On Condition: Do you just want it or do you want it pretty?

Condition, condition, condition, of course, the three most important facets of any collectible, but is it really? Well, in the sense of just how collectible an item is, sure it is, but as to what matters most to collectors I find it’s not necessarily so. I’ll qualify that statement further; to the experienced collector, one who’s amassed articles in any particular niche for any amount of time it is paramount. But frankly I’ve concerned myself much of late with the burgeoning collector and the starter collection.

Here’s the thing about that card with a crease or magazine with torn cover–it’s a lot more available than the pristine vintage item and so, obviously, it’s much cheaper. As a dealer it’s put me in an awkward position. You see the junk turns over much quicker than the prizes. I’ve tried very hard to sell beautiful rare vintage pieces in the $200 range, often settling for $100-$125 after enough time passes, but at the same time that same item, say it’s a magazine with a single page cut out of the middle, sells quite easily for $40-$50, which quite honestly is likely more than it would be worth. I don’t mention this as an isolated incident, it’s more of a chronic pattern.

The American Magazine September 1922
Despite an early article by F. Scott Fitzgerald and another piece inside by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle this piece obviously comes with some Scotch Tape issues. Still it sat for only a couple of weeks and sold for my full marked price of $69 and change.

The most difficult spot this put me in is on the buying side of my business. I routinely pass on items offered at very fair rates just because I know I can’t afford to tie myself up in a handful of beautiful items for a long period of time when I can use the same money to leave with a satchel of similar but, call them broken, items that will move like wild fire at the right prices.

But I don’t frown upon the buyers of these imperfect collectibles, no, firstly I appreciate them because they help me make my living, and so, yes, there is an admitted financial stake involved, but more so what I love most about my low to mid-range grade collectors is that I’m very often catching them just as their passion has sparked.

There is plenty of time later to upgrade and hunt perfection, but I’m catching them coming in the front door. They are not buying to build a poorly conceived investment portfolio which usually produces either a loss or another new dealer at the end of the rainbow, but they are buying either from their heads or their hearts, an interest or a passion.

Please don’t get me wrong–I’m not a junk dealer, and sometimes items that squeeze through the front door will leave out the back tied inside a Hefty bag, but I am not above listing the occasional magazine with a coffee ring on the cover; scotch tape at the binding; an otherwise pristine tobacco card with a dim impression at each of the four corners from a previous mounting; or even a magazine stamped “library edition” if it is otherwise in strong shape. I do try to draw the line at anything with water damage, ink scribbles, clipped corners or other malicious defacements, though if specific items are rare or otherwise desirable I may relent.

The key in upholding my reputation is total disclosure. This is why every single card, from the $1 common to the $100 key to the set are subjected to the same scrutiny under high light come grading time. It’s why I make an effort to turn every single page of a magazine passing through here and tell you so along with what I’ve seen in any online listing. A picture may be worth a thousand words but when it comes to buying and selling online the devil is in the details and the most valuable of those details are text-based.

With my baseball card background I grade everything passing through here along a similar system to the traditional American card grading system (P,F,G,VG,EX,EX-MT,MT) and attribute a corresponding numerical grade (1-10) alongside the more traditional nomenclature. I do the same for magazines because I feel it offers more detail than the usual bookseller’s terms.

Here’s a look at my guide, whether you agree with it or not I like to think it offers a brutally honest point of reference for anyone otherwise not understanding my grade (I used to include this in each of my eBay listings, but yanked the reference about a year ago for fear they’d shut down my listings because of the outside link).

On the other end of the spectrum I am especially harsh. I don’t believe I’ve ever used the term MINT or 10/10 in any listing I’ve posted online these past ten years. On the flip side I’ve bought my share of “Mint” items, but I’ve done so expecting EX (5/10) and being ecstatic when I actually receive an EX-MT (7/10) item. I’ve used NM-MT (9/10) though rarely and reserved for items which look so good you’d think I’d printed them myself (no, I don’t do that, it’s all vintage). Typically a high grade item in my stock is going to mark out EX+ (6/10) to EX-MT (7/10) and it really thrills me to see somebody leave feedback remarking on the fantastic condition of such items.

1948 Dinkie Grips Clark Gable and Deborah Kerr
This card is gorgeous grading NM and rare and I must say priced pretty fair considered those two factors. Oh yeah, there's that Clark Gable guy too, he's pretty famous. It's been sitting without an offer for close to a year now. Go figure.

Harsh grading has been one of the keys to my online success. Part of me knows I could bump items a point or even two up my scale, raise prices to reflect such and still satisfy 90% of my customers, but I’m quite honestly making what I make and pleasing nearly a universal audience (after all, there are always a few cranks).

I grade a movie card issued during the Silent Era under the same conditions and curve as baseball card from the Steroids Era; I grade a Civil War era issue of Harper’s the same as I do a Reagan era issue of Time. I try to avoid terms like really nice for its’ age, though I’m sure I’ve succumbed to this phraseology on occasion when I’ve been overwhelmed by something myself. Still, that same era carries a grade like any other.

In the case of condition rarity falls under the same spectrum as age. Just because the item is super rare any crease through the cardboard and we’re talking about a G-VG piece at best. You can price it rare, but please, grade it standard.

What do you say?

  • Is condition the top factor you consider when adding a piece to your collection and if so are you a seasoned collector?
  • Are you a newbie who just wants the item the first time you see it, scotch tape or no?

Though perhaps of greater interest from my perspective:

  • Are you a new collector who won’t settle for less than the best?
  • An experienced collector who picks their spots knowing that poorer condition is sometimes a trade-off for rarity and knowing when that applies?

I’d be interested to hear because after a lifetime of hearing the mantra condition is king practical experience has caused considerable doubts.

