Let’s Talk About Souvenirs

According to Webster’s Souvenir is a noun: Something kept as a reminder (as of a place one has visited)

A recent donation to the thrift shop of 1000 thimbles, plus our trip to Gatlinburg TN got me to thinking about souvenirs. The crazy things we humans collect. Really these thimbles were beautifully presented in three very large custom frames, each with their own compartment to accommodate one thimble. After a quick check of a few, it seemed their was a thimble for every town, every museum and house museum, every national park or monument this lovely person ever visited. A lifetime of travel all wrapped up in 3 very very large shadow boxes. But really is this the best use of our souvenir dollars?

Why do I mention Gatlinburg in the same breath? Because Gatlinburg is like a mini Las Vegas strip full of cute little shops, filled with any number of crazy items for a price. I remember many years ago being in Las Vegas for the first time with friends. As we walked up and down the Strip we had to duck into every one of those shops. Some of them had merit and lovely things to look at and buy, but most were filled with poor quality, made for the tourist trade items. Cheaply made by the millions. Items that are purchased and quickly thrown in a drawer after the return home. Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty ring any bells?

Making items for the tourist trade has been around for centuries. Since Marco Polo went in search of the spice and silk! The Italians, the French, the British, and most notably the Chinese with Chinese Export Porcelain. A very highly executed and artistic collectable. There are many wonderful collectables out there, that are worthy of making a place in your home. How do we understand the difference.

Irish Antique Stick Barometer with Ivory Face purchased in Kansas City MO
Face of this wonderful Barometer

First of all I am a firm believer in “Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder.” If it feels right to you and you love it, you should bring it home. There is no Arbiter of Good Taste! Maybe there should be. Oh, maybe it should be me!!! But, how often do you buy a souvenir bring it into your home only to tuck it away in a cupboard or box never to be seen again. We’ve all done it.

Painting by Polish Artist Circa 1910 bought in Florida

So how do we turn a beloved souvenir into an object that not only enhance our life but our memory of time and place? Of course it is all about you, knowing yourself, and what pleases you.

Ok, I am not a souvenir shopper. You will never find me in places that sell souvenirs. I can very easily walk by street hawkers, and shops that contain tchotchke’s. I can walk into a shop and in less than 10 seconds discern if there will be anything in there for me. Know yourself!

Do I buy souvenirs? Absolutely, but my definition is a bit different. To me a souvenir is something that is either beautiful, interesting, or functional. It has to be something that I can display, smile over, and be glad I brought into my home.

Not what I was looking for, this pot checked all the boxes. Unique, had artistic merit, function, and display.

How do I shop for souvenirs.

  1. Determine broadly what you might be looking for.
  2. Before you go on vacation research your destination. IE Google Home Furnishing in fill in the box, or Antiques in Franklin TN, and even your thrift shops will have a FB page. Many communities have artist areas of hand made goods, do a search for that. For instance if you’re interested in pottery search pottery at your destination.
  3. Read the reviews or take a virtual tour of the shop. Many shops now have Facebook pages. I do this all the time before we travel and it helps eliminate shops that I know won’t be my thing.
  4. Make a List! Look for things that are unique and unusual and appeal to your lifestyle and sensibility.
  5. Keep an open mind. Once you find a good shop it may put you in an area where there are other wonderful shops.
  6. If you find a great shop, tell the owner how much you appreciate what they have created, ask them where you might find other shops similar to theirs. They may be right in the neighborhood or across town but, if it is going to yield a great experience it is worth it.
  7. Wait for something to speak to you. Don’t pressure yourself to find just the right thing. Enjoy the journey, and relax, you may not find exactly what you thought but, with an open mind you may find something better.
  8. Don’t be afraid to walk out empty handed. I walk in and out of shops all the time where I haven’t found a thing.
  9. If you are in an antique shop ask for a better price. They expect this. You may not always get it, but it is always worth the ask. Be respectful and kind. In Franklin TN I was able to get 10% off my large pot, but in another shop I had to pay full price for my toothpaste jar. It had just been stocked from the Brimfied MA Antique Fair. I bought it anyway.
  10. Don’t be afraid to walk away. Know that you can potentially get 10-25% depending on the dealer and what the item is. I don’t like to haggle. I ask if this is there best price and respect what they tell me. I don’t generally counter offer unless I am buying multiple items. The mark up on antiques in most cases is not as high as people think.

Some of my most cherished finds are “Souvenirs” that I have bought while on vacation. Many have been in my collection for 40 years and I still remember the circumstance of the purchase.

Cornbread Mold Franklin TN First Trip
The same mold with a sweet Royal Copenhagen Figurine resting inside.
The small sauce tureen on the center shelf was purchased in Indiana, The Platter behind was found in Maine, and the covered dish on the top shelf I found in MO. Sconces came from the Seraph in Columbus Ohio. Hand made reproduction.

Hopefully this will give you a new direction to think about souvenir shopping. These great finds have brought me so much pleasure and become staples in my home. Each time I pick one up to dust it or create a new vignette I smile and my mind automatically goes back to the purchase. My home is filled and each item has become a scrapbook of my memories.

Thanks for stopping