They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To

First Things


| September 1998



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Leslie C. McDaniel

As our electric ice cream maker churned out an incessant, annoying whine one recent afternoon, I eyed the modest contraption in a new light. "Could this be a collectible some day?"

Stranger things, I guess, have happened. But it seems unlikely that this little appliance will ever make an encore performance on the show circuit. Born in a discount store's warehouse, this ice cream freezer was produced by the thousands. What's more, it's pedigree is, uh, undistinguished. The tub is plastic; the motor is housed in plastic; the manufacturer left no identifying marks, and the distributor's name is preserved on nothing more permanent than adhesive-back labels.

But here's what really shoots down the freezer's chances at reincarnation: There's no way the average hobbyist can restore it. It's not like an old tractor in need of new sheet metal, or an engine needing recast pieces, or a windmill with broken blades. If the freezer's cheap plastic tub or paddle or lid is cracked or broken, restoration - if possible at all - would be prohibitive. Unlike oak, for instance, plastic is not a material that tugs at the typical hobbyist's heart.

The irony, though, is that the cheap ice cream freezer will, in one form or another, outlast us all. Once it's retired from active duty, it'll end up in a landfill somewhere, where those plastic parts will greet eternity. It won't be parted out for scrap drives, it won't be restored, and - if the squeal it made during its most recent use is any indication - it won't be cranking ice cream for future generations.

More irony: Americans have never had so much disposable income. But what do we find on most store shelves? Junk. Look at a turn-of-the-century courthouse; look at a new facility. Look at old tools, old cabinetry, old implement seats, old leatherwork: With the exception of artisan-produced pieces, there's no comparison today. Wander the aisles of an antique store: take in the handwork, the carved boxes, the ornately framed mirrors, stickpins, halltrees and trunks. What antiquities will our grandchildren 'ooh' and 'ah' over in the next century?

And yet... Beanie Babies are collectibles. Mass-produced plates are collectibles. Shoot, even the prizes McDonald's tosses into Happy Meals are collectibles! So I'm not pitching my freezer. But it may be a while before its value fully appreciates. For now, I'll settle for the simple pleasure of homemade ice cream on a hot summer night. FC