Publication Review: Antique Week

I tend to be vocal about my criticisms of Antique Week. It’s not some internet attitude talking, but human nature; we tend to be more vocal with our complaints than with our compliments. So I figured it was time I gave Antique Week it’s proper due and give it a proper review.

Antique Week is a popular industry publication for antiques and collectibles — and I say it’s an “industry publication” rather than a hobby publication as the weekly focuses heavily not only on pricing, but on information for dealers. Such marketplace information can be a bit of a turn-off for some, but this weekly newspaper (published on actual newsprint) contains lots of good information on antiques, art, and (mainly vintage) collectibles. There’s even a regular column by my no-so-secret crush (who I’ve met several times), Wes Cowan!

While the newspaper is published weekly, not all the stories are timely. (Not to toot my own horn too much, but hubby and I have often beaten Antique Week to the reporting punch. Most recent examples include my article on the antique vampire kit was published October 15, 2009, theirs in the January 11, 2010 issue; and hubby’s article on the 1913 Liberty Nickel was published December 24, 2009, Antique Week‘s was in the January 18, 2010 issue.) But I don’t suppose that matters too much; we’re talking about old things, not social needs or political issues.

Plus there’s lots of ads (from full pagers to classifieds) for antique shops, auctions, flea markets, etc. — including dealers and individual collectors who want stuff. You know when you hear folks on Roadshow etc. casually mentioning those specialized auctions held once or twice a year, or some private collection that’s been up for auction? Well, they’re (usually) found in Antique Week — and in time for you to plan to get to them (or make arrangements to view catalogs and bid) too.

Each issue is in two parts: the first section features news and information by area (Easter, Central, and Western) and the inner National section. And as a subscriber, you have access to the website, where you can search archived issues, auctions, etc.

Honestly, Antique Week is one of the few weekly publications I read every page of and save (though my saving of old newspapers probably surprises no one lol). So thanks, Mom, for renewing my subscription for Christmas!

Right now, you can register for a free four week trial subscription to AntiqueWeek with website access. And you can send a friend a free week or sample issue.

Remembering Barbie’s Evening Splendor

While trolling eBay, I found this vintage Barbie ensemble and let out a, “Hey! I had that!”

Hubby probably would have ignored me (I exclaim a lot of things while sitting at the computer, and if he paid attention to every one, he’d never get to enjoy his parts of the interwebs), but then I followed it up with a, “Whoa, $474.99…” to which he responded, “Still have it?”

Every collector has a price, and if I did have this particular vintage doll outfit for Babs, I might be tempted…

But my outfit was played with — well loved — first by my aunt, then by me.

I love-loveloved this outfit. The metallic gold threads gleamed, making Barbie appear to wiggle in that wiggle dress, even when she wasn’t even moving. The coat had those elegant cuffs of fur set against that gold and then -BAM!- you opened up that coat, and there was that unexpected (or at least thrilling) gleaming aqua lining. And, believe it or not, that aqua corduroy handbag was paired with nearly as many other outfits as the pearl necklace and basic black shoes.

I played with them all, but tenderly. Even still, I’m sure they wouldn’t approach the conditions of this one. And I don’t recall the fur and pearl headband.

However, I don’t think a few hundred dollars would be worth parting with the set if I still had it — no matter the condition. A few grand? Mmmaybe. It’s hard to put a price on memories. Harder still to put a price on the hypothetical ownership retained — because right now, all I want to do it have it back and dress-up Barbie.

For collectors who are interested, the seller of this vintage Barbie ensemble (modwoman of Retro-stop) offers information on Evening Splendor, one of the few original outfits manufactured in 1959:

Although the outfit itself remained in production through 1964, only the outfits marked TM were manufactured the first year. These outfits came with the #1 shoes with the hole in the bottom to accommodate the stand!

The TM version appears to be “more gold” than the more common R version. The gold glistens and sparkles and provides a stunning contrast to the aqua satin lining!

PS I obviously can’t recall if my outfit had the original, old, TM tag; but since Babs #1 was among the items given to my by my aunt, I’m pretty certain it was.

American Pickers

Monday night was the premier of the History Channel’s American Pickers. This hour long show is the channel’s latest foray into the world of collectibles and antiques, following one of my other favorite shows Pawn Stars. So I was wicked excited to see it.

The show documents the actions of Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz (friends since the 8th grade and business partners in Iowa-based Antique Archaeology) and Danielle Colby Cushman (who holds down the fort back at the shop), folks who make a living off doing the work that some collectors and dealers won’t: not only crawling through farms, sheds, garages and junk yards to spot the gems, but willing to ask the dreaded question, “How much?” and then dicker over price.

For some of us, this isn’t so much something we wouldn’t do, but something we simply don’t have time for. (And this is how the pickers do more than survive but thrive.) For me, this is my dream job.

It’s not just that I’d like to turn my hobby of digging around for stuff into full-time travel adventures, but I really, really, have a fondness for what hubby and I call “old coots.” I love old people, especially old men, with stories to tell — and quirks, I love quirks. And American Pickers finds them and shows them to us.

Like Bear, the guy who was a second generation carny with 35 years worth of old carnival equipment and rides. I don’t recall the names of the other charming old men who we met in this first episode, but hubby can attest to my rapt attention and squealing during commercial breaks — both of which express my excitement and delight with the show.

So American Pickers satisfies not only my need to see more junk but to meet more old coots. But maybe you have different needs?

For those more seriously interested in antiques and collectibles than living vicariously through the day to day fun of what Frank, Mike, and Danielle do, there are more practical matters included in American Pickers.

There’s the obligatory math analysis of how much paid for the item, it’s value, and the resulting (at least potential) profits. There’s the history of the objects found (another obsession of mine). And there are tips and tricks too. Such as the best places to pick are at houses and properties without satellite dishes and new vehicles, that you always get the owner to name his or her price first, and that, no, you don’t always get what you want.

