Danby, Vermont—And the Elusive Epergne

A long story about a quest for an elusive epergne.

Danby, Vermont—And the Elusive Epergne
The Green Mountains of Vermont. Photo by Alex Moliski / Unsplash

Danby, Vermont, population 1,311. Sits in a valley between Tinmouth Mountain, and Dorset Mountain on the divide between the Green Mountains to the south and east and the Taconic Mountains to the north and west. (Tinmouth, VT is basically a church with a spire that sits on top of the mountain. The population of Tinmouth is 598, and quite frankly, I have no idea where these people live. There is nothing, for miles, up there.) The drive down Tinmouth mountain, on questionable roads, is beautiful. You end up in Danby—again, I have no idea where the 1,311 people live, or work, for that matter. There are, maybe, 15 buildings “downtown.”

Back in the mid-1990s there were two unexpected businesses “downtown:” The Danby Village Tavern and a China shop (more on that, later). The Danby Village Tavern (more of a restaurant than anything else) was located in a small, very old, building made entirely of marble. The proprietors, Debbie and Carmine, took turns with duties. Debbie was hostess and waitress for the lunch shift while Carmine was in the kitchen; at dinner, they would switch, he would wait and she would cook. They were delightful people, running this, shall I say, fancy (upscale) restaurant in Nothing-of-a-Village-at-the-Crossing-of-No-and-Where, Vermont. She was Greek, he was, if you have not guessed by his name, Italian. The menu was wild. (The best moussaka I have ever had.) They only made a go of it for two summers, unfortunately. I miss that place.

Business number two. I cannot remember the name of the business, but it was a very up-market China shop—again, in this nothing of a village; Robert and I referred to it as “The Crazy Lady’s Shop.” The proprietress was an extraordinarily talkative, vivacious person who has an opinion of everything and did not know how to hold her tongue. She is also quite flighty; she kept rearranging the displays in her little corner of retail.

As one enters the boutique, one is met with gorgeous displays of Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, Meissen, Coalport, Royal Crown Derby, and of course, the crowning jewel, Mottahedeh. It was a small shop, maybe 20’x30’, but it absolutely reeked of opulence. We never saw another person enter the shop, nor even give it a side-long glance. (Not surprising because the few locals we did see were clad in farming garb and probably not thinking about a formal dinner party they were about to host.)

It was in this shop that I fell in love with Mottahedeh, specifically the Tobacco Leaf pattern. She had a dazzling display. One of the display tables featured three tiers of said pattern. On the top tier was this epergne—it was simply over-the-top. A Chinese man squatting on a small pouf—arms and legs akimbo—balancing two wide, reticulating bowls topped with a small vase for a close-tied bouquet, or a candle. The man is dressed in a kimono featuring the tobacco leaf design. It was designed for a State Dinner hosted by Nelson and Mildred Rockefeller. It is a conversation piece, that is for sure. I knew I must have it. I looked at the price (I knew it would be expensive) and nearly fainted. At that time, it would have equaled almost four-months wages for me. No, thank you.

We returned to the shop year after year until one summer it had vanished, replaced by the Mountain Heart School of Craft (certainly more suited to the austere Danby). There was now no reason to go to Danby any longer.

A reunion, of sorts.

Fast forward to six months ago. I was walking around The Grandview Mercantile (an upscale, re-sale shop in Grandview, Ohio (a suburb of Columbus)), as Clement Moore’s poem goes, “and what to my wondering eyes did appear?” The smaller version of that epergne (Mottahedeh makes two sizes). It was in a secured case with a price tag marked, not at retail, but, “Firm.” It was about half the price of the larger version of the piece that I had seen in Danby, lo, those many years ago. (Still entirely too expensive.) I have looked at it every time I have gone to The Grandview Mercantile (you need to return frequently because their stock rotates quickly), though the price was enough to put me off.

I was there on a Friday, and it was not to be found in the case. Someone finally bought it, I supposed. We were browsing the wares—Robert had taken me there specifically to look at a few watercolor paintings. We wound our way back around the far side wall, and there it was, locked in a display case. I did a double-take, the price had been reduced to a “last chance” price; a fraction of what the “firm” price was—obviously, the dealer wanted to get it out of inventory before year’s end for tax purposes. I could not believe the price—it was an 88% mark-down from the current price, new, from Mottahedeh. I called an associate over and she assured me that it was correct. I said, “OK, I’ll take it!” She replied, “You are fortunate. There are several regulars who have been eyeing that piece waiting for the dealer to lower the price. I am glad it is going to a good home; to someone who will appreciate how special it is.”

"The Elusive Epergne" private collection, GRevelstoke, 2023

Postscript: We returned the following day because Robert had decided to buy the watercolors—of course, everyone in the place recognized us. The associate who retrieved the item from the case then told us the story. The dealer had called there just prior to our arrival, that is why it was not in its case. She instructed them to mark it down to that “Last Chance” price. That happened while we were wandering the displays. We were, undoubtedly, the first to see the item at the new price. It had only been in that case for three or four minutes. After almost 30 years, it was meant to be.


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