About Me

Growing up in a small New England town with a mother who was an antiquarian it was inevitable that I would be exposed to old things. After graduating from UMass/Amherst I lived in Connecticut, taught school, married, and raised three children in suburbia. A move to Newburyport MA renewed my interest in all things old. This background has now evolved into research, writing, consulting and all the things I love to do.

Prudence Fish

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

IS IT SILVER OR WERE YOU RIPPED OFF?

 

 ALL THAT GLITTERS IS NOT SILVER


There is something nice about having a silver spoon with which to stir your cup of coffee or tea.  At least I think so!


This year, not wanting to use sterling every day in the kitchen, I had a brainstorm.  Since antique mid 19th century coin silver (900 parts silver per thousand versus sterling at 925 parts per thousand) are delicate and elegant but not too expensive I decided to put together a collection of twelve nearly matching fiddle back coin silver spoons.  I would retire  the stainless steel. It wouldn't be too extravagant, a little elegant but no need to worry if one was lost or bent.

I did a little research to single out a silversmith whose spoons were relatively easy to find in order to have a set that somewhat matched.  A search on eBay led me to Hall and Elton, silversmiths from Geneva, New York. There seemed to be many offerings for their spoons. So I bid on several groups or singles that would make  up a set of twelve.  All were of the mid 19th century fiddle back style and I was having a good time pulling this new collection together and excited about my solution for getting rid of stainless steel without the worry of losing or abusing my good sterling..

Soon the packages began to arrive.  Some had been cleaned and some were slightly tarnished but not badly.  I got out the Wright’s Silver Cream, the old standby silver polish made in New England, and went to work.  I thought I would be thrilled with my new spoons but something kept telling me that I wasn’t really impressed or entirely happy with them.  What was wrong?  They were not plated, they were genuinely old, they weren’t scratched or damaged so what was my problem?  I was feeling so deflated but couldn't put my finger on the source of my disappointment in the spoons..

Eventually, I hit the books and the Internet and discovered something that I had never known or suspected.  These antique spoons were not coin silver!  So what were they?

The following is typical of what different Internet sites had to say about Hall and Elton.

“There were makers that marked the wares just like coin silver, but the metal was something other than predominantly silver. Although it is not one hundred percent true, Hall & Elton is one example of a maker that marked their wares like coin, but it was not coin.”

If it was not silver what the heck was it?

Many pieces are being sold as coin silver which should be 900 parts silver.  But sometimes the look and texture is not right. Possibly Hall & Elton created their own alloy that included only a small amount of silver...or none at all.  This is sometimes referred to as “German silver or nickel silver”.  As it tarnishes it looks more and more dingy with a decidedly yellow cast.  When compared with genuine coin silver the difference is readily apparent.

Over the years it is possible that Hall and Elton made coin spoons and later on made plated spoons but the market seems to have plenty of examples of these inferior spoons.  I have no proof that Hall and Elton made any real coin silver spoons.  All the spoons I purchased were this alloy,  nary a coin silver spoon in the lot.

I used them for a time.  The yellow cast grew worse quickly, some even developed green corrosion.  I soon realized I couldn’t continue using them so sat down with my polish to at least clean them up and then decide what to do with them.  After a lot of elbow grease was expended on two spoons the result was not even close to satisfactory.

I decided that they were not worth the cost of the silver cream or my time so I threw them into a bag with no idea what to do with them next.  Do I throw away genuine antique spoons from 1840 or 1850?  They are not damaged, just inferior and very discolored and tarnished. I don't want them and I don't know who would.

Checking on eBay today I found twelve offerings for Hall and Elton spoons advertised as coin silver and only three described as German silver or an alloy.
Yellow tarnish that is stubborn.  Polishing
does not achieve a good result.on Hall and
Elton antique spoons.
(German silver is also sometimes referred to as nickel silver).  Mostly there is no silver content or very little silver content. They are an alloy comprised of copper, zinc and nickel.

Looking at recent eBay completed sales twelve listings were represented as coin, two were accurately listed as an alloy, one honest seller admitted not knowing whether they were coin or an alloy and one seller even stated that his spoons had a greenish tint!  Oh my!  Not a good sign!

If you look online at photos of Hall and Elton spoons the yellow tinge, the dullness and the dingy look comes through loud and clear.  Polishing may improve them but the final result doesn’t pass especially compared in my case to my family’s Newell Harding spoons in the same style and similar age made in Boston.
True coin silver Newell Harding spoon polishes nicely..
Several years ago I bought a beautiful pierced serving piece at an antiques show.  It was marked sterling by the dealer on the tag but the price was low.  It looked good to me so I bought it and showed it to a friend who deals in antique silver.  He assured me that it was sterling and quite lovely.  The mark on the back said Alpaca. As it turns out Alpaca or Alpacca is just another name for German or nickel silver.  My serving piece could have fooled anyone! It was not as old as my spoons and probably never used.