If you’re new to collecting, never been so knee-deep in dirty stuff as a collector, or just want to brush up on your antique hunting and negotiating skills, there’s plenty to learn (or reaffirm) from Mike & Frank.

Personally, I’ll continue to watch for the eye candy — the antiques and the old coots. And I’ll keep hoping for my future career as a traveling picker — who writes from the road.

Locally, original episodes of American Pickers are on Monday Nights, up against NBC’s Heroes. I used to watch Heroes religiously, but it’s no contest: The American pickers are my real heroes.

Of Rusty Tools & Auction Fools

One of the things I find most interesting about collecting as a hobby in general is the vast differences in object availability and appeal by geographical area.

Having moved from the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, area to Fargo, North Dakota, you might not think (as I did) that there’d be so many differences. But there’s roughly a 100 year age difference as well as cultural differences — and the evidence of this is found in every rummage sale, antique shop, estate sale, flea market, and thrift store.

On Saturday, I found the sort of thing one typically does not find at thrift stores in Milwaukee: a rather large display of what I ignorantly yet affectionately call “rusty junk” at a Fargo city thrift shop.

Hubby, being both male and a former farm kid, can identify this sort of stuff. Not me.

But I am drawn to the sense of mystery of each piece and the artistic appeal of tools Vs. natural consequences (wear from use, nature, etc.). And I know from years of collecting just how popular such pieces are.

At farm auctions here, I’m never really sure if the (mostly) male bidders who gather around the old rusty tools and parts are buying solely for the sake of collecting (either for their own collections or as dealers who serve as middlemen to collectors or interior designers of T.G.I . Friday’s), if they intend to use the tools and parts to repair other collectibles, or if they simply want to use these old rusty tools “because they don’t make ’em like that anymore…” But I do know people want these old used and rusty tools.

And I know how they found their way to the thrift shop to — or at least I have a pretty good guess.

One old farmer moved to the city, and when he passed away (may he rest in peace), these things either didn’t sell at the estate sale or, because it’s too cold here to have a garage sale, were directly taken in for donation at the thrift shop. Because if these things had been available at a farm auction, they would have sold. And it’s rarely ever too cold for a farm auction here in Faro, North Dakota.

I know, because I’ve been to plenty of them. Even if I can’t identify half the things being sold in front of me.

Discovering & Cleaning Vintage Plastic Watering Cans

I like to collect vintage items that can still be used. One of the most charming little vintage pieces I have that I use every week (kept near my kitchen sink, next to my vintage squirrel pottery planter turned sink caddy), is this lively red watering can.

This particular plastic watering can is marked “EMSA, W. Germany, ges. gesch.” (ges. gesch. is short for gesetzlich geschützt and means Registered patent/design/trademark in German), on the bottom. From the ESMA logo, I can guesstimate that this watering pot was made after 1971.

I think it’s a melamine resin, also called melamine formaldehyde or just melamine; Melmac is a brand name. (Hubby doesn’t agree, but he’s a baby, and not as familiar with all the types and weights of plastics in my lifetime. lol)

In any case, there’s just something so charming about this old plastic watering can… Maybe it’s just the vibrant red?

But since it’s old and had a life before me, it had some signs of wear. Most troubling were the salt and mineral build-up inside the top and at the spout.

And, if you looked closely at the outside, you’d see white calcifications strewn here and there in the lattice work.

Most of this was (relatively) easily removed with some CLR, assisted, again, by my fingernails on the opening edge, and the good old toothbrush on the lattice work. (As always, do a small test with a Q-Tip on an inconspicuous spot first. And be certain to really rinse it well, so that the water is clean and safe for your houseplants.)

Now that it’s so clean, it makes me look for other vintage watering cans — plastic ones though, not the old metal watering cans that everyone, including Martha, seems to go ga-ga for.

I like the size of the smaller plastic watering cans, made for watering houseplants. I like the idea of rescuing the less valuable, deemed disposable, plastic models. And did I mention I love that cheery red?

But I’ve not found any such watering cans. I missed this beauty:

There’s very little vintage EMSA (sometimes mistakenly read as EMJA). I love a lot of what I find — I don’t even like eggs that much, but I would have loved this mint in box EMSA breakfast set:

But no watering cans. Yet.

I’ve also tried searching for vintage plastic watering cans, with little success. This one (from NettySue) is cute…

But it has such a build up of lime etc., that I fear the plastic will be too etched to really salvage it.

Like all collectors, I continue to search.

And I’d love to hear from anyone else who collects vintage plastic watering cans. It’s nice not to be alone sometimes *wink*

Giving A Ceramic Poodle A Bath (Or How To Clean Vintage Spaghetti Figurines)

When I was a kid, I had a number of vintage spaghetti figurines — mostly poodles. Sadly, I sold most of them at family rummage sales as I got older. So when I spotted this black poodle with the familiar ceramic spaghetti fur for just $2 at a local thrift shop I had to take him home. Even if he is not perfect.

The most obvious problem was a long stripe down his back where someone had likely priced him for sale with masking tape. (Lack of concern for damages to items when pricing them is a huge pet peeve for all collectors.) And his ceramic spaghetti fur was covered in dust and dry ick. In short, Blackie the vintage poodle figure was begging for a bath.

Before I share my tips on cleaning old figurines, please note: Do not wash or submerge any pieces which have been glued or repaired as the water will likely seep in and, if not dissolve the fixative, can crumble away the weakened pottery itself. Do not wash or submerge vintage chalkware pieces or any pieces which do not appear to have been fired.

