Each piece in Renee Hunt’s miniature silver collection is a reminder of an important moment or person in her life. As owner of French Metro Antiques in Fayetteville, Hunt lovingly describes the story behind each one. Some were passed down, others she found abroad, but one thing remains certain: they all have meaning. “I believe antiques come into someone’s life for a reason,” Hunt says. “They have a purpose, and then they move on.”
Her first was a petit point perfume bottle with a crystal stopper, paired with a tiny silver funnel. It was a gift from Hunt’s husband, Terry, when they were newlyweds. “That it’s still here, that someone so carefully loved it,” she says, “is amazing.” Years later, after having four children, Hunt would add an Art Nouveau baby pin to her collection as well. “It caught the mother side of me,” she explains.
The large monogrammed cigarette case was a gift from Hunt’s mother, Luci, to her father, Rennie, before he left for World War II. They were high school sweethearts, and shortly thereafter he was shipped to Europe for two years. He would return, and they would be married for 57 years. Renee recently inherited the case from her mother.
Then there’s a book with photos illustrating the life of Saint Therese of Lisieux, which Hunt purchased in homage to her sister, Therese. And a plaque with a young girl praying will, one day, go to Hunt’s daughter, Camille. “I want to have a box made for her, inlaid with the plaque,” she says.
Another touching example is a cylindrical box once used to hold holy water. Hunt happened to be overseas during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. “It was such a strange time, because we were so far away from our family and our country,” she remembers. She discovered it while wandering through a French street market. “It gave me spiritual strength,” she says.
Much of the silver fits into Hunt’s daily routine, including a magnifying glass with lyre handle, and small case where she keeps her sewing needles. On special occasions, Hunt carries a 1920s mesh bag that once belonged to her aunt, and her silver compacts, one of which still contains the original powder puff, can be worn on a chain as a necklace.
One of Hunt’s favorite pieces is an elegant caviar scoop with black handle, circa 1850, while one of the most unique is a slotted absinthe spoon. “There are people who collect nothing but these spoons,” Hunt notes. “It’s the only one I’ve ever found in 12 years.” Another rare find, a miniature Louis XV chest, has a cleverly disguised function—its drawer opens and the top lifts to reveal a surface designed for striking a match.
“That’s the signature of the French,” Hunt explains. “If we have to have function in our lives, why not make it beautiful?”
Tips for Collectors
• Remove tarnish with Tarn-X, which is recommended by silver jewelers, and then use liquid silver polish instead of paste, which tends to get trapped in the crevices.
• The French assay mark for sterling silver is the head of the goddess Minerva. “If you see that marking, you don’t have to question further,” Hunt explains. “You know it is silver.”
•Several of Hunt’s pieces feature repousse, a technique by which metal is hammered from the reverse side to form a raised design on the front.
• Display your silver against a dark background. “I’ve arranged mine on a black tray,” Hunt says, “which makes the collection pop.”
• When you have a collection of small things, display the pieces together rather than spread out around the house. And choose a visible place, such as the coffee table, to capture guests’ attention.