In the best of cases, love is long lasting and to underscore the notion, some Long Islanders believe that tokens of endearment should at least have a little history behind them. This is certainly the case for avid vintage ceramics collector, Walter Dworkin, 77, of Westbury who is the author of three books on collecting and has been amassing antique pieces celebrating all major holidays for some 45-years.
His substantial Valentine’s Day assemblage includes about 100 figurines, music and trinket boxes, vases, candy dishes, salt and pepper shakers and even a bank that when a coin is placed inside, two coil figures collide and kiss. "They depict an era of days gone by," says Dworkin. "They’re a walk down memory lane, and I think, as a gift, it’s a very charming thing to give someone today — something that’s a half a century old. They’re often colorful and interesting and the figurines are meant to be given to a loved one. They’re a good omen."
Dworkin’s collection focuses on items made in Japan and, in some ways, are symbolic of better times in the United States, he explains. "In the 1950s and '60s, we were just coming off the Korean War, real estate was expanding especially in places like Levittown — money had been tight and, suddenly, people had more of it in their pockets and a bright look to the future."
His pieces, especially from that era, "were made so intricately," he says, underscoring the appeal of the textural "spaghetti art" technique used then. "So many of them are beautiful gifts," he says. And they can be valuable too, adds Dworkin, who generally doesn’t sell his stuff but says similar goods can be found on online marketplaces for $39 to $250. He says, "They’re very hot right now."
At Wit & Whim, an eclectic gift boutique in Port Washington, owners Krissy Harper and Jacquelyn Conte scour estate sales and antique shows for sometimes kitschy, sometimes romantic Valentine’s Day gifts from decades ago.
"The symbol for Valentine’s Day is love," says Harper. "So, a gift that’s unique to someone you love, that shows emotion or affection, has special meaning when it’s from years gone by." Here, customers will discover funky trinket trays, tins featuring Victorian courting scenes, gold-edged porcelain plates with loving sentiments and even a darling Cupid brooch to celebrate the holiday.
There are plenty of last-minute Valentine’s Day shoppers at Rosie’s Vintage in Huntington, where owner Thea Morales, says her customers can be very creative as in the case of one gentleman who purchased a classic lady head vase from the ‘30s and filled it to the brim with flowers. There are little tokens of affection such as novelty buttons from the '70s-'80s that bear cute phrases such as, "I’m Mad About U," and, "I Think You’re Hot Stuff, Valentine!" and sell for $2 to $5.
There are lovely old confectionary tins, planters and loads of romantic Valentine’s cards from early 1900s ($2 to $4) that express sweet sentiments and can be mailed or attached to another gift. "A person who loves vintage or grew up during the time these things were popular would appreciate gifts like these. They’re nostalgic and heartwarming," says Morales. "Somebody loved these things before. What better way to show your love will last a lifetime but with a gift from a lifetime ago?"