Written by: Steve Coffman
The trope of “things were better in the good old days” is often just that. An empty trope of viewing the past through rose-colored glasses of idealism and bias, which clouds our judgment of the future and present day.
We can certainly agree that great strides have been made in science, medicine, technology and social matters, and as pleasant as it may seem to go back to a so-called simpler time, I for one would not care to live in, say, even the 1930s without at least some modern medical and labor-saving advancements.
However, even if you take off the rose-colored glasses, there are some things that were, in fact, better in our grandparents’ day – and we often can find these things in a local thrift store.
Let’s take a look at a few.
1. Pyrex dishes
Made of thermal shock resisting borosilicate glass (a mix of boron, silica and a few other ingredients depending on the formula) Pyrex ovenware was a boon to housewives of the 1920s and forward. Offering a lightweight, transparent and easy cooking dish that also was attractive, it was a near instant hit. Unfortunately, today’s Pyrex may not even be the glass our grandparents used. Corning sold the brand name in 1998, and subsequently, the cookware was made from cheaper (and less resistant to thermal shock) tempered soda-lime glass (the same kind of glass jars are made out of).
Now, if you’ve canned food, you are already familiar with tempered soda-lime glass, and the importance of temperature curves when canning. Well, Pyrex cookware is made out of that same kind of stuff now. While it is true that modern tempered soda-lime glass is extremely strong (certainly better than it was a century ago), if you buy brand new Pyrex dishes, you aren’t getting the same stuff your grandparents used.
It appears, though, that if you find a dish with PYREX in all caps, you are good to go. Shop carefully and make sure you get the good stuff.
2. Cast iron cookware
Now, granted, modern cast iron cookware is every bit as good as the stuff your grandparents used. Except for one niggling, cost-saving thing. Namely, nearly all modern cast iron cookware I’ve seen has been rough cast inside, and not polished smooth like back in the day. Some folks might not be bothered by this, but I absolutely hate it. I’d rather pay a couple dollars more for a pan that has been polished, than still retain its rough cast finish. I’ve never been able to peg when this trend started, but my gut says sometime around the 70s or 80s. Watch for this nicer, more finished cast iron in your local thrift shop or second-hand store, and enjoy a bit of refinement that seems to have fallen by the wayside in the name of profit and price point.
3. Woolen blankets and clothing
Modern synthetics are, quite frankly, amazing. Lightweight, warm and often water-resistant, there is a lot to be said for them. I, for one, would rather be out in the woods with Gore-Tex than wool. However, there is no denying the usefulness of the old standby of woolen clothing and blankets. Because market preferences have moved on, it is harder and harder to find quality wool clothing and bedding, and when you do it is pricey. The careful thrift store shopper often can snag everything from old army blankets to old hunting shirts. Heck, I’ve even found Korean War-era wool uniforms! Bottom line, if you want wool, see what has been donated. Many estates don’t waste time with out-of-date clothing and bedding and simply pass it along.
Is yesteryear’s furniture better than today’s? Well, that all depends. High-end furniture is high-end furniture, regardless of when it is made. What we are looking at is low-end and mid-range furniture, because 50-60 years ago, even cheap stuff wasn’t being build out of particleboard and synthetics the way it is now.
As an added benefit, buying quality used furniture is good for the wallet and environment. Look for older solid wood or laminate furniture in good condition. A little elbow grease with refinishing can save you big. Sometimes out-of-fashion furniture can be had cheap, and searching economically depressed areas can land you real bargains on durable goods.
5. Computer keyboards
Don’t laugh. If you are handy with upgrading connection cables, some 1980s keyboards are vastly superior to the modern thing. Keyboards are often a very cheap item bundled with a PC, and better-quality ones tended to be upgrades or packaged with premium systems. The IBM Model M is perhaps the holy grail of old school keyboards, but there are other nice ones running about. Who knows, you might get lucky and find a few. If you do a lot of typing, or simply enjoy a high-end keyboard, your fingers will thank you.
As I said earlier, it is something of a fallacy that things were made better in the “good old days.” After all, as cool as they are, a 1930s car is nowhere near as safe and fuel-efficient as a modern automobile, but on the other hand, you couldn’t pay me to use modern Pyrex dishware.
Understanding the limitations of past technology and modern progress can put you in a unique position to cherry pick the surviving goods of past generations to equip yourself with high quality merchandise for pennies on the dollar. Sometimes things go out of style but are still quite functional, and sometimes things were just made better back then. No matter what, there are quality bargains to be had if you look!
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