In what was probably a lovely article in the Women’s Section of the local newspaper for Erwin, Tennessee, in September, 1967, Mabel Martin’s prized collection of antiques became the focus of editorial attention.
With my grand-aunt posing as gracious hostess, teapot in hand, in one of the two photographs accompanying the article, she provided explanation of this favorite set. The “unusual tea set,” according to the caption, “is reported to be nearly one hundred years old.”
Not too unusual a description for an antique, really—until you get to the rest of the story: it “reportedly” also belonged to a German princess.
Starting to edge into the realm of “yeah, sure,” the story was saved from fairy tale classification by Mabel’s explanation. Apparently, Mabel found the four piece silver service forty five years beforehand, at the estate sale of a German-born princess living in New Jersey.
Frankly, if I were a German-born princess, I would not have chosen to live in New Jersey.
Another photo in the newspaper article showed Mabel reaching over to a clock placed on her mantel. Behind the clock was one of the “unusual and handsome mirrors in the Martin home,” framed in an “elaborately carved cut woodwork” created in France “more than two centuries ago.” It featured “carved flying eagles” on each of the top corners.
The clock itself—you were wondering if I had forgotten to return to this?—was a “German Dresden china clock.” It was flanked, on its place on the mantel, by a pair of “Italian brass antique candelabra.” Facing that setting were the sofa—a hand-carved rosewood and velvet piece from the eighteenth century—and matching chairs. Complementing these—in an eclectic manner, I suppose—was a teakwood and marble Chinese table.
The list of cosmopolitan antiques continued throughout the Record article, and I’m sure they were all quite noteworthy. What presented the greater value to me, however, was the narrative that surrounded the list of those antiques. Explaining where Mabel (going by “Jean” in the article, a variation on her middle name) had lived during her long absence from Erwin, the article mentioned residence in New York “for many years.”
An added tidbit mentioned, “She served for several years as County Committeewoman for the Republican Party.” While you may identify the South as land of the Democrats, knowing the renegade history of this particular corner of east Tennessee helps show us that this was not a casual mention. In her new residence back in Tennessee, Mabel was in good company with her political heritage as well, and this was duly noted—not a throw-away line inserted in the text at all.
With a litany of furnishings completing the composition—many mirrors, tables, cabinets, china, pottery and even what-nots—the writer concluded that these pieces, assembled over a thirty-five year span, were “very likely the envy of many a connoisseur of antique collecting.”
And the clock? (I haven’t forgotten the Dresden china clock.) What was more interesting to me than the description of these antiques was the description of the people who owned them. The clock (if you were wondering) was passed down to Mabel’s husband, Horace L. Martin, by his mother.
While I may never have the privilege of learning how Horace Martin’s mother received that Dresden china clock, it might help to learn a little about who the woman, herself, was—and, for that matter, who her son was, too.