Retired couple finds restoring 'old things' pays off

Joyce and Charles Rowse, a retired couple now living in Prescott, have discovered that their lifetime collection of "old things" has not only given them a fascinating interest, but provided them an unexpected nest egg, as well.

Spiraling prices for their kind of country and Middle Western "Americana" have made them aware that their old "stuff" has acquired increasing financial as well as sentimental value. They added pieces over the years out of love and appreciation and never as investment. Yet, the sale of a few items last year paid for a vacation trip.

"I look around this house, and almost everything I see has come from the attic, basement, or barn of some relative, or ancestor, or good friend," Joyce Rowse says. "Every piece has a history, a story, a memory behind it. There, for instance, is my great granmother's tea cart, which was all rickety and wobbly and is now good as new. We found an ad in a magazine for a place that sells new wheels for old carts. So those, and a refinishing job, pout the antique back in service again."

While we visited, the Rowses showed me the desk that Charles and his brother had used when they were schoolboys, the old schoolmaster's desk from Ohio, the little black stove that Charles's mother used to heat here wash water on, and the friend's chest that came from Hutchinson, Kan., in deplorable but redeemable condition.

Also among their possessions they showed an Eastlake Victorian wicker desk and two littler German chairs that the couple had recaned and refinished and the two old oak church pews that now decorate the front entranceway. The patchwork throw over a small round table turned out to be a piece de resistance, since it came from a quilt made by friend Catty Royer's grandmother, put together back in the 1850s of calico from her little daughter's dresses. The black, gray, maroon , and mustard colors have mellowed softly, but the patchworks is intact.

Our tour included an inspection of old English Windsor tavern chairs that had come to their hands via Johnson County, Kan., and which had evoked the comment from husband Charles, "If you buy those old things you'll have to do all the work on them yourself. I won't touch them." He relented later and helped out with the gunky job of refinishing.

We looked at Joyce's mother's old shelf clock, which has been repaired to run once more, at her restored birdcage, polished copper clothes boiler, and myriad other Rowse treasrues that they had accumulated and carefully restored over the years. Their last project was refinishing the four old Thonet bentwood chairs, which Mrs. Rowse had picked up when they were on their way to the Salvation Army. They had been stored for years in a church bell tower and were being tossed out.

Mrs. Rowse admits she had to convert her husband to the joys of renewing old things. For years he looked askance at his wife's collecting penchant. He was chagrined when they retired from Kansas City to a new retirement village in Arkansas, and his wife insisted on hauling every last thing they owned with them.

Still, he saw that restoring all their antiques gave his wife a natural means of meeting and conversing with local artisans, repairmen, dealers of all sorts, and with other collectors who enjoyed old things as much as she did. They helped her meet and make new friends.

When the couple left Arkansas for the milder, sunnier climate of Arizona a couple of years ago, Mrs. Rowse decided to leave some of her collection behind. But once more, the best of the family "heirlooms" moved with them to take up residence in a small cottage in the sunny Southwest.

By that time he had capitulated, and antiquing and antique restoring had become a joint venture. They were in it together, giving new life to assorted old possessions and reaping enourmous satisfaction from it.

Retirement and reduced income suggested curtailment and limitation to them. But they decided instead to use the opportunity to work more with their hands and to develop their imagination and inner resources. They both say that turning something old and broken into a conversation piece of beauty and usefulness has brought them a feeling of accomplishment and joy. They never cease to wonder at all they manage to do.

They both smile when they hear the call to conserve and save energy, because they have been conserving all their lives. "We married during the depression, and when we had $150 saved up between us we started our family. We could never afford the antiques, but we could afford all those inexpensive but interesting bits of Americana that people are now viewing with newly appreciative eyes."

For the Rowses, their restored treasures not only help a new house seem like home sweet home, but give them an ongoing hobby and a bit of financial leverage that is a bonus to the fun they've had collecting and renewing.

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