Kate's White Whales

Kate's White Whales

Whenever I do an AMA in my Instagram stories, people ask what’s on my personal antiques wish list or if I have a “white whale.” Yes, of course... although this list has changed considerably over the years and continues to change as my tastes do.

I found a really old wish list from at least ten years ago and it made me feel very grateful to see how many pieces I’ve acquired since then. Heck, I remember when I was a broke college student, even Victorian cased photos felt like a reach because the only ones I’d seen were prohibitively expensive. It feels like good growth that so many things on that old list seem ordinary to me now. How many hair wreaths have I seen over the years? I have many different types of hair works in my collection, but I only kept one wreath, a gift from a friend. I would rather spend what few pennies I can put towards collecting on something new and exciting. The bar for the wish list continues to get higher. Some of these things are attainable but only a matter of budget; others are Hail Marys rarely seen outside museums.

First up on the list is a little from column A, a little from column B: I am positively dying for a Victorian majolica plate with snakes. I have never seen one in person before outside a museum setting, but if I could afford to drop $2k on a bauble, I could find one online right now. Victorian majolica is common enough, but usually you just find ordinary household pieces like pitchers and decorative plaques. The more figural the designs and the more true to life, the higher the price tag. I seem to recall one of my favorite Symbolist painters had a nice collection- I think it was Franz von Stuck. Someday, maybe, me.


Another thing I’ve never seen outside museums are 3-dimensional botanical models. As you might have gathered by now, I adore flowers. Perhaps it’s growing up in such close proximity to the glass flower collection at Harvard that put the idea in my head? These models are usually papier-mâché or wood, so not nearly as fine, but they would look so fetching on a shelf, don’t you think?


Now, this is a piece I saw on Ebay many years ago that got away because it was outside my price range. I have never seen another, but let’s be real: A sword shaped perfume bottle? This is my ultimate, hard femme accessory. It’s also one of the best performing photos I’ve ever posted on Tumblr… So it looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me in terms of competition.


You’ll notice many of the pieces on my wish list have highly figural designs inspired by nature. No big surprise there: I’m a Victorianist after all and an adoration for the natural world was a key motif in Victorian decorative arts. This is probably the newest item on my wish list, but I think you’ll agree it fits right in: Manufactured by Elgin in the 1950s, it was marketed as the Dalí “bird in hand” compact, though Dalí didn’t actually design it. Such an ingenious design! The bird’s wings are folded into the shape of a heart and lift up to reveal the powder. The lipstick holder is hidden behind the bird’s head. One of these will set you back about $1k. This one was owned by Marlene Dietrich.


When I think of perfume company L.T. Piver, which has been active since the 1800s, what first leaps to mind is their extravagant art nouveau packaging from the turn of the century. I did a Piver Deep Dive last year and came across this obscure footnote in the company’s history, a short- lived fragrance from 1956 called Diableries. The scent looks red and is presented in a decorative bottle in the shape of flames. The label, meanwhile, features a young maiden being spirited away by a devil (sometimes two). It’s an extremely cheeky thing to have emerged from a decade we remember as being so conservative. I know it would pair beautifully alongside my Schiaparelli “Sleeping” bottle shaped like a candle.


Oh, look. Snakes again. Quelle surprise. Nothing special to say here: Very simply, Victorian snake jewelry is the very height of my femme fatale dreams.

The sacred heart is a Roses & Rue staple, but I have yet to acquire one of these glass examples. Usually they are on a bronze stand with a lid in the shape of flames. Possibly the most attainable thing on this list.

I’m a very big fan of the operas of Wagner- as in, the man’s work but not his cockamamie political ideas- and Parsifal, his final opera, is one of my favorites. He’s known for these loud, brassy, hugely bombastic compositions, but Parsifal feels so quiet and contemplative in comparison. It’s a retelling of the Holy Grail myth and a powerful parable about faith and redemption. Head over to your streaming platform of choice and just listen to the prelude: It is immediately, overwhelmingly beautiful. At least 6 out of 10 of you who actually take my advice will cry. Embedded in the main theme is the so-called “Dresden amen,” a short series of notes that would have been familiar to everyone in his original audience as a part of Catholic mass in Germany.

Early 20th century artist Willie Pogany illustrated a beautiful edition of Parsifal in 1912 and this has long been on my wish list. I could have it any day if I could afford to spend $500 on a book. I know one day it will come to me at an unbelievably bargain, the way so many other fine books have.

Bird of paradise. So rare. So Victorian. Currently- so illegal. 

It likely comes as no surprise that a collector who specializes in mourning paraphernalia adores depictions of Mary as the Mother of Sorrows. I would love to have a clothed santos figure of her. This one is currently available at Neopolitan Sacred Art.


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