Recently I have noticed Alpacca (Alpaca) spoons advertised as plated.  That is no more accurate than calling them coin silver.  They are not plated!

Here is what eBay says about Alpaca.

Alpaca Silver (Alpacca) refers to an alloy that imitates sterling silver. This non-precious bright silvery-grey metal alloy is made up of copper, zinc and nickel and sometimes iron. Alpaca Silver does NOT contain any real silver; it is just another name for Nickel Silver”.

I can’t say that there are not some Hall and Elton spoons out there that are really coin.  None of my purchases were coin but all were represented as coin.  I am not faulting the sellers.  I’ve been interested in silver for a long time but I was clueless and I expect the sellers were as well.
I am also not suggesting that Hall and Elton were the only company using this alloy to make inferior spoons.  There are probably others but my “matched set” are a real flop.  By the time I retired them they were disgusting!   If nothing else it was a lesson learned.

BEWARE!  It brings to mind my own version of the old familiar  adage.  All that glitters is not silver.”

What about that bagful of ugly spoons?  I certainly won't try to palm them off on another unsuspecting buyer.  I won't use them.  They are antique but as far as I'm concerned they are worthless!

How about those  stainless steel teaspoons that I rejected?   Hmmm!  I guess  I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth after all!  Stainless is looking better all the time.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

FOR THE LOVE OF AN OLD HOUSE


FINALLY CROSSING THAT THRESHOLD

Saltbox:
This unidentified house is not the house in the story 
but representative of the house described.

Tucked away in a New England town and down a long lane, is an ancient saltbox house.  Nobody that I knew had ever seen it other than in some long out of print books on old houses.  Don’t we all know houses that we have seen and fervently wished we could get inside?  Well, this is the house that was on my wish list.

This particular property belonged to a very protective lady who had inherited the treasure from her parents complete with all the furniture and accessories that one would hope to find in a first period house.

The house was tantamount to a fabulous museum the only problem being that it was not open to the public; not ever.  At least one hundred years ago it became the guest house on the property on which a large house had been built with all the modern conveniences of that day allowing the old house to remain untouched. By the time I was aware of this hidden treasure, it was no longer used at all, even for guests.

Everyone knew that I had studied the photos in books and would do anything to cross the threshold of this ancient, and unspoiled house.  And as luck would have it, my chance to see it materialized right out of the blue through a mutual friend.  Several others decided to tag along until there were perhaps five of us who would be experiencing this superb treat.

On the appointed day we arrived at the newer big house where our hostess lived.  There was only a path leading down to the old house some distance away.  After exiting our vehicles we went to the door of the main house.  We knocked and called the owner’s name repeatedly.  There was no response.  We stood around considering what to do next.  The owner’s car was there but where was she?

After a period of time we concluded that she was probably waiting for us at the old house so we tentatively began to proceed slowly down the path.

Suddenly the owner came racing out of the main house screeching like a banshi ordering us to get back to the house.  “No one goes down that path without me.” she admonished.  So somewhat chagrined we back-tracked while she gave us a scolding and then a history lesson about the house.

Finally the moment arrived.  She unlocked the door and we crossed that treasured threshold into what clearly would be a wonderful experience.  Before proceeding she tested us a bit with questions such as which is older, the banister back chair or the ladder back?  I passed the test with flying colors and seemed to have gained her approval a little.

As we followed her on the tour we were thrilled to be there and in great admiration of the house and its contents.  She also seemed to be warming to the occasion and eventually we ended our tour in the old kitchen with its enormous cooking fireplace.

Now our hostess was really getting into this strange party of sorts.  She decided we could sit around the huge fireplace and she would build a fire.  How long had it been since the fireplace was used I wondered with some concern.  I soon got over my doubts when I realized that sitting before this ancient fireplace in this rarest of houses was a very special event not to be taken lightly.   This would be a very memorable day memorable it was for several reasons.

Now she proclaimed that she was going to send one of us into town to buy sandwiches and we would have lunch in front of the fire.  She was clearly now having the time of her life and so were we. 

While one of our group went for sandwiches she went to her house and came back with wine.  What could be better than a beautiful fall day in New England having lunch in front of this venerable fireplace with a glass of wine?

Along the way different guests were instructed to put more wood on the fire and to take the tongs and arrange a log this way or that way.  By now our hostess was in really high gear.  The smell of the wood smoke was strong.  I was feeling some anxiety about the chimney and slipped away upstairs where it was slightly smokey to which she was oblivious.  We had been there a long time and needed to get back to our office.

