Frabjous Times

The real old curiosity shop

From a travel piece entitled "About Warwick" in Atlantic Monthly Issue 62, December 1862:
"If the visitor is inclined to carry away any little memorial of Warwick, he had better go to an Old Curiosity Shop in the High Street, where there is a vast quantity of obsolete gewgaws, great and small, and many of them so pretty and ingenious that you wonder how they came to be thrown aside and forgotten. As regards its minor tastes, the world changes, but does not improve; it appears to me, indeed, that there have been epochs of far more exquisite fancy than the present one, in matters of personal ornament, and such delicate trifles as we put upon a drawing-room table, a mantel-piece, or a what-not. The shop in question is near the East Gate, but is hardly to be found without careful search, being denoted only by the name of "REDFERN," painted not very conspicuously in the top-light of the door. Immediately on entering, we find ourselves among a confusion of old rubbish and valuables, ancient armor, historic portraits, ebony cabinets inlaid with pearl, tall, ghostly clocks, hideous old China, dim looking-glasses in frames of tarnished magnificence,—a thousand objects of strange aspect, and others that almost frighten you by their likeness in unlikeness to things now in use. It is impossible to give an idea of the variety of articles, so thickly strewn about that we can scarcely move without overthrowing some great curiosity with a crash, or sweeping away some small one hitched to our sleeves. Three stories of the entire house are crowded in like manner. The collection, even as we see it exposed to view, must have been got together at great cost; but the real treasures of the establishment lie in secret repositories, whence they are not likely to be drawn forth at an ordinary summons; though, if a gentleman with a competently long purse should call for them, I doubt not that the signet-ring of Joseph's friend Pharaoh, or the Duke of Alva's leading-staff, or the dagger that killed the Duke of Buckingham, or any other almost incredible thing, might make its appearance. Gold snuff-boxes, antique gems, jewelled goblets, Venetian wine-glasses, (which burst when poison is poured into them, and therefore must not be used for modern wine-drinking,) jasper-handled knives, painted Sevres tea-cups,—in short, there are all sorts of things that a virtuoso ransacks the world to discover."
Last modified: Mon Oct 15 14:00:25 EDT 2007
Added Gutenberg link.