Above: Keeping up Appearances at Second Chance
This piece is about the invisible but constant work in re-tidying the stock that is constantly falling into disarray.
Charity shops are particularly prone to disorder, largely because of the variety and amount of stock and how it’s displayed in racks, baskets and boxes for searching through, and because items are not individually packaged as they might be when sold new. And also some customers can be less respectful of charity shops and second-hand things…!
But all the re-tidying work is something you are quite oblivious to unless you’re working there and doing it yourself, and have spent time tidying a rail, arranging it attractively in colour order, looked back at the results of your work with satisfaction, and then returned a couple of hours later to find things fallen off hangers and the colours no longer in order.
Being an orderly person, I’ve taken satisfaction from tidying up various boxes and sections myself, such as the haberdashery, patterns, and records, but then been dismayed to see them all mixed up again within a few days. But you have to see it as a good sign and the inevitable consequences of a large number of customers looking at things, trying them on and thoroughly foraging through boxes.
Above: Pictures Pondered in Second Chance
This piece is a playful and slightly mischievous one – it’s a list of titles or made-up descriptions of paintings and prints donated to Second Chance. (Those in italics and quote marks are the real titles, the rest are made up).
Original paintings and artworks are a difficult thing for a charity shop to assess and value – frequently they arrive without any title or artist’s name, no clues or context, and only your own judgment to discern between something amateurish and something accomplished. I did manage to catch one donor who explained the story of a painting she brought in, saying that the mountain and lake landscape had been painted by her uncle simply as an exercise to show her how to paint in oils. I've mentioned this one in the piece.
The playful aspect was in making up titles or descriptions for those pictures which arrive untitled, as well as for some prints of historic paintings which inspired alternative descriptions. While this is partly a bit of fun, it's actually a very good exercise, forcing you to really look at what is going on in a picture, to pick up on clues or try to sum up an atmosphere.
I did this with the help of one of the shop’s most regular visitors, an older lady who comes in several times a week for tea and biscuits (which is another thing the shop offers). She has been coming for years and enjoys the atmosphere and activity of the shop. Recently I found out that she has a great appreciation of art, and so I have been showing her all the pictures and prints that come in, asking for her observations, and trying to work out together what is going on each picture. She has been useful in translating many of the foreign titles, and is very visually perceptive, often working out things I’ve haven’t and spotting the subtleties of the scenarios illustrated. When I showed her the final piece yesterday in its printed and framed format, she was really pleased and surprised, recognising the descriptions we’d discussed of the paintings and her own suggestions.
This piece is currently in the shop window - I rushed to complete it when I saw that the new window display was set up with paintings and other art-related items from the shop. Around it are many of the pictures described in the piece - I wonder if anyone will spot the connections.
Here are just a few of the pictures mentioned, or details thereof:
A mystery painting, but with one clue: an address label on the back stating Benfleet, Essex, which led me to guess that this scene is likely to be of nearby scenic Leigh-on-Sea.
Ducks and sunsets - classic secondhand shop art.
A loose book plate, in which the rich girl appears to be offering her purse.
'Girl Scraping Vegetables' - a detail from a print of the painting by Chardin.
Just in case you were wondering what 'Shrimping' referred to - it's the title of this print by Edouard Van Goethem.
This is the 'pair of pigeons' in the final line of the piece, and is a wonderfully subtle detail from an orginal watercolour that had been torn out of an artist's sketchbook.
Germander's verses written in January during her hosting at Second Chance, and some of the stories and photos behind them, are displayed here.
Scroll down to see them all:
- Keeping Up Appearances at Second Chance
- Pictures Pondered in Second Chance
- Linens, Patterns and Haberdashery at Second Chance
- Requests at Second Chance
- Second Chances, Altered Fortunes
Above: Linens, Patterns and Haberdashery in Second Chance
I’ve chosen to write about linens and haberdashery because these are areas of stock that tend to be overlooked, but are actually immensely useful. Linens is one of the specialist departments at Second Chance – there are two ladies who come in every Thursday specifically to deal with all the household textiles, sorting through all the new donations, measuring and identifying things, labelling and displaying them.
In this piece I have also included haberdashery (the materials and tools of sewing and home textiles), and knitting and needlework patterns. There are always boxes of these things in Second Chance, and again, they’re overlooked except by those with a specific interest or need. The box of patterns is however worth going through just for the charming old-fashioned pictures and language!