That was easier said than done.  I began to have misgivings about this party.  We should leave.  My head started to pound from smoke and the tension that came from realizing that we were prisoners.  She was not ready to let us go!

I looked at my watch repeatedly.  I looked at my friends imploring someone to help.  Our hostess was in control and we had to do her bidding.  More logs on the fire; more wine in the glasses.

Finally we made our escape.  The end is a blur, a least for me.  By this time I had a raging headache.  It was all I could do to drive myself home and crawl into my bed with a full blown migraine and there I remained until the next morning.  I never went back to the office.  Completely wiped out, I was.  I don’t even remember how we dealt with the fire in the fireplace when we left.  The house is still there so nothing bad befell the house as a result of our caper.

That was a number of years ago.  Our hostess has since passed on.  The house has had dendrochronology testing proving that it was built in the late 17th century.   But there was just a little more fallout  resulting from our adventure.

A friend of mine who was a very knowledgeable old house expert was determined to see that house based on my report.  With his charm and knowledge of old houses he thought he could handle this hostess just fine.  So he found an old map that indicated the now private driveway was once an old road.  (If it was, which I doubt, it only went to that house).  So armed with the map for proof that he wasn’t deliberately trespassing and with an expensive bottle of wine, one evening he ventured down the lane.  He had mentally rehearsed how he was going to sweet talk this lady winning her over and getting to see the old house.

As soon as he reached the big house the owner came screaming out of the door ordering him off her property.  He tried to show her the map to no avail.  She finally ended the confrontation by jumping into her car and chasing him out to the main road!  So home he went with his deflated ego and with his bottle of wine which I’m sure he promptly drank.

You know the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for”?  My wish came true but I paid a price and so did my friend with his expensive wine and shattered ego.

I’m glad I got to see the house and had the rare experience of sitting before that fire in the most wonderful setting on a perfect day.  But I can tell you that I got that house out of my system and have never in my wildest dreams thought of ever going back.  One visit and one migraine was enough.

THE OLD HOUSE AT IPSWICH VILLAGE PART 11







THE 
OLD HOUSE 
AT 
IPSWICH VILLAGE

 

SAVING MOSES JEWETT’S HOUSE

POST ROAD DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION

1981-1982


PART11


PRUDENCE PAINE FISH



POST SCRIPT ON POST ROAD

It has taken a long time for me to post this last chapter on the house at Ipswich Village.  It was mostly the result of burnout after reconstructing and reporting all the details of the restoration of the Moses Jewett House.  This was compounded by endless printer and computer issues.  

After this long hiatus I am ready to resume stories of old houses or related subjects.  So here is the wrap-up on the Jewett house.  I'm hoping I have not lost all of the loyal readers who followed this long series and will continue to read a varied selection of stories to come. 

It was important to me to organize and record the details of the restoration of Moses Jewett's house and now I can take a deep breath and move on!


MISTAKES WE MADE

Looking back over these years and visiting the house as often as I have, there has been plenty of opportunity to review some of the mistakes and think about what we should or should not have done.  Most of my thoughts are positive without too many regrets.

One dilemma that we faced is a common one.  The windows were very bad.  They were not 18th century originals but they were old.  The glass was good with lots of waviness. In a perfect world it would seem that we should have restored them.  We didn’t actually think they were restorable.  We restored a few to use in the barn and they are once again in collapse.  The house started out to be a spec house, not a pure restoration but early on we knew we must do our best.  The windows we chose were wood, true divided light windows and they have held up perfectly.  My regret is losing all of that old glass.

It was our dream to put on a cedar roof.  The roof on the house was good but not wood.  The budget, however, dictated that we had to cross that off the list.  The new owners did follow through and put on a wood roof.   Unfortunately, it could not breath properly and did not last so it is back to architectural shingles.  What a pity.

There is a little mistake that haunts me.  We did not know at that time that the thumb latches and HL hinges should have been painted the same as the woodwork and made to disappear.  We left them black.  That will embarrass me forever.  I have begged the owners to cover the hinges but they like them and they still glare back at me….jet black.

Initially we  made the mistake of tearing out the dining room ceiling.  First of all we misjudged what we would find.  Secondly, we did not think we were doing any great damage.  The plaster was too bad to save, wasn’t it?  Wrong!  As we found out, the WORST plaster can be saved and all the rest was saved after that first mistake.  I am proud of the way the plaster looks in the light.  Not rough but just slightly undulating.  It is just right.  I’m so glad we were stopped before we took down more than we did.

Finishing the floors in a natural finish was probably a good idea, not knowing who our buyer would be.  They can always be painted but the only one that has been painted is the kitchen.

