see snatches of these people’s lives. The fashion, the transportation, the home wares that were abandoned in their obsolescence at the dump. I learned a lot about the way people lived back then, from what they wore to the kinds of ketchup they ate to how they travelled and the fact they took the wheels off their bikes before throwing them out. And it struck a strange parallel with the things that people have chosen to give to the op shops.
It’s another prime example of how much of a connection can be made with people through things. I’ll probably never meet the person who wore those warped shoes, or who first owned my milk jug. But I now have a snippet of information, whether real or inferred, about their lives. There are hundreds of ways of gathering these snippets and this connection. Through antique fairs, second hand shops and even dumps. These things are all there waiting for someone to look at them, read into their stories and love them all over again. And that is why I think second hand things are great.