Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice.
– E.M. Forster, A Room With a View
When I found out I was going to New York to give a business presentation this past September, I knew I had to take a day off and venture to the Brooklyn Flea Market. I’d read wonderful things about the market, and as my sister, who accompanied me for the long weekend, and I made our way to the Lafayette Avenue, I had visions of vintage jewelry and clothing in my head. I was not disappointed.
We strategized and did a once over of the Fort Greene grounds – the market is just the right size in that there is plenty to see and a wide variety of local artisans and designers but is not too big as to be overwhelming. We came upon a stall that had the most amazing vintage handbags by Britannia Antiques. I was instantly mesmerized by a black bag that looked like something Lucy Honeychurch might carry.
It brought me back to the 1985 movie, A Room with a View, based on E.M. Forster’s Edwardian-era novel. It remains one of my favorite movies of all time, full of romance and youthful idealism. But what I also love about that era is the fashion, especially the coats with fitted waists, flared skirts, covered buttons, and notched collars, and the mens-style shirt-blouses.
Technically, the handbag was not Edwardian, which covers the years 1901 to 1919. Its tag read “Late Victorian, 1880-1900,” and was described as made of pigskin leather with a silver-plated, ornamented frame. It was in wonderful shape. I was attracted to it, but it was beyond my price point. Moreover, I thought it was too precious to carry around like a real handbag. Rather it belonged in some museum.
My sister and I made our rounds again, narrowing down the vendors whose wares we were interested in, and I came back to touch the handbag three times. At that point, the proprietor, Yvonne Potter, noticed. She approached us and pointed out that the interior was solid leather, which meant it was of high quality. Lesser versions were lined in fabric. She showed me the marking on the silver plate on the inside to let me know that she’d researched and knew its time period. She then told me to make her an offer. I’d forgotten that such deals are made at flea markets. My sister threw out a number, offered to pay for half, and the handbag sits on a bookshelf in my library, waiting to be carried out on my arm, filled with the stuff of modern conveniences – iPhone, keys attached to car alarm fobs, and so on.
Again, as with all vintage pieces, whether they be jewelry, clothing or other accessories, I wonder who the owner was, where she lived and what she did. Maybe she took the handbag with her from her native England to a tour of Italy, where passions heated up and she fell in love.
Everything is made new again.