The skylights, questionable to a purist, have been good for light and air.  I don’t regret installing them nor do I regret the eyeball recessed lights in the dining room that shocked people back then.  Hugh and Jerry replaced the stolen chandelier with a wonderful antique brass chandelier for candles.  The eyeball lights on a dimmer supplement the candles perfectly. I don’t consider these modern touches a mistake by any means.

On the lighter side, I believe Tony learned while cleaning for an open house that you can’t vacuum the hearth when the bricks are set in sand.

After vehemently resisting use of the term “borning room” a misnomer from the colonial revival period, I fell into the same sort of trap.  It was common back then for restorers to call the old or antique kitchen the “keeping room”.  I’m not sure where this came from but we went along with it.  Later I realized this was less than accurate.  I have only seen that term on one old house plan. It was from the Federal period and it pertained to a sitting room.  I have since ceased to ever use the term but the damage was done.  Everyone associated with the restoration and especially the new owners have never failed to refer to the colonial kitchen with the big fireplace as the keeping room, a term of which I am sorry I ever heard or uttered.  It is corny.  I know better now but it’s too late.  The term refuses to go away and I have heard it used by the best in the business.

When all is said and done, I think it is miraculous that we did as good a job as we did.  Looking back I think we were na├»ve about the project but we did our homework, tried hard to get it right and absolutely did the best we could.

Did we make mistakes?  Sure, but most could be reversed and none were too serious or resulted in permanent damage

CONCLUSIONS

The lesson learned from this experience is that restoring an early house is exciting and fun as long as:

  •      You can afford to hire contractors
  •       It is not a spec
  •      You must have deep pockets
  •      Someone checks every day to catch mistakes before it is to late.                                                                
  •       Originality is respected
  •      You don’t try to make it into something it isn’t
  •      You are pro-active and do your homework
  •      You seek advice from professionals
  •      A Family isn’t trying to live in the house during construction

My rules for restoration, evolved though this experience are these:

      1.     Accommodate the old house and its floor plan.  Do not try to make the house  accommodate    you.

2.     Do not remove original fabric.  Plaster can be saved.  Horse hair plaster is not bad!

3.      Do not do anything that can’t be reversed.


POST SCRIPT ON POST ROAD

It is now 2016.  There has been a lot of water under the bridge but the Moses Jewett house is still going strong.  Hugh and Jerry are retired but still there.  I have enjoyed many a Thanksgiving feast in the old kitchen by the big fireplace.  It has been over thirty years since the day I agreed to become part of the Moses Jewett house team.  Everyone involved with the house is much older, the cast of characters has changed, and some have passed on, including Bob Molinski, Nellie, Vern Martin and the thieving handy man.  Everyone has fond memories of the house and the hospitality of Hugh and Jerry.

May the good times in the old house at Ipswich Village never end!








My appreciation to all  who followed this series.  Thanks for reading!



FINIS

Monday, March 30, 2015

THE OLD HOUSE AT IPSWICH VILLAGE PART 10







THE 
OLD HOUSE 
AT 
IPSWICH VILLAGE

 

SAVING MOSES JEWETT’S HOUSE

POST ROAD DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION

1981-1982





PART 10




PRUDENCE PAINE FISH






SALVAGING OLD FURNITURE

While all the work and other details were being tended to at the house and in the office, Nancy was hard at work on the old Waycott furniture. The pieces most interesting were probably left from Mrs. Waycott’s  parents, the Eilenbergers, who had lived there before the Waycotts and the Orcutts.

Most of it was dismal but some of it salable with Nancy’s help.  The best was in the attic and consisted of Larkin chairs and bureaus.  You know, that oak furniture that was earned by saving Larkin soap wrappers?  What was thrown away not too many years ago was now in vogue.  Press backed chairs could be sold and were sold.


Typical of chairs found in the attic.
In the lean-to was the bottom of an old oak sideboard.  It was filthy.  Oil had spilled on it.  Old tools were in the drawers and remnants of linens that had been attacked by mice.  It did seem as though it might have possibilities with work.  Suddenly I remembered something under the eaves in the attic.  It was the etegere top for the sideboard with what-not shelves and beveled mirror soaring for several feet above the sideboard base.  It was a big job to clean and refinish it.   When it was back to its original condition we took it to Bob’s shop and he put it in the show window with a a spotlight on it.  It was gone in a day!  I can’t remember the price but it may have been $800.

Very similar to the oak sideboard found in lean-to and attic.
This was found on eBay.
Another gem was a pine cupboard.  That went equally fast for similar money. There was also a cottage chest or two, part of late 19th century paint decorated bedroom set.