I initially struggled writing this piece, wanting to include too much and describe the processes of measuring and identifying the donations, but kept coming back to what I really wanted to include, which is the first line: “lots of lonely things coming in”. This was said by one of the ‘linen ladies’ as she pondered a single curtain retainer. This observation is key to the value of the work behind the scenes of Second Chance – donations arrive in a chaos of mixed bags full of anomalies, idiosyncracies, separated and odd things - which are sorted into order - things are matched up, tidied up, labelled, put back into context, and made desirable again. That idea became the content and structure of this piece, and that single curtain retainer also gave me the idea for the design.
I was impressed by the care taken by the ‘linen ladies’, who keep a pile of spare pillows and bags of cushion inners of different sizes, so that when nice covers or cases come in that are worth displaying, they’ll match them up. They’ll re-combine split sets of things, often hold onto items until a use is found or the right season comes around, and take the trouble to label and price the smallest things – knowing that there are uses and customers for almost everything.
Above: Requests at Second Chance
This is a list of things that customers have asked for. Second Chance is something of an emporium of second hand goods, so it does understandably get a lot of expectant requests.
Most of the above are things I was asked for, and tried to help with, or overheard while in the shop. I spoke to the lady mentioned at the end, who had recently donated her video player, but hoped we hadn't sold it yet as she'd just re-discovered a collection of videos she wanted to watch. Luckily we had several video players in stock, so the electrician managed to sort her out with either her previous one or another to replace it
The 'men's drop-in' is for homeless men, and Second Chance keeps some donations aside for them - there is a list on the wall in the sorting room of the things they have specifically requested, including 'trackies' and 'hoodies'.
Impressively, of the above requests, nearly half of them were satisfied.
Above: such is the vastness of Second Chance's stock, that I found not just one, but two knitting patterns for green
'his' and 'hers' cardigans. I also noted that one of the wooden hangers that are used for linens had an old label from Defiance Tailors, of 122 Seven Sisters Road, just a mile or two away, but almost certainly no longer there.
Second Chances, Altered Fortunes: new homes and uses for Second Chance stock
While at the shop, I've been asking customers about their purchases and what they were planning to use things for, and also spoke to many people who regularly use Second Chance to find materials for creative purposes. There were many fascinating stories of adventures they had taken things on, a few sad stories, and several surprising ones. And these findings reasserted the value of Second Chance stocking such variety and detail, as it seems someone has a use for everything - even some old 1970's cookbooks which I would probably not even have bothered to put on the shelf, turned out to be of great interest to someone with a 70s design interest who loved the fonts, colours and layout.
One of the most interesting examples, as described in the final verse, was told to me by an artist who found a letter left inside a book, written by a child expressing a sad situation they were in. The artist cut up the words and phrases and arranged them into a different order to turn it into a happy letter.
The Halloween mannequin which now haunts the end of someone's hallway, and some of the wooden yachts (in front of the box which dozens of them arrived in) which went on to live on a real boat.
An Unfinished Piece
One of the pieces I didn't get around to writing was a companion piece to the above, and would have been a list of where the donations had been before coming to the shop. But here is the unwritten piece, in photos and captions instead:
We know that this yellow rose purse came from someone who was born in 1990 - because inside it was found this 5p coin minted in that year. The owner was following a tradition of carrying a sixpence or small silver coin of the year of their birth. The coin is being kept at the shop just in case the owner returns.
Many items bear evidence of their previous owners, on labels, book inscriptions etc. On the far left is the label of a Philadephia policeman's leather jacket, which obviously was once owned by a policeman called Tom. The blanket on the near left once warmed someone with the surname of Tennant.
Many books include dedications, bookplates, library stamps and other evidence of their previous owners and uses. In 'Sermon Outlines', above left, was left this post-it note of sermon ideas, and in the one above right are notes of the content of a service and things to mention - including 'bootees', thanks for help with coffee, and a parishoner's slides of her Russian holiday. On the left, the frontispiece of an illustrated Victorian edition of 'British Moths' contained this charming recommendation.
Above: attractive or interesting labels stating their products' origins or original use.
Left: a 45rpm recording of 'Winnipeg Citadel' by a local ensemble - the Chalk Farm Salvation Army Band, which is still going strong today.