The best way to remove sticker residue and other goo from pottery, ceramics and even (many) plastics is with liquid soap. Rather any liquid soap, from dish washing detergent to hand soap or even shampoo will do. But you should always do a small test of both the cleaning product and the tools you are using, preferably in a place which won’t show, such as the bottom of the piece.

First I like to rinse the piece. Just to get all the loose stuff off. Then take a finger tip full of liquid soap and apply it directly to the areas affected by the sticky residue.

Rub it in good and then let it sit a few seconds to soften the residue.

When you are ready, hold the figuring securely with one hand. Take care how you hold your piece. You will be tempted to set or lean the piece against the counter top or table; don’t. The pressure you’re applying can leverage a break or stress fracture, or simply risks bumping and sliding across the hard surface causing a chip. (Since I was taking photos while I did this, you’ll see I’m short a hand for holding in the photo; but trust me, I did it!)

Using your thumbnail, gently but firmly, scrape the residue off. (Personally, I find there is no greater tool than your own fingernails; you know exactly how much pressure you are applying and the ease with which the goo is sliding off.)

In cases like this vintage figurine, the sticker residue has aged and set so well that while you do make progress, not all of it will come off right away.

Simply apply more liquid soap with your finger tip, let it sit, and scrape again. You may wish to rinse or wipe the piece with a damp sponge to make sure you’re removing all of the loose bits of residue you’re scraping off.

This may take repeated efforts, but eventually the oils &/or emollients will break down the residue.

Now to clean between the ceramic spaghetti strands. This is best done with a toothbrush (I always keep toothbrushes in my cleaning kits). Wet the toothbrush, apply a bit of the same liquid soap, and gently brush it into the ceramic fur and other crevices of the figurine, creating a lather.

Be especially careful where there are damages, paint that you have not tested, etc. But overall, a light brushing with the mild soap won’t do anything but remove the dirt.

The rinse off and gently blot the piece dry.  Let it sit on a towel to try before placing it back on the shelf, especially if it sits on a wooden or painted surface.

Now Blackie’s clean. But he’s still not perfect. He’s got a number of places where the tips of the spaghetti strands have been broken; the white ceramic spots are obvious to the collector’s trained eye, even if he looks great on the shelf. So I’m leaving him alone. But if your spaghetti figurine is going to remain yours, there’s nothing wrong with taking a permanent marker and placing a dot of color on the bare white ceramic and hiding the flaws.

Collecting The History Of Silent Film

Ever since I first heard of and then interviewed Mary Ann Cade, I’ve been awestruck. It’s not just that her collection of film memorabilia is incredible (It is — can you even imagine owning the bracelet, belt, and chain that Theda Bara wore in Cleopatra?!) but her utter devotion and dedication to the discovery and preservation of honest-to-goodness silent film footage which amazes and impresses me. I mean this woman actually has found silent film footage previously considered lost. So when she contacted me, asking if I wanted an update on her collecting activities, you know I said, “Yes!”

kellerman-photo-from-october-1909-issue-of-burr-mcintosh-monthlyThe first bit of Cade’s news is regarding some of that previously mentioned presumed-lost silent film footage: Six minutes of Annette Kellerman (also billed as Annette Kellermann, “The Perfect Woman”) in the big budget silent film Neptune’s Daughter (1914).

While researching for a seminar on Annette Kellerman for Australia’s Powerhouse Museum, Einar Docker found Cade’s article on lost film at Silents Are Golden. During conversation about using Cade’s research in his presentation, Docker, the museum, and Australia’s Screensound archive were blown away to discover that the six minutes of film existed let alone that Cade knew where it was and that it could be viewed.

The six minutes of thought-to-be-lost film premiered again — over a century later — on November 4, 2009, at the Powerhouse Museum along with the 19 minutes of known Neptune’s Daughter film. (You can see a clip at the Powerhouse Museum link.)

Along with crediting Cade, Docker will be sending her a copy of the museum event on DVD and he was able to get her a copy of Kellerman’s short, Jephthah’s Daughter (1909) from the BFI archive.

You may not think getting a copy of a film isn’t very exciting, but this isn’t like buying or renting a DVD. This is a whole other animal indeed.

We’re talking about films which have not been commercially re-released, many of them have not been seen by the general public in nearly a century. They reside in film archives, like the BFI or Gosfilmofond of Russia. If you live in a community that doesn’t have silent film screenings, or only has screenings of the more popular silent films (films made more popular because enough people have seen then in the past 100 years to be fans and request them), you have to travel to an archive to see them. (If you think today’s movie theater prices are high, add in international travel, hotel lodgings, meals and suddenly you’re all too happy to buy ticket — and the over-priced popcorn.) Of course, you can try to purchase copies of old films… The prices vary considerably from archive to archive, with some charging minimal amounts for films while others may charge over $1000 for a copy of a film.

So for folks like Mary, who take being a film fan to a whole other level, receiving copies of such rarely viewed old films is a dream come true.

Here’s what Mary herself has to say about her passion and dedication to collecting and preserving silent films:

My feeling is that these films are the only legacy that many of these artists have as their testament to show they were a part of history, part of this planet, and that they made a contribution or a difference in some way while they were here.

It is not fair to the artist when they are held hostage in some archive and should be made available to the public for viewing. Some of these films that are held hostage in archives have been in that state for almost a century, which I think is criminal. It’s like someone who has a precious gemstone or car. What good is it if you can’t show it off to others? What good does it do to hide it away from everyone else? I think this is selfish and serves no real purpose whatsoever.