This is a typical Victorian painted cottage bedroom set.  We found chairs and chests of drawers from these sets but
nothing complete...just miscellaneous pieces in poor condition,   These sets are so charming it is too bed we only found
fragments of these sets retired to the attic,  Internet photo.
 The remainder of the things were so unremarkable that today I can’t even recall them but little by little it was all sold.  Actually they were typical of what one might expect to find in an old run-down farmhouse.

Similar to pine cupboard found in house and sold.  This
example is from the Internet.
Two large sterling serving spoons had and “E” on the handle, probably for Eilenberger.  The pattern was Towle Canterbury from the 1890s. I gave these beautiful spoons to the new owners. 


This is a Canterbury serving spoon from Towle Silversmiths.  The pattern dates
to the 1890s and had the monogram "E".  That probably stood for Eilenberger,
the family name of Mrs. Waycott.  These I gave to Hugh and Jerry.  This example
is listed on eBay for $225.00.


 I think I kept a doorstop and give it to Hugh and Jerry later but don’t recall that there was anything else worth keeping or even vaguely memorable.

SUBDIVISION

Distasteful as it was, we had to think about our ace in the hole.  We could subdivide and sell off two lots.  But first we were a little short of the necessary frontage.  Our lawyer confided to us that our neighbors, the Barneys, needed to replace their septic system and it might be just the right time to negotiate the purchase of a few feet from them to make the subdivision work.  We let our lawyer, George Hayes do the negotiating.  The deal was accepted and completed.

Now we could offer the whole package for $180,000 or the house alone for $150,000.  I prayed for a buyer to come along who would want the whole thing.  I didn’t want to be a party to subdividing.  Spring turned to summer and summer to fall.  We were more nervous than you can imagine.  We couldn’t give it back to the bank nor could we continue to struggle under the weight of this construction loan with the highest interest rates ever.

One day a Realtor from our office, Dottie, said cheerfully, “Pru, I have good news for you.  I have an offer for one of the lots.”  My heart sank.  This would bail us out but I had been holding my breath that we wouldn’t have to do this.  But do it, we did.  We had no choice.  The contract was signed.

In just a few days another Realtor from the office, Sandra, took two buyers from New York out to look at property.  She took them all over Rockport and Gloucester.  Late in the day they returned to the office.  They had not found anything they wanted.  They were introduced and I chatted with them.  They were selling a business in Manhatten and wanted to move to New England.

My brain clicked into gear.  Here were two people escaping New York City for a taste of New England.  What was more New England than our Moses Jewett house sitting there waiting? What could fit the bill more than our picture-perfect Currier and Ives farmhouse in the country?  “Sandra”, I said.  “Didn’t you show them the Moses Jewett house?”  “No.” she replied. “I didn’t even think of it.”  She didn’t think of it?  Our own office listing!  And she had dragged them all over Cape Ann for nothing. I had trouble containing myself and bit my tongue.

I proceeded to tell them about the house, got them excited, gave them the listing material, gave Sandra the key and told her to get them up there on the double.  They went and just as I fantasized, they loved it.  In fact, they were infatuated with the history, the restoration and everything about it.  And, better still, they bought it!

More heartbreak when they told us they would like all of the land, all six acres.  There was nothing we could do.  It was under agreement to Dottie’s customers and the die was cast. The last of the Jewett farm of 100 acres was now subdivided into approximately two acre parcels.

BUYERS AT LAST

On November 17th the lot on the street east of the house was sold to the Fowlers who would build a house on the site.  The closing on the Jewett house was set for December 1, 1982.



The house the Fowlers built  next door later expanded and
improved by neighbors Ron and Gwen.
At this point David decided he would buy the lot in the rear that would be up a long driveway.  His plan was to build a Maine Post and Beam saltbox for himself, Shelley and his boys, Zachary and Spencer.  He would sell his house in Newbury but would need a place to live while building.


Maine Post and Beam house built by David at the end of
the long driveway. He called the address 1 Post Road just for fun..
It turned out that Hugh and Jerry, our buyers, would not be ready to move until the following summer so an agreement was reached whereby David and family would live in the Moses Jewett house until their house was complete.

There would be no mortgage or bank involved in the sale so the closing could take place right there in the house.  Hugh and Jerry arrived from New York and we all gathered around a big table in the old kitchen in front of the fireplace.  We had wine.  A toast was in order.  David conducted the closing and tallied up the assorted checks to make up the total selling price.  After the closing David drove the new buyers to the Registry of Deeds in Salem and the deed was recorded.
The back page of the deed.  The deed was done...literally!
The house that had been part of out lives for so long was
now theirs.
Was that the end of the story?  Not at all! A new chapter was beginning.

