Sunday, December 20, 2009

Vintage Garden Tools

I have a thing for old tools.
Tin secateurs, curved sickles, and bent-wire cultivators are among my favorite finds. My very first acquisition was a pair of elegant secateurs, which I discovered in an antique store in Milford, New Jersey. The owner obviously did not appreciate their magnificence … “You can have it for a buck,” he said, somewhat dismissively. I paid quickly before he could notice the obvious beauty of the sleek lines, and the ingenious curved tin spring that held the blades open. At home, I scrubbed the handles with steel wool, oiled and sharpened the blades, and then found a spot on my kitchen wall.

And so I was hooked. I began checking local antique shops, looking for dusty bins and boxes in back rooms that held unappreciated treasures: spades with carved wood handles, two-handed scythes, dandelion pullers with bent shafts. In Ely, England I found a graceful swan-necked hand hoe of fearsome heft and useful length and snuggled it inside sweaters in my suitcase, hoping that it did not arouse Custom officers’ suspicions. A curved sickle was my next find. I’ve never actually used a sickle, though it was the one tool the Communist party chose to represent agriculture and linked with the hammer, icon of industry, on a field of blood to create the Soviet flag. This makes me think that I should sharpen it, and discover its usefulness.
Someday I will have enough worthy tool treasures (to be worthy they must be graceful in design and efficient in use) to create a wall of garden tools, all shined up and sharpened. They remind me of human ingenuity, of the importance of craft, of the traditions of farming … at least that’s how I justify my old-tool mania.
The simple truth is, I just like to look at them.

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