Some families seem to pass on a passion for collecting like other families pass on things like eye color or the shape of a nose. Bill Boette, an antique dealer from Columbia, loved to collect glass. His favorite was something called Mary Gregory glass. This form features a cameo-type design of white enameled decoration on colored glass, a style attributed to American glass artist Mary Gregory… hence the name. Early pieces (c1870-1950) usually show children at play. The later pieces have less detail and tend to show the children being idle (Is this perhaps a comment on our generation’s children?). European examples often have tinted faces with features painted in, while American-made examples tend to be all white. Though dealers usually look for items to resell to their clients at a profit, Mr. Boette just couldn’t let go of the charming glassware.
As his daughter, Billie Boette, traveled with him from auction house to dealer she began to collect as well. She was drawn to small, old items and has several collections that are contained in display cases. She began with a collection of small boxes, her first being a wooden tool box purchased because the wood had been worn to a satiny smoothness. “One little thing would lead to another collection,” she says. One of these other collections consists of butter pats or butter chips, miniature plates used to hold an individual serving of butter. The height of their popularity was 1880-1910, though later examples can be found. They are decorated in the same patterns as popular dinnerware sets of the time.
Billie also has ink wells of all types, collected on trips with her Dad and around the world. She has small personal wells and large wells to be used in places of business. My favorite is found among her collection of tiny ones with special covers or cases to be used while traveling. She has the most wonderful miniature globe which opens to reveal a small inkwell. This may be the most valuable well in her collection – though Billie doesn’t seem to have much interest in the monetary value of her collections. Each represents a time with family and friends or an exciting trip abroad.
I often ask the collectors I interview to share a favorite collecting story. Billie chose to share her saddest. She had persuaded her Dad to “store” some Mary Gregory perfume bottles he had found at her home. With those in mind, she purchased three old bottles in Yemen while on a trip there. She carefully wrapped the pieces for travel and gently cradled them on the flight home. She was delighted to find that they survived the flight. After a late arrival home from the airport she decided to leave the unpacking of the car for the next day. While cleaning the car, she began to chuck all the bags of trash that had accumulated into the nearby can. When one bag hit the can with an unusual crashing noise, she went to investigate. Much to her dismay, she found the pieces of one of the bottles in the bag. The two survivors were placed in one of the display cases and the “lesson learned” was placed firmly in her memory for future reference.
In her preparation for a move, Billie is once again lovingly packing her collections. Her new home was chosen in part because there was room for the boxes, ink wells, glass, butter chips, tiny Nativity scenes…. you get the picture. Bill is gone now and remains in the memories of those who knew him as a charming man and a knowledgeable dealer and collector. Billie will be in a new area soon and will be missed by her friends here in Beaufort. Luckily, I know I can keep up with her and any new acquisitions to the collections by email.
In honor of her father, a rare Mary Gregory covered punchbowl with an underplate will continue to take pride of place atop one of her display cases.
Libby Holloway is a Certified Appraiser of antiques and residential contents. She is a member of the International Society of Appraisers where she is currently serving as Secretary of the Board of Directors. Libby can be contacted at www.LibbyHollowayAppraisals.com.