Work progressed on David’s new house with its long drive.  He affectionately called his new house the house at “One Post Road” after the name of our group, Post Road Development Corporation, and the historic reference to the old highway called the Post Road.  I guess you could call it a private joke.

It was the summer of 1983 when Hugh and Jerry arrived with a truck and moved into the Moses Jewett house.  David was in his new house.  The Fowlers had a built a new cape next door.  So many lot of changes since that September day when we purchased the old place nearly two years prior.  Following the Fowler a friendly couple, Ron and Gwen took up residence and became good friends and neighbors to Hugh and Jerry.

For their first Christmas, 1983, Hugh and Jerry had a party.  All of their guests were Realtors from the Vernon A. Martin office.  The only people they had met were Realtors but by now everyone in the office knew them.  What a house for a party.  Candles, fires in the fireplaces, great food and drink were in abundance.  This was the first of many. A pattern emerged.  There was a Christmas party each December, usually on a Sunday evening, and another in the late summer on the newly built bluestone patio outside the two back doors.  The numbers grew, people came and went, the cast of characters changed but the routine remains to this day.  No one who has ever crossed that threshold at Christmas can forget the ambiance, the fires, warm friendships and good times.

David and Shelley moved on.  Their house was sold.  The land was further subdivided.  So imagine my surprise when driving past the old place one day a few  years ago to see a new street sign on what had previously been David’s driveway.  And what did they name this new street? Post Road Lane!  I was incredulous. The inside joke from twenty years before had become a reality and now numerous families make their home on Post Road Lane.


Map showing Post Road Lane.  The Fowler house is on the corner of
Post Road Lane improved by Ron and Gwen.  The Moses Jewett House is on the left and  David's
house is near the bend in the road hidden in the trees.
Nearly thirty years later, Hugh and Jerry, our buyers, are still happily in the house.  The neighbors and friends keep coming.  It has been a good quarter century plus for the old Moses Jewett house

The Moses Jewett house in the snow.  Not the true red but very pretty anyway!



One more installment before moving on.  Hang in there!


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

PARTY TIME AND OTHER INCIDENTS ALONG THE WAY PART 9






THE 
OLD HOUSE 
AT 
IPSWICH VILLAGE

 

SAVING MOSES JEWETT’S HOUSE

POST ROAD DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION

1981-1982




PART 9




PRUDENCE PAINE FISH






PARTY TIME

Still in very high spirits we planned a big open house party by invitation.  We were so ambitious we decided to bring appointments from our own homes and collections to adorn the house.  We had a really big toy and we wanted to play house with it.  Today we would simply say we staged the house.

By the day of the party we had essentially furnished the house, if only for a short time.

I brought my dining room chairs and rug for the dining room.  My blue velvet wing chair would go in the parlor with its blue woodwork along with my blue Chinese rug and my mother’s tilt-top table that our handy man had just beautifully repaired and refinished for me; also the Queen Ann tea table that I had purchased from my friend, Jane Nelson, in Newburyport.  In the old kitchen would be my old pine box chair by the fireplace.

The working kitchen had room for my Windsor and banister back chairs, my old scale and some of my antique dolls and carriage would look great in the loft. My wash stand with great sentimental value was between the twin beds and a cute diminutive bench/settee was at the foot of the stairs along with my small oriental rug.

Nancy’s reproduction canopy bed was upstairs in the guest bedroom.  My friend, Noel, came from Connecticut to help me sew a new set of bed hangings in unbleached muslin for the bed. My mother’s antique one drawer stand was next to the bed.

David brought oriental rugs.

Donn Pollard brought Sheraton fancy chairs for the guest bed chamber and an antique portrait for the parlor. He also brought a wash stand for the guest room, a wing chair for the upstairs sitting room and a candelabra for the parlor.

Our handyman supplied the dining room table, a wonderful mirror with a reverse painting and some small items.

Bob Molinski contributed antique rope twin beds and quilts to cover them.

Yolanda Martin brought her pewter collection and portraits to go above the twin beds and a small table for the parlor.

More than that, Yolanda offered to make window treatments.  Nellie and I found remnants of material at the Handkerchief Factory in Exeter, NH and Yolanda sewed.  All the windows were draped with toile, stripes, small prints and unbleached muslin. There were swags and tab curtains.  It was an admirable selection of attractive window coverings.

The ever practical Yolanda also thought to bring soap, towels, waste baskets and other necessities for the party.

Only the dining room was left without window treatments.  At the last minute, the night before the party, I whipped up simple swags using rich ivory antique satin from old drapes for which I had no use.