This is why Mary puts so much effort into tracking down old and even lost silent films. Which brings us to part two of her collecting news…

Through her international network of silent film collectors and archivists, Cade was also able to obtain copies of the following films:

  • Et drama paa Havet (A Drama on the Ocean or Dodsangstens maskespil) (1912) starring Valda Valkyrien
  • Den Staerkeste (Vanquished) (1912) Valda Valkyrien
  • Diana (1916) starring Valda Valkyrien
  • A Dream or Two Ago (1916) starring Mary Miles Minter
  • Silas Marner (1916) starring Valda Valkyrien
  • The Innocence of Lizette (1916) starring Mary Miles Minter
  • Out Yonder (1919) starring Olive Thomas

Jeesh, I have trouble finding just one movie from the 1980s that I want at Blockbuster. No wonder this is one collector who impresses me.

I’d like to think that the only thing holding me back from being as great a collector as she is that my interests are too varied — that if I wouldn’t be so easily distracted and fascinated by every little thing I find, I too could focus and do work as important as she does…

But until that day, Mary Ann Cade remains not only an idol of mine, but a collecting superhero. (I wonder what her cape looks like?)

And this isn’t even all her news! Come back soon for more on Mary Ann Cade’s silent film collecting and movie collectibles.

Photo Credits: Annette Kellermann photo from the October 1909 issue of Burr McIntosh Monthly, courtesy of Cliff Aliperti.

Reproduction Neptune’s Daughter film poster, via MovieGoods.com.

Mary Miles Minter photo on St. Louis Globe – Democrat Water Color Company Premiums (1916), also from Cliff Aliperti.

Tamar Stone On Collecting The Perfectly Imperfect

During one of my many conversations with Tamar Stone (on everything from the vintage inspiration for her corset and bed books to her collecting habits), the artist shared this bit on collecting imperfect things:

I like old tools, folk art, things are hand made but not perfect.

I once bought a piece of wood with string wrapped around it — it seemed to perfect as an object — and I knew I could never create that type of thing, but the person who made it did it for practical purposes and I just thought it was great… Of course, my husband just rolled his eyes.

in-flagrante-collecto-caught-in-the-act-of-collectingOh, speaking of that kind of collecting, do you know the book In Flagrante Collecto (Caught in the Act of Collecting), by Marilynn Gelfman Karp?

Put it on your wish list! It’s amazing — beautiful to look at, wonderfully written, and the collections in it are from things like bird nests to old paper ephemera.

Categorizing & Organizing Collectibles: The Quandry Of Ephemera

Photographer Alex Waterhouse-Hayward’s post has me thinking… He writes:

The biggest worry in my mind these days as I toss and turn in bed the waning days of the year has been what to do with 13, four-drawer metal filing cabinets full of my life’s work in the form of negatives, slides, transparencies and prints. I can be objective enough about my own output to know that they are worth money. But to whom and when? Probably when I am dead someone will have a peak and realize what I know now, and that is that I have a diverse treasure of Vancouver’s everyday life since I arrived in 1975.

After some discussion of books on categorization, he gets to the crux of the problem:

This all made me think of my own personal classification which is not really cross-referenced and installed into some sort of computer program. My filing system is alphabetical and depends on my memory alone. If I forget a person’s name I cannot find the file.

This is my problem. Organizing collections can be challenging, but it seems worst with ephemera. At least for me it is. Unlike pottery or glassware, figurines or even books, ephemera is not so readily displayable. At least not in the quantities I have it in.

I don’t even have an alphabetical system; all my vintage magazines, antique photographs, old postcards, etc., are lucky if they are lumped together by those simple categories.

alex-waterhouse-hayward-readsI’m not a bad collector or a lazy collector; I’m an overwhelmed and confused collector.

I’ve pondered, many times, about organizing my ephemera. You’d think vintage magazines at least would be easy: sort and store them by publication title, placed in chronological order. But you see, I don’t look for articles, images, or whatnot by “May, 1958, Cosmopolitan Magazine.” My continuing fascination, inspiration and delight in collecting vintage magazines due to the serendipity of going through each issue, page by page, and making discoveries. It would be nice to be able to, after making such discoveries, organize each issue by some sort of theme… “Advertisements,” “women’s history,” “humor,” etc., so that I could find them again. But any magazine, then as now, has so many themes. How would I know that the magazine I filed under “humorous ads from the 1950s,” would also contain a great feature on “women’s sexuality in the 1950s,” and a dozen other categories?

And this doesn’t even cover such things as antique postcards, vintage photographs, old booklets & receipts… *sigh*

While Alex’s post provides more food for thought, I don’t have any real answers yet. I won’t stop tossing and turning at night — or collecting by day — until I do. So I’d love to hear from other collectors about how you’ve organized and/or categorized your ephemera.

Photo credits: Photo of a young Alex reading from Alexwaterhousehayward.com.

Display, Protect, & Store Ephemera

What I like about these Lil Davinci Art Cabinets is the fact that each cabinet is a storage container as well as a display piece, holding up to 50 sheets at a time with a spring-loaded pocket.

That means you can store multiple pieces of artwork — and ephemera — in one place, with the one in front on display. The hinged door opens from the front, giving you easy access for rotating what’s seen as well as keeping other pieces within reach.

I’m thinking they’d work wonderfully for protectively displaying vintage magazines!

The art cabinets come in two sizes: The Li’L DaVinci (8.5″W x 11″H) and the Big DaVinci (12″W x 18″H).

What’s In A Name? (Seeing Straight About Book Collecting)

jennifer-jean-the-cross-eyed-queenAs I said, I don’t sell too much online anymore (I’m too busy blabbing about the stuff I find to list much), but recently I did sell this copy of Jennifer Jean, The Cross-Eyed Queen (by Phyllis Naylor, illustrated by Harold K. Lamson, © 1967; this was the Third Printing, 1970, Lerner Publications Company).

It’s the educational story of little Jennifer, who has pretty green eyes but begins having some troubles with her vision that causes her first to squint, then become cross-eyed…

The other children tease her.

