Cuba's digital destination
Many people who visit Cuba for the first time perceive the island as a live museum or a rare antique. Not only for the vintage Chevys, Fords or Dodges that are still running; or the eclectic architecture that appears anywhere and everywhere. It is also for the items that have survived to our times and are part of private collections or are still used in Cuban households.
Nobody would think that there are quite a few people in this island who are engaged in antiquing. Spacious rooms in private homes have become places for the restoration and preservation of furniture for its subsequent sale. Others have specialized in glassware, chinaware, ornaments…
The visitor may even find small counters on Old Havana’s busiest streets with cigarette holders, jewel cases, costume jewellery, coins, fountain pens, inkwells, stamps, anything dating from other centuries.
To be able to choose from 150 different types of glasses from different eras, discover an enormous table filled with beautiful pitchers of the finest glass, or dream of having a cup of tea or coffee from any of the many tea and coffee services made of Sevres porcelain can be a really exciting experience. Then you turn around and see yourself reflected in a 100-year-old mirror which stands against a wall in a room that not only holds antique items but art and skill and history.
Amanda Rodríguez is a young woman who inherited from her father the talent of collecting and she has developed it both as an art and as highly competent enterprise. She and her other four sisters were born and grew amid fragile glass pieces, delicate porcelains and thousands of valuable antiques. Little by little, the gift of preserving and restoring for the future got under her skin and eventually became her way of life. Her artistic sensitivity and her efficiency as a businesswoman have made a perfect marriage. Glasses, plates, dinner sets, containers for water, wine or liquor, platters, jugs, tea pots, silver cutlery in their original cases, lamps, biscuit porcelain flowers, candlesticks, oil lamps, chests, Moroccan tea tables can all be found and purchased at Amanda’s home.
Her collection spans from the late 18th century to the first half of the 20th, and the second half includes pieces from Cuba up to the 1980s–the Russian heritage. The ground floor displays items that are valued for their beauty, despite having been mass produced or were inexpensive. The top floor contains everything that besides being beautiful also has a historic and artistic value and, which in its time, was a unique piece.
The manner in which she conducts business is quite interesting. Everything is sold at affordable prices as well as by batch or wholesale: groups of items all at the same price. There is no strict or methodical order for the items; they are all over the house, in piles, boxes, glass cabinets or sideboards. Her house can be searched high and low because it is a museum in its entirety created only by her intuition. Display cases with earrings, bracelets and necklaces, well preserved daguerreotypes and cuckoo clocks all hang from the walls. With luck, one may stumble upon a genuine rock crystal necklace.
For Amanda, it is very important that she sell fast in order to purchase new merchandise. As she herself has said, “Many people in Cuba buy antiques, but many more people sell them.”
There are other antique dealers who buy, restore and sell furniture of different designs and styles. There is a substantial inventory of chairs, tables, kitchen furniture, bedroom, dining and living-room sets, beds, sofas, bathroom furniture sets, rocking chairs, vanity sets, sideboards… Also, escritoires, record players with vinyl records and even barber chairs!
Other people collect miniatures, stamps, photographs, postcards, labels, pre-1959 cards of famous baseball players and classic Cuban cigar bands. Meticulous watch repairmen collect pocket watches and grandfather clocks, antique mechanisms which they patiently put to work again. Still others zealously collect photographic cameras and weapons—daggers, swords, sabres.
Many have devoted themselves to collecting and selling old and rare books, while music lovers have comprehensive collections of music of all time. Inestimable treasures for their artistic and cultural value.
The sanctuaries of these antique dealers and collectors are spaces that preserve and safeguard the “marvellous in the real” of a city, the magic realism where on the same wall one may find the stuffed head of an elk, old photographs and a cuckoo clock that is still working.
Dust and dreams and the spirit and the old energy of these always charming centenary items are accumulated within them and they survive to safeguard the past as a legacy for the future.
Milagro: Calle A #610 entre 25 y 27, Vedado – 833-6140 / 05 241-6321 – Curator and promoter of Visual Arts (Need to make appointment ahead, afternoon and night only)
Belkis: Calle 2, #607 entre 25 y 27, Vedado – 830-4124 (mostly glassware (including crystal and porcelain, some furniture)
Mirtha: Calle 6 #601 entre 25 y 27, Vedado – 836-0695 / 05 346-8397 (mostly large ceramic vases and chandeliers, some furniture)
Elia Rodriguez: Calle 4, #305 entre 13 y 15, Vedado – 830-1725 (Mostly furniture, some glasses)
Ibrahim: Calle 35, #251 esq. 4, Vedado – 883-3272 (Mostly furniture, clocks), cell: 05 388-8308 January 2010