Sometime earlier I had noticed a Chinese Chippendale camel back loveseat at Bob’s shop.  It was pretty awful.  It was covered in a disgusting faded and soiled pink material.  In lieu of welting it had black fringe.  The wood and fretwork was painted black. I decided that it had more potential than anyone realized and went to buy it.  I waited until all the other customers had left the shop.  I didn’t want to be seen buying this horror!

Nancy stripped the wood trim and stained it a rich mahogany.  I found Nellie’s favorite “tree of life, bird of paradise” fabric and took the loveseat to Bonnie Kishbaugh in Hampton, NH for reupholstering.

On the day of the party I borrowed David’s Jeep and went to Hampton to get the loveseat.  It would go into the Moses Jewett house for the party and remain for a few extra days before being taken to my house in Lanesville. I was thrilled with the outcome.  It was so pleasing to me that I actually pulled over a couple of times and turned around to admire it in the back of the vehicle as I drove from Hampton to Ipswich.

Back in Ipswich things were coming together.  Cousins Ernie and Coralie had arrived from Dalton, the first guests. Ernie helped carry the loveseat into the parlor.  Perfect!

Meanwhile, Nancy, home in Gloucester, had a problem with her car.  How could she get to Ipswich from Lanesville?  In desperation she decided to thumb a ride.  (That would never happen today!) Lady Luck was with her.  She was picked up by Bob Hamlin from Walker Creek Furniture who was on this way to deliver a handmade reproduction pewter cupboard to a customer.  He agreed to unload it at the house and pick it up after the party. So Nancy arrived with this wonderful cupboard.  Into the old kitchen it went and was quickly filled with Yolanda’s pewter just as the guests began to arrive.  Bob Hamlin’s business cards were on the shelf.

Fires burned in the fireplaces.  The candle chandelier hung over the table.  Everything was picture-perfect.  We had a full house of admirers from near and far, including all the neighbors, Sue and Steve Stevens, from the Aaron Jewett house, Barbara and Wayne King, Hillman and Priscilla Barney, Dorothy Brigham, Edna Jewett and of course, Nellie and her eccentric husband, Hal.  By the end of the day music was playing and friends and neighbors alike were dancing in front of the fireplace in the old kitchen. A good time was had by all.  The house was launched into its new chapter.  Now we just had to find a buyer.
    
INCIDENTS ALONG THE WAY

Summer was still mostly with us as we began this challenging project.  Fall came on quickly, however, followed by a long winter.  The lovely warm days turned to bone chilling episodes in the old house not yet heated.

There was often a fire in the big fireplace and I huddled there sitting on an overturned five gallon joint compound bucket, almost inside the huge fireplace as though it was an inglenook, just trying to warm up.

David and Tony checked in with the workers regularly.  I mostly remember my role as researching for solutions and then convincing my partners after I had worked out a problem in my head.  They were reasonable and not hard to convince. I thought that we worked well together.

Tony unexpectedly announced that he and Diana would like to buy the house for himself and his family.  I think it must have been a deteriorating real estate market and escalating interest rate that ultimately discouraged Tony and Diana and they backed off.

One day someone knocked at the front door.  I was as surprised to see a Lanesville neighbor standing there as she was to see me on the other side of the threshold.  She had been watching the progress not knowing that I had anything to do with it and wondered where we had found the bull’s eye glass.

Another time David and I observed two men walking up the driveway toward the house.  I freaked!  I recognized them as two purist house restorers and I was scared to death to let them in.  What would they think?  Of course, we did let them in.  They were antiques dealer, Roger Pheulpin, and Attorney Steve Green.  They looked around with interest and if they didn’t approve, they kept it to themselves.  We became good friends and I have enjoyed their acquaintance and knowledge ever since.

One day as I drove to Ipswich early in the morning I saw our always available handyman going into an Essex antiques shop.  He was carrying a small dog weather vane that had been in our barn.  I stopped to see what was going on.  He said that the tail on the dog was broken and he was getting it fixed for us. “Thanks”, I said and left feeling more than a little disturbed. He had recently been laid up with a badly injured leg because of a fall but was just getting back into circulation and again helping out.

The real estate office had a call one day from a motorist saying that there was lots of smoke coming from the big  chimney.  Someone went to the house and saw smoke inside.  The new oil burner had backfired and left a film on everything.  Professionals were called in to clean.  It was covered by insurance and turned out OK but just the thought of having all our work sullied before the house even hit the market was disconcerting.

On one of my regular visit to the house I headed for the cellar.  I opened the door.  The cellar stairs looked weird or were my eyes playing tricks on me?  I was having trouble seeing the stairs.  After a few seconds of bewilderment I came to my senses and realized the half of the staircase was under water!  Taking a long handled peel (a flat shovel used for removing food from the bake oven)from the big fireplace I tried to lower it to see how deep the water was.  When my hand hit the water, I dropped the shovel.  I had not hit bottom.  That water was deep!  The sump pump had failed.  Now I appreciated the wisdom of the old arrangement of trenches around the cellar and the hole in the foundation.