Her parents take her to the eye doctor; first she must wear an eye patch, then glasses.

The other children continue to tease her.

jennifer-jean-rag-doll-eye-patch-illustration

Until everything is set straight all ends well.

When I bought the book and listed it for sale, I told the story of how it reminded me of my cousin Tina’s plight. But this isn’t the story of Tina, or any of my own memories, really. It’s the story of the book’s new owner — or at least what I gather about the purchased vintage book.

Sometimes buyers will tell you why they simply had to have something; sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I dare to ask… But in the case of a cross-eyed girl item, it just seemed too impolite. And it probably wasn’t necessary either — for Jennifer Jean was shipped to another Jennifer (middle name unknown).

In my decades of selling old books, one of the most common themes for collecting books I’ve encountered is the namesake connection.

rip-darcy-adventurer-vintage-bookMoms & dads who buy books containing their children’s names in the titles is a-parent-ly quite popular; I’ve sold two copies of Rip Darcy Adventurer, by Jack O’Brien to parents of children named Darcy — not to terrier lovers, as I had anticipated. The first copy went to a new father of a baby girl who was collecting books with her name in the title so that one day, when she was older, he could present her with a grand collection of all books Darcy. The second copy went to a mom desperately trying to keep her young son, Darcy, interested in reading.

Some people collect books for the delight of finding their name in the author’s name. My father snags copies of Edna Ferber works because Ferber isn’t a very common name — and there’s the hometown connection of Milwaukee. (When I was growing up, we’d refer to the author as Auntie Edna, even though she’s no relation. That joke bombs now because very few people remember Edna, even though she was a literal literary Giant in her time.)

So I probably shouldn’t ever have been surprised that people collect books for their names. In fact, it seems to be a far more popular reason for collecting books than first editions. But then again, that’s just anecdotal evidence based on my experiences, and I don’t find many first editions to sell.

Yet I do still wonder if buyer-Jennifer’s middle name is Jean. *wink*

Preservation Of Heirloom Textiles, Collectible Clothing, Etc.

1940s-silver-grey-and-rspberry-dressing-gownThis stunning 1940s dressing gown in silver grey satin with raspberry embellishments, serves not only as a reminder of just how lovely vintage lingerie can be, but also to properly store your clothing because this beautiful old dressing gown has color transfer marks.

Sometimes these spots are not permanent, but remember to use archival tissue when packing away your collectible fashions, your own wedding dress, etc., and you’re more likely to avoid them to begin with.

In fact, as a general rule, any valuable textile not in continual (or rotational) use at least every 2 months, should be properly stored and put away to preserve and protect them from damages.

Here are some tips for properly packing away clothing, fine vintage linens, and other textiles:

1. Begin with clean, dry clothing. Unless instructed to do so by a textiles archivist professional or clothing conservator, do not dry clean, starch or otherwise treat the clothing; just prepare the piece by gently, but thoroughly, cleaning it. (Any fabric items to be packed away must be completely dry before you begin.)

2. Look over the textiles for any damages. If you discover insects, mold or mildew, isolate the item in a sealed container immediately so that these live things (yes, mold and mildew are as alive as insects!) do not spread to other textiles.

3. Clean hands only. As oils and dirt, etc., can be transferred from your hands, causing future damage or deterioration, it’s best to wear archival-quality gloves. If you do not have such gloves, begin with clean hands — and wash & dry them as needed to ensure they remain as clean as possible.

4. Textiles and clothing to be preserved should be stored in special archival boxes only.

Never store valuable textiles in plastic containers (or even ‘protectively’ use plastic wrap) for two reasons: One, plastic deteriorates over time, creating poly vinyl chloride gases which may cause fabrics to yellow; and two, plastic does not breathe, which, with temperature and humidity changes, may encourage the growth of mold and mildew.

Longterm storage of linens and textiles in a cedar or wood chest is not recommended. Wood fibers contain acid which, when in direct contact with textiles, may cause deterioration and decay of the material, often resulting in dark yellow or brownish stains. While these stains may be removed (via the use of bleaching agent, for example), the fabric is weakened by both the exposure to the wood acid and to the bleaching or cleaning agent.

5. For the best results fine vintage linens and textiles should be carefully stored in acid free tissues.

There are two basic types of acid-free tissues: Buffered and Unbuffered.

Buffered tissues are ideal for wrapping and padding cottons or linens, this acid-free paper has an alkaline buffer or Alkaline Reserve (commonly a calcium or magnesium salt) to help prevent acid migration. (Buffered tissue is a little stiffer and more opaque than the unbuffered tissue.) However, this alkaline buffer can be damaging to silk or wool objects. So when in doubt, or for general textile preservation purposes, go with unbuffered, or pH neutral acid-free tissues.

6. Acid-free tissues are used to prevent folds and abrasions between textile surfaces. This is done by stuffing and interleaving (placing or layering of barrier sheets of tissues).

Lightly stuff any sleeves, bodices, etc. with archival tissue, giving clothing a three-dimensional shape and so keeping any fabric from laying or rubbing against itself.

Multiple layers of tissue are sandwiched between the front and back layers of garments; apply generous layers of tissue to protect fabric from metalwork such as zippers, hooks & eyes, etc., as well as decoartive work such as beading, to avoid rubbing and imprints.

7. Prepare the box. Before placing the clothing in the box, line the box with sheets of the acid free archival tissue paper and loosely cover the item, so that it is fully wrapped in tissue (rather like hiding a sweater in a gift box).

If the garment is so large that you must fold it to fit in the box, ‘stuff’ the fold with crumpled archival tissue paper (so that the fold doesn’t lie perfectly flat or make a sharp crease) and layer the garment with other tissues (so that the fabric does not fold back upon itself).

