One of the saddest things I ever witnessed happened in a jewelry shop. I was waiting in line to make a purchase, when I noticed the artisan behind the counter doing some sort of work with his hands. Thinking he was crafting some stunning piece of jewelry, I stepped over to where I could have a look.
To my horror, the jeweler was in the process of breaking to pieces an intricately wrought old pocket watch, tearing off the gold parts and junking the rest. The watch was an antique, scrolled and adorned with beautiful, delicate embellishments. Even in its mangled state, it was the most exquisite watch I had ever seen.
The jeweler explained he buys scrap gold, and that customers bring him stuff like this, which he tears apart and sells for money to people who liquefy it, then reshape it into something new and marketable. There’s no value in an old watch like this, he said, other than the value of the metal.
I thought about the digital clocks we now have in our homes, and the glowing wee clock in the corner of our electronic hand-held devices. These have replaced the pocket watch of the past, and the magnificent old grandfather clock and carved table-clock. I see these sometimes in a local repair shop, where one room is filled with antique time pieces with their low, comforting beat, punctuated by bells chiming the hour. Those sounds have disappeared from modern life, and with them the soothing stillness they once brought.
In the same way, digital books and electronic reading devices are taking the place of what we once called a book, just as in the last century glossy bright paperbacks supplanted hardback books with their carved and gilded leather or fabric cover. Those dark-hued tomes stood like silent forests on wooden shelves, lining the walls of homes. The family library was a place where you could retire for rest, reflection, and contemplation. That’s gone now, and the physical book itself is disappearing—absorbed into electronic displays that can be called up or closed with a flick of the finger. Oh, for the feel of a book in my hands, by lamplight, late in the evening. A generation from now, that pleasure may be as out of reach as reaching for one’s pocket watch is today.
Old is not better simply because it’s old. It’s better because of the glory imbued through the hands, mind, and heart of the craftsman. It’s better because of the delight that comes from the sound, touch, and sight of beautiful objects. Today we live in stream-lined homes we don’t have time to keep clean. Meals appear out of microwaves, and communication consists of tweets. We turn to the TV or our iPads because our surroundings offer so little comfort and consolation. Like over-tired children, we continue to seek stimulation when what we need is a retreat into peaceful quiet and rest.
Call me old-fashioned if you will. I will take it to mean that I have intrinsic beauty and enduring value. I want to see a revival of bound books; family game night; and wind-up, chiming clocks. I want to drink tea from hand-painted, china cups. I want us to bring back the things that matter before it is too late and we forget, and they are gone forever. Before what matters can’t be found again, I want us to remember the priceless value of old.
Jessi Rita Hoffman … book editing by an industry professional