All these disasters and the house was not yet even on the market.

Eventually we did start having open houses.  The house attracted so much interest that many of the Realtors placing the open house sign at the end of the driveway were invariably followed back up the driveway to the house by passersby just wanting to see it.

The project was highly visible.  Several newspapers came for interviews and tours and there was publicity galore.

Nellie, our most loyal mentor and decorator, kept “coming over the road” to follow the progress.   

One Sunday after an open house we all gathered around the fireplace.  It was decided that Bob Fish and David would go to the shore and get mussels and Shelley Martin would cook them.

Next to the fireplace was a wonderful large copper pot that had been contributed by Bob Molinski’s friend, Michael.

Bob and David returned with the mussels and Shelley put them in the big copper pot with some wine and garlic to steam on the new Jennair stove.  We all sat in the old kitchen by the big fireplace awaiting this treat. Suddenly there was a terrible explosion in the kitchen!  Thoroughly startled and scared we rushed to the kitchen.  The copper pot was so big it had hung over the edge of the stove, overlapping but not touching the Formica counter.  As the mussels steamed the copper transferred the heat to the counter, the Formica inflated like a big balloon and then blew!  A big hole in the counter remained.  The damage was ultimately rectified by cutting out that section of the counter and inserting a large cutting board. What next?

Unbeknownst to us the most dramatic of events were about to begin. We were marketing the house in earnest.  The market was not so good.  The excitement of discovery and restoration was behind us.  So was the party.  Open houses and showings were the order of the day.

 After the party a few appointments were left in the house for varying amounts of time to take the emptiness from the bare rooms.  The plan was to gradually remove them when it was convenient but with no rush to do so.  

A new broker, Jackie Cordima, went to the house to meet a buyer shortly after the party.  She made a quick phone call to the office, “Pru, did you take your wing chair home? It’s not here”.  I rushed to the house.  The wing chair was gone.  So was the box chair by the fireplace and the oriental rug that had been in front of the fireplace.

A few days later Jackie went to the house and called me again. “Pru, your loveseat  isn’t here. The tea table is gone”.  No! Not my wonderful loveseat of which I was so proud.  My tea table is gone?”  It was true.  David’s rugs were gone too.  .  

In the ensuing weeks the Chinese rug, the banister back chair, my mother’s tilt top table, the scale with the brass scoop and my treasured washstand were added to the list.  The police were called again and again until they said something like, “It’s that Fish woman again.”  They didn’t seem to be too hot on the trail of a thief.  Yolanda, Donn and the handy man had already removed their things so they suffered no loss.

Jackie had discovered so many thefts that she began to think they would be suspecting her and but it wasn’t over yet.  Once again Jackie made the discovery.

Arriving at the house one day she tried to enter the back door only to find the Jennair stove lying on its face with the oven door handle broken off.  This stove that had been built-in had been wrenched from it spot in the kitchen counter and dragged toward the door until the handle gave way, the stove fell over and was abandoned.

One day while driving home to Gloucester I spotted my mother’s tilt-top table in front of an antiques shop on the road to Essex.  Oh, no! Our handy man had just repaired and refinished it for me!  It was beautiful!  The police came and took the table back to the police station as evidence.  Then came the bad news. The antiques dealer had purchased it from our handyman!  Then I remembered the weather vane incident.

Our handyman was a thief!  He restored my table, then stole it and sold it!  How dare he?

Another day one of his buddies who had helped with the boiler removal commented, “Richie really hurt himself when he fell through the barn floor.  That was really something.”  So that’s how he hurt his leg!  That’s when he stole the weather vane! Served him right that he hurt himself, the thief!

This problem was compounded when I discovered that my own house had been robbed.  Then Bob Molinski discovered his Ipswich antiques shop had also been robbed. We were living in the middle of a nightmare.

To sum it up, the police were ineffective, the court failed to convict.  I recovered my mother’s table but nothing else.  My wing chair, tea table, new loveseat, washstand, bannister back chair, rugs and so much more were gone for good.  I visited antiques shops over a large area and found a few things here and there in numerous towns which the police then took for evidence most of which I never saw again.  

I remembered all those times the handyman had come to the real estate office, even bringing me coffee in the morning and asking what my day was like.  Based on that he would raid my home or the Moses Jewett house.

We tried to put this behind us and move on but panic was setting in.  Our interest rate and carrying costs were skyrocketing.  We needed a buyer and we needed one fast.

Continued in Part 10