This archived article was prepared and written in 2001. While several of the shops have closed and others have opened, the essential experience described by the author remains relevant.
The Touch of the Master’s Hand
’Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer thought it scarcely worth his while to waste much time on the old violin, but he held it up with a smile.
“What am I bidden’, good folks,” he cried, “Who will start the bidding for me? A dollar, a dollar” — then, “Two! Only two? Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?”
“Three dollars, twice; going for three —”
But no, from the room, far back, a gray-haired man came forward and picked up the bow; then wiping the dust from the old violin, and tightening the loose strings, he played a melody pure and sweet, as sweet as a caroling angel sings.
The music ceased and the auctioneer with a voice that was quiet and low, said, “What am I bidden’ for the old violin?” And he held it up with the bow.
“A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two? Two thousand! And who’ll make it three? Three thousand, once; three thousand twice; and going, and gone!” said he.
The people cheered, but some of them cried, “We do not quite understand. What changed its worth?” Swift came the reply — “The touch of the master’s hand.”
And many a man with life out of tune, and battered and scattered with sin, is auctioned off cheap to the thoughtless crowd, much like the old violin.
A mess of pottage, a glass of wine; a game — and he travels on.
He’s going once, and going twice, he’s going and almost gone.
But the Master comes and the foolish crowd never quite understands, the worth of a soul and the change that’s wrought by the touch of the Master’s hand.
“The Touch of the Master’s Hand”
By Myra Brooks Welch
It was one of those gray, lackluster, mid-week March days. The kind that makes the month seem like it will never end. The sort that forces you to dream of hiding under the bed covers until Memorial Day, or head for the farthest tropical island.
Not being able to do either, and wanting to get out of the house, I decided it might be a perk-me-up of sorts to do a little shopping. Antique shopping. You know, poking through store after store and then finding that one treasure to triumphantly carry home, changing the mood of your house as well as your own?
Browsing through an antique store is like opening a time capsule — a journey back through the decades. A pair of well-worn women’s shoes from the late 1800s sit perched on a Glen Campbell record. A child’s perambulator snuggles next to a family photo album. And Shari Lewis’ Lamb Chop puppet finds good company with the boxed Elvis Presley doll, a Charlie Weaver mechanical toy and a life-sized Marilyn Monroe cut-out.
I stare in wonderment at these old items, like the shoes, the perambulator, the photo album. These were once brand-new, some necessary, and some treasured pieces of people’s lives. Living and breathing just as you and I do today. And I wonder — will my shoes someday be sitting in an antique shop luring others to wonder just who it was walking the miles on the old soles?
It’s been some time since I had visited any of Cape May’s antique stores. Many had changed hands, some had gone out of business. One of my favorites, the Rocking Horse Antique store on the corner where Perry meets Perry, has been sold, renovated and has recently reopened under the new name, W.S. Antiques. Many of the same vendors remain in the old Rocking Horse building. It’s a surefire place to find that missing piece of china or that little gem of a long out-of-print novel.
A few years back, I was delighted to find “A Little Cook Book for a Little Girl” published in 1905. As the food columnist for the local newspaper, I was always on the search for something unique to write about. With special thanks to Good Housekeeping magazine, the book’s introduction then begins like this: “Once upon a time there was a little girl named Margaret, and she wanted to cook, so she went into the kitchen and tried and tried, but she could not understand the cook-books, and she made dreadful messes, and spoiled her frocks and burned her fingers till she just had to cry. One day she went to her grandmother and her mother and her Pretty Aunt and her Other Aunt, who were all sitting sewing, and asked them to tell her about cooking.” Little Margaret does learn to cook, and the book breaks into just three chapters — “things she made for breakfast, things she made for luncheon or supper, and things she made for dinner.” It made for delightful food column. W.S. Antiques operates two other shops as well, one on Sunset Boulevard and the other at Schellenger’s Landing across from South Jersey Marina.
West Cape May’s Promises Collectibles has also changed hands and is now called Hobbie Horse Antiques. Located on Broadway, it seems the shop hasn’t changed anything but owners — antique kitchen ware still adorns the window, there are antique children’s toys and books, furniture abounds and new ceramic figurines adorn one table. Just down the street are two West Cape May mainstays. Bridgetowne Antiques — also on Broadway at the corner of Mechanic Street, which features an extensive selection of antiques displayed in a casual house and garden setting. Bogwater Jim’s, at 201 Broadway, offers fine furniture and nautical antiques. Look for the pre-PT Cruiser antique car in the driveway.
My travels that day brought me to a brand-new store on Washington Street in Cape May. Brand-new in town, perhaps, but once inside, everything at Ellen Christine Millinery … By the Sea is vintage.
Fresh from New York City, Ellen Christine Colon-Lugo is an energetic woman, who lives as much as loves her work. She told me, “I was seven years old when I was allowed to pick out a hat for Easter. It was a pink one, of course, I was only seven. But the thrill that hat gave me was something I’ve never forgotten.”
With a master’s degree and a doctorate in costume design, Ellen freelanced at first as a stylist and costumer in New York City. She worked with theatrical costume maker Barbara Matera for Broadway’s Beauty and the Beast and eventually opened a store in Manhattan’s “stylish” Chelsea section. Though the store offers clothing like Edwardian walking suits, peach 1930s lingerie, savvy 1940 suits — with all the accessories — it is hats that Ellen specializes in.
Some are antiques — a pansy-covered 1920s cloche, flirtatiously festooned straw boaters — but most are created by Ellen Christine herself.
“The hats I make are made from antique fabrics so they appear old, and actually are. I believe hats as well as clothing interpret us as a society. Hats themselves have been overlooked,” and with that statement, Ellen tried to get me into a hat.
Now I don’t wear hats well, I have a small head — perhaps it’s just a bit too pointy as well — even my mother laughs at me when I have the urge, and the courage, to try them on.
“You have a great shaped face for hats,” Ellen argued. “You just weren’t brought up with hats. It’s your generation.”
And perhaps she’s right. For decades, hats were a must in women’s fashion. Remember Lucy Ricardo ceaselessly trying to get Ricky to buy her a new hat?
Because my antique day was rather spur of the moment, I had literally popped into Ellen Christine’s store unannounced. When I asked Ellen if I could take a photograph of her for this article, she also declined.
“I’m not dressed,” she complained. “I always wear vintage clothing, in fact this is vintage, too,” she said pointing to her shirt and trousers, “But I’m simply not dressed for a photo. In New York, everything like this is scheduled.”
We were at an impasse — no hat for her, no photo for me. But I said I understood, and I did. But then again, this is Cape May.
A couple doors down on Washington Street is Finishing Touches, which features in Victorian lighting fixtures and offers an array of historic wallpaper designs and fabrics. Owner Bob Anderson bought the business a decade ago from Victorian Look, one of Cape May’s first businesses specializing in Victoriana. Anderson also refurbishes lighting fixtures for clients.
The Victorians were never known for simplicity, and this is well-obvious in Bob’s impressive collection. Fringed, stained glass, and larger than life lamps fill the shop. Some of Bob’s “treasures” as he called them include a 1910 gas jet chandelier; an 1896 early electric stained glass chandelier boasting “deeply, and daintily” etched glass lamp shades; a vast assortment of unique colored glass oil lamps; and a rose-colored brass, hand-painted lamp from 1880 boasting illustrations of the four seasons.
“My favorite might be my collection of late 1800s oil lamps,” Bob told me. “These are from the New York, Chicago and St. Louis World Fairs. This was when electricity was still new.” So savvy about lighting, Bob surprised me with a little known fact.
“Did you know that room light switches weren’t invented for almost twenty years after electricity?” asked Bob. I said I didn’t. He went on to tell me the electric companies made house calls to change light bulbs. I said they must have been awfully busy back then, and he laughed. I didn’t buy a lamp that day, but I sure learned something.
Nestled in the same block of Washington Street as Finishing Touches and Ellen Christine’s is A Rose is a Rose which offers glass, linens, hairwork, jewelry and Victoriana of all kinds.
There are too many Cape May antique stores to visit in one day, which is a wonderful — sometimes too much of a good thing is a good thing. Planning a get-away weekend in Cape May, even in the off-season, offers a bounty of activities and nosing through antique stores should be high on the list. All are open weekends and some during the week. It is advisable to call ahead for hours before Memorial Day weekend.
And, by the way, I did find my own “treasure” that day. Actually two. One a photography calendar from 1946. And, yes, another cookbook. It’s the kind churches and specialized organizations self-publish. Though there was no date anywhere in the book, it appears to have been published during the early 1950s. Titled “Home Cooking Secrets of Cape May,” the book was put out by the Women’s Community Club, still thriving at its Welcome Center home on Lafayette Street. Samuel Eldredge was the mayor back then, and the commissioners were Sol Needles and Carl Youngberg.
The Clam Pie looks like a winner, the Cape May crab cakes look delightful and the Lemon Pot Pie looks interesting. Now I’m looking forward to a gray, lackluster, mid-week April day so I can get to cookin’.