8. Clothing items should be individually stored in special garment-sized archival boxes; but you may pack away several smaller items in a box, as long as you don’t overload the box &/or “smash” the clothing or tissue.

9. Where to store the box/boxes? Sunlight is damaging for all textiles, so dark is a given.  But avoid basements, attics, and other locations with extreme temperatures &/or humidity as well as great fluctuations in temperature and humidity.  Simply put, the best place for storing the properly boxed textiles is where the living is most comfortable — on levels of your home that you live on. Closets in an interior wall, under your bed, etc. are typically the best options.

10. Ideally, these storage boxes are opened at least once a year, the textiles and garments unfolded, larger pieces such as quilts are aired out (inside, away from direct sunlight) and then refolded differently before being stored again.

If this doesn’t exactly appeal to you, remember why you are doing it! And why not consider making this preservation anniversary a celebration or story-telling event with family and friends? (Just save the punch and snacks for once all the textiles are safely in their boxes again!)

Baseball Card Collecting Purity Shattered at Age 6

To me collecting has always been about amassing and organizing, maybe a little displaying, definitely learning, and combining those last too a little bit “I know something you don’t know,” which is by all means a mature enough reason to start this story when the bug first bit, age 6.

My entry into the world of collecting came as it did for many kids, and in the case of my generation most of their fathers too: baseball cards. Oh, they’re so boring today with so many more exciting items having become accessible for collectors, but if you’re a six year old boy and it’s 1979 then there was nothing more accessible to collect than the baseball card.

Looking back, as with most memories of childhood, it was very pure. To be quite honest if you took my computer away and I wanted to take up baseball card collecting today I wouldn’t know where to go to get started. But I remember where I got them back then, often it was the five and dime, sometimes the grocery store, but what sticks out most as I write this, perhaps because it seems so unusual to me now, was the ice cream man. For some strange reason I can recall like yesterday peeling open a wax pack and pulling out a Mickey Rivers card, maybe because Mick the Quick was the only beloved Yankee I got, who knows.

Dad's deeply dented checklist
Dad's deeply dented checklist

My 1979 Topps baseball cards were interactive. I can recall keeping my cards sorted by team and laying them out in front of the television when a game was on. I’d place the 9 fielders in the appropriate positions and one by one bring the opposing batters forward as they came to the plate on TV. And sure I’d advance the batter base to base when appropriate as well. This led to my Yankees being the most beat-up of the entire bunch, but guess what, we didn’t care about condition then.

The cards were educational too, of that I have no doubt. I learned long division once I figured out dividing hits by at bats yielded a players batting average. That led to a fascination with math which filled the hours by my inventing my own stats for my own baseball career which probably often wound down when I was over the hill in baseball years by, oh, right about now.

Eventually I had amassed enough cards to presume I had the full set of 726. I took to sorting them and pulling the doubles out for trade later. I actually remember sitting on the back porch with Dad one day as he did most of the work putting everything in order and actually using the checklists for their designed purpose–marking each empty box with a sharpened pencil. I can also remember how red his face turned when I became distracted and knocked the table over, but the less said about that the better.

Now I didn’t buy my cards for the gum, but don’t think that that slab of pink didn’t offer some small inducement. I’ll even confess to growing nostalgic many years later and popping a 15 year old piece of gum in my mouth–the corners were sharp and it tasted like pure sugar. It didn’t last very long. About all that had held up was the familiar sweet aroma.

Finally I can recall the day the purity was drained from my newly found hobby. My buddies and I used to flip and match cards, winner taking the amassed stack, and while a small form of gambling that was all right, it was still pure. No, the day everything changed was the day one of us picked up one of the earlier editions of Beckett’s annual price guides.

I still remember the trade and since my guy eventually made it to the Hall of Fame I still hold that I won the deal on talent. If I didn’t know now what the price guide told us back then I’d still do the trade and I’d be right every time.

Rollie's still got that 'stache
Rollie's still got that 'stache

I was going to get a Rollie Fingers card, who besides being the top fireman of the day with World Championships in Oakland behind him and already us kids whispering in reverence, “He’s a Famer,” also had/has one of the best mustaches ever and it was captured firmly on cardboard for all time to the owner of this particular baseball card. This was quite an inducement, especially at a time before any us could grow our own mustaches.

The price was Bump Wills. Why did my friend want a Bump Wills card? I’m not even sure if I’d heard of Bump’s father, the much more successful ex-Dodger Maury Wills, at the time, but if I had I’m sure I used it as evidence. There was nothing unusual about this card. His stats read mediocre. The rookie card craze of the mid-80’s had yet to hit, but even so this was Wills’ second card anyway. My friend peered into the Beckett book, his brother leaning over his side snickering in a way that as I recall it makes me want to find them right now and play some cards.

Why? Now there’s no time limit on a deal, but still after several minutes of deliberation we were obviously reaching the critical juncture. Finally my friend and possessor of the Fingers card asked the fateful question: “Deal?” A deep breath on my part before responding, “Deal.” And so it was done.

Immediate laughter, and I apologize for all of the detail, but you’re not yet familiar with Bump Wills’ significance in the world of late 1970’s baseball cards you’re about to discover just why this was so traumatic, so very horrible, that I still believe I can recall every single detail on the 30th anniversary of the harrowing event, unembellished, of course.

“What is it?” I asked, knowing I’d had to have, in some way, goofed. They showed me the Guide.

The Bumper with his proper team
The Bumper with his proper team

The 1979 Topps cards had a pretty full photo of the ballplayer taking up most of the card’s space with a banner running along the bottom edge of the card spelling out the player’s team. Bump Wills was a Texas Ranger and my card said “Rangers” just as it should have across bottom. But this was the corrected version of an error card which in all other ways was the same as my card but read “Blue Jays” across the team banner, pre-supposing a rumored trade which never did occur if I recall the story correctly.

But the error card was only worth about a dime, which was fine, Rollie Fingers booked about a quarter. My memory is a little foggy here, but I believe the corrected version, the rarity which I had just dealt off, booked three whole dollars! Now in 1979 there wasn’t much booking for 3 bucks, at least not a lot of what we had, we were dealing in the cents column most of the time.

I’d been had! I’d dealt the prize of my budding collection without even knowing it!

From that day forward no deal was completed without consulting “the Book.” No more were deals based on wants, needs or even likes. Trades were balanced except on the rare occasion somebody would overpay for a card they needed for a set, or to complete a team set, or just a random hero Yankee–very rare times. Those deals still retained some of what made collecting so much fun, but the almighty dollar, or more accurately an otherwise unknown third party’s stated value, became the rule of the day across our childhood.

Other People’s Family Letters

kathct-vintage-20s-30s-depression-era-diary-letters-photosPeople often are shocked to discover personal things like old photos, diaries, scrapbooks, and letters up for sale at auctions and estate sales, like this collection (shown at left, sold by kathct). Many people, like myself, like to adopt such ephemera, and as we carry it home in our hands we wonder just how these things were available for sale… And weren’t we lucky to be the one to rescue and adopt them!

Once I was given a pair of vintage scrapbooks, and I thrill flipping through every page, reading every scrap between the covers. One of my favorites from the books is a handwritten vintage letter from Cousin Henrietta. Since the 1948 note consists of just two complete sentences, a closing and a post-script, the bulk of the news centers upon Henrietta’s intent to see her cousins soon — despite an injury:

we hope to see you soon I am keeping my fingers crossed for I pulled a piece of my toe nail off and I sure have a sore toe, think there is a little infection there but am doctoring it and hoping it will be O.K.

dear-cousins-letterFor some reason, such a short note all about a toe is amusing to me. It’s not just a “I hurt my toe,” but a rather detailed account of injury in such a short bit of correspondence yet. And years later I feel I must be in the same boat as Henrietta’s cousins — left wondering just how she managed to pull off a piece of toenail!

We collectors like vintage letters which make us feel like we know the sender — or make us want to!

But the most popular letters are sets of letters over a period of time. As correspondence, there are typically two sets of letters; each a side of the conversation, collected by the recipient. It’s quite rare to have both sets of letters, like this collection of 115 letters between a father and daughter between 1911 and 1934 (photo below; sold by bdbrowncollect), but just one set or side of the conversation can tell you quite a story.

115-letters-vintage-letters-daughter-father-hawaii-1911-1934That story may be regarding a situation, such as life during WWII or a courtship; or the story may be more intimately revealing of an individual person’s character, like a diary. In either case, such old letters are fascinating — and not just for the vicarious among us. Writers love to get their hands on such letters (and old diaries) as they inspire characters in novels, plots for films, etc.

I recall just a few years ago when there was a special set of letters listed on eBay that went for nearly $300 dollars. (While we don’t like to dwell on the monetary values of things here at Inherited Values, I am compelled to mention it, in context; to illustrate the desire to own creating demand, affecting price.) Three hundred dollars is a pretty pricey sum for approximately two dozen letters; but these were no ordinary letters.

This set of letters, written in the 1930s was saved by a woman who had an affair while she was married — and there were letters from both her traveling salesmen suitor and her eventually heartbroken and disgruntled husband. Though the seller had read all the letters, every ultimatum, every plea, the letters contained no final outcome of this vintage lover’s triangle.

Can you just imagine the delight in filling in the blanks of each person’s plight? An author or screenwriter’s dream! (Not to mention my own!) Hence the high bidding. (Too high for me to even get involved in the bidding, so I just watched the auction’s progress, sighing and wishing I had more disposable income.)

But not everyone gets rid of their family’s old letters.

I found this gem of a blog, Matrilineal, by a woman who is not only keeping her family’s old letters, but transcribing 15 years worth of them. This is how she describes the previously unread family letters:

I now know that my grandmother at 60 taught 6th grade, bought commercial real estate, took in boarders, thought flying saucers were a mode of transportation, worried about getting sued because of an ill-tempered Pekinese, and commented on every murder and suicide when she wrote to my mother who was a 20 year old student at UC Berkeley. I’ve been obsessing over these odd letters, and I think I know where in the familial gene pool that tendency might have come from.

In this case, I find myself almost wishing Linda would sell her family’s old letters! But if she did, I might just have to wait for the film. *wink*

Determining The Size Of Vintage Stockings

Let’s say you love vintage stockings, so at an estate sale you buy a bag full of them — only to get home and have no idea what sizes you have.

Jaynie Van Roe of Here’s Looking Like You, Kid (who has an excellent post on what you kneed to know about vintage fully fashioned stockings) shares tips for finding the size of vintage stockings:

cameo-burlington-mills-nylon-stocking-advertisement-1951Vintage stockings, original non-stretching nylon stockings, are sold by two measurements: foot size and leg length. But what if the stocking’s size markings, usually printed on the stocking welt (the top, where you attach the garters), aren’t legible or missing entirely? Well then you are going to have to measure the stockings themselves to determine their size.

Before we begin, please note the following:

In this case, “vintage stockings” refers to non-stretch nylon stockings which were made mainly from the 1940s through the 1960s, when Lycra and other stretch hosiery entered the market. Though 100% nylon stockings continued to be made, and its form of sizing continued to be used by some brands, the stretch hose limited the range of sizing to today’s more familiar ‘Small’, ‘Medium’, ‘Tall’ and ‘Queen’ — and the related A, B, C or D. (The extra give in these stretchier stockings and pantyhose literally allowed manufