Some people look puzzled when they see the large silver tray laden with crystal in Art Rousseau’s den.
“What are those — knobs of some kind?”
No, they’re decanter stoppers. The next question is almost as inevitable.
“You broke that many decanters?!”
Rousseau laughs at being perceived as either that clutzy or that hot-tempered. In truth, he’s accustomed to startled queries about any number of unusual items he’s collected over his years as an antique appraiser and estate dealer, including the stuffed dog in the glass case who “once bit Winston Churchill.” He sometimes follows that story with an introduction to the ghost that lives in his Swiss Avenue home, a ghost that inexplicably likes to steal toilet paper.
The stoppers are tame by comparison.
“It started with just seven of them in a drawer that I had picked up for one reason or another,” he says. “There may have been one decanter that actually got broken. One day I saw them sitting there and put them out on a little tray because they looked ‘neat.’ It evolved from that to this, which is in excess of 100 of them.” Rousseau discovered the latter when he and his granddaughter played ‘the counting game.’
“One of things that caused it was that I traveled internationally so much and you don’t have a lot of room in your suitcase. So I could be in another country and want to get out on the weekend, and go haunt a couple of antique stores,” he says.
The stoppers are all different sizes and ages — some fairly new, some up to 150 years old — from the United States, Australia and Eastern Europe, mostly Prague and Budapest. The more antique ones are plainer; one particularly large one may have come from an apothecary jar. Some Rousseau has selected, many others are gifts.
Not all the stoppers remain in the collection. Why? The explanation comes full circle.
“A decanter without a stopper is almost worthless … ,” says Rousseau. “I found a mid-1800s cut glass decanter that I just bought on a whim since, without a stopper, it was only about $20. Sure enough, I found a stopper in my collection that not only fit but looked okay.”
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