Where is all the Cool Stuff?

By Scott Keith


As I write this blog I am driving home with my son Caleb and his best friend Quincy from Arizona. In between helping my mother-in-law clean out her old house, we took it upon ourselves to peruse some of the ubiquitous antique stores that are so prevalent in the greater Mesa area. These antique stores seem to be overflowing with items from the past, which were made with care and a sense of craftsmanship and quality. Thus these “antiques” still exist, are purchasable, and remain unique and attractive. In days gone by, even something as simple as .22 Long Rifle ammunition from the Winchester Company was purchased in a wooden box of such quality that the box could be re-sold today for $5.00.

By way of clarification, I would like to say that I am generally a fan of a modified minimalist lifestyle. By saying that I am a “minimalist,” what I mean is that I am a fan of thrift and quality over quantity. To be sure, I like my stuff. I like clothes, books, outdoor gear, pipes, and all of the general household accouterments that make up a comfortable life and home. But again, I am a fan of quality. I believe that owning quality belongings is one of the odd pleasures that make up an earthly existence that is more enjoyable than not. I simply don’t necessarily like having more than I “need” of any of those things; and therein lays the modern dilemma.


We have an overabundance of stuff in our lives. Our Wal-Mart over-commercialized culture has made everything we own fast, cheap, and easy. We not only have more stuff than we could ever use, the stuff that we have is expendable and disposable. We are inundated with a distinct lack of craftsmanship and have traded in the idea of owning a few really nice things for owning many items that are more easily tossed into the rubbish bin than kept. In short, it is not the fact that we have more than we need or even want more than we need that is so troublesome. Rather, it is the reality that these desires seem to arise in us because we know what we own is more crap than quality that causes us to desire more and more.

This is why I am not only drawn to antique stores where I can encounter quality items of that past, but have also as of late been drawn to the modern artisan movement. Modern artisanal craftsman are people that have realized, as I have, that we live in a disposable world and are attempting to do something about it. These are individuals who produce quality. There are now many denim manufacturers who have learned to make denim jeans as they were made in the 1950s by machines that were built in the 1930s or 1940s. Craftsman like Dave at Saddle Back Leather who has taught himself to craft and tool leather and produces leather bags that will last a lifetime. As he says, “these are the bags your grandchildren will fight over when you are dead.” Also there are pipe-makers like Smio Satou of Japan who have learned to craft pipes in the Dunhill style by hand producing more than an instrument for smoking tobacco, it is also a work of art and a pleasure that will last a lifetime. These are craftsmen who have refused to be as Chesterton describes, “the wage slaves of modern industrialism.”


The difficulty is that these items are expensive. Perhaps you would argue that designating myself as “thrifty” is contradictory to buying things that are expensive. On the contrary, I believe that quality is worth the expense if you can afford it and that purchasing one expensive item that will last a lifetime is more thrifty than buying twenty that only last three years, or even less. Furthermore, I believe that supporting craftsmen in their trade is worth the extra expense. Vocation is not just a matter of completing a task or series of tasks in expectation of remuneration. Vocation involves serving others, in a qualitative way, by what you do. Further, I have no compunction whatsoever telling you that if I ever have the pleasure of buying a new Smio Satou pipe or finding an estate Dunhill in an antique store, they will serve me in a qualitative way until the day I die. So where is all the cool stuff of yester year? Try an antique store, or better yet, support a modern artisanal craftsman. Therein you will encounter the work of those who have produced quality in their vocation and those rare few, who in the here and now, are attempting to do the same.