Hunting for Antiques in the Netherlands (1963 - 65)

Hunt : 1 - 2 - 3 - Stories - Reference map of the Netherlands

Assen region Antiques hunt 1
My wife Antien and I stayed in Den Haag for a full year, while I first finished my degree and then went into Army training at Ossendrecht and Breda, allowed home for a weekend every fortnight (14 days). For a brief spell Antien went to stay with my parents in Martinshof to give birth to Babette, but soon after that moved back again to the Statenlaan.
I graduated from the SROA in July 1964 and was then assign to the 42nd Afdeling Field Artillery (consisting of three operational and one support staff battery, 18 Howitzers and 400 men total) based in Assen in the Northern Dutch Province of Drenthe. Antien had done some house hunting beforehand and found us a lovely small 2 story townhouse in a row of six in a new suburb just across the Assen - Meppel Canal.

Hunnebed in Drenthe We moved in straight away and soon became good friends with the couple next door and the one across the road. We used to have small parties on weekend evenings, often ending up with a midnight expedition to one of the hunnebedden scattered through North Drenthe's country side around villages like Rolde, Anlo and Gieten. Hunnebedden are thought to be at least 2000 years old. They are ancient graves constructed from huge stones probably transported into the area by glaciers from the last Ice Age. We would sit on top of the stones in animated discussion and song and celebrate these ancient wonders with a glass of wine or two before finally returning home, feeling very much in tune with those ancient ancestors.

Across the canal from us and next to the Army base grounds was Cafe van Houten (Dutch pub). It was easily accessible from our home via a narrow footbridge across the canal conveniently located exactly opposite the Cafe.
Jan van Houten was a very eccentric pub owner, an enthusiastic hunter and a fanatical antiques collector, and in due course we benefited from all three of these qualities.
During the day Jan would roam around the farms in the area with his shotgun harvesting wild pigeons, considered a pest by the farmers. He would cut off the heads from his daily catch, present them to the local Council and receive his one Dutch Guilder (worth 2 glasses of beer then) per pigeon killed. The bodies he would keep at home and sell to his Cafe regulars for a reasonable price. We ended up with many of them which Antien learned to cook to perfection. They were quite delicious.

Antien and I had started collecting antiques and odd curiosa back in Den Haag, roaming the flea markets every weekend. Our greatest trophy so far was a zinc sit bath, which I painted black and Antien filled with pillows, transforming it into a comfortable lounge chair.
With Jan in Assen we hit the Jackpot however. He had a collection of 250 tobacco boxes fixed around the top of his bar, and various items scattered everywhere especially around his copper hooded open fire place.

One evening I was sitting at the bar together with another young antique enthusiast who managed a hotel in town. We were egging Jan on a little.

"You are pretty good at finding things Jan" my young friend said "but spinning wheels, no, they have all been snapped up long ago, you don't see them around anymore".
"No, you're damn right there."
I contributed "Many of those horrible fake new ones in shops, but the genuine antiques, they're all gone."

Jan was by now so agitated he hardly could speak a word. "You guys know nothing ! Nothing at all !!" he finally blurted out. "Come back in three days, and I'll have a whole bunch of them right here around my bloody fire place!"
We made a bet with him and promised to return in three days.
Well, he bloody well did it too. Six of them neatly arranged around his fire place, all genuine antiques. We handed over Jan's winnings and immediately proceeded to drink his price, because he was a very generous man, never a miser. And even the police, who soon after came in to collect one of the wheels to return it to its rightful owner, could not spoil our party that night.

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Antiques hunt 2
After Jan van Houten's impressive performance with the spinning wheels I know that he is the man to help me in my own search . For years I have been dreaming of owning a traditional milk yoke. That unique Dutch item which the farm maids use to carry pails with milk (hanging from chains on either side of the yoke) from the cows' milking place back to the farm."I know where to find one for you." Jan tells me excitedly when I consult him It is within shooting range from where we sit right here ! Antique milk yoke and bucket

The next day I return to his Pub and he proudly leads me to his shed. There on his work bench, would you believe, lie not one but two genuine milk yokes. The one he had thought of the day before has a pair of the most beautiful hand beaten metal chains, but the wooden yoke itself is badly damaged and eaten away by wood worm. He therefore scouted further around until he found the second yoke, its chains not as good, but its wooden yoke in excellent condition. We take the chains from the damaged yoke and fix them onto the other one, and after an exchange of a mere 5 Guilders the yoke is mine. As is tradition with Jan we proceed to the bar and convert the handed over money into beers, a much more agreeable commodity.

Back home I work on the yoke all evening. I clean the rust and dirt off the chains with a steel brush until they are smooth, silvery and shiny. I sand paper the surface of the wooden yoke, fill a few wood worm holes with candle wax, then stain the yoke dark brown and polish it with furniture wax until its shine matches the chains. It is absolutely beautiful. A year or so later it arrives with our other belongings in Australia, and travels with us wherever we go. Right now it is on Kangaroo Island, where Antien is the custodian looking after it until eventually it will pass on to one of our children.

I have asked my son Jeroen who was with his mother this weekend to take photos of both the milk yoke and the sit bath. (The yoke is shown above. The sit bath needs some TLC and fresh paint before it will be shown here.)

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Antique oil lamp Antiques hunt 3 (Final)
This lovely brass oil lamp, now hanging in Babette's home, is the item that really triggered off my memories from those antique hunting days back in Holland. I just polished it again, as I have done so many times in the past, before photographing it for this Blog.
Antien and I, back in Assen (1964-65), had paid a few fruitful visits to the flea market in Groningen, 30 km to our North. But soon it was our antiques guru Jan van Houten who steered us onto a more adventurous course, when he suggested we check out some of the farms in the Province of Friesland, to the North and NE of its capital city Leeuwarden.

So one Saturday morning we set of in our beetle Volkswagen on the road to Groningen, then West towards Leeuwarden. Just after the border with Friesland we turn right into farm country. We travel all around the place, visiting several farm houses along the way. Groningen - Leeuwarden I can't remember whether it is near Hallum or Kollum that we eventually strike gold. We enter a small farm and in the kitchen right above the kitchen table hangs this gorgeous brass oil lamp. There are other items of interest but we can not keep our eyes from the lamp. To our great surprise and delight the farmer (can't remember his wife being there, which may have something to do with our success) is happy to part with the lamp as soon as he spots the 50 guilder bill I am holding in my hand. Both sides feel they are striking an absolute bargain, so we part amicably and return home in high spirits.

We gave the lamp as a Christmas present to my parents. It hang for many years in their lounge above a cows' drinking trough, hand carved from a solid sandstone rock, which van der Mei, our farmer neighbour across the road from Martinshof (Gorssel), had let me take from his meadow. I filled the rectangular 4 ft by 1 ft trough with water and gold fish and also installed a small fountain pump in it. It made a lovely arrangement in the room.
After my parents death the lamp eventually arrived in Australia where it now hangs in the ThreePonds guest quarters, were I stay at present. At least half the value of an antique or curiosa item one possesses I always find, is where and how you discovered it, and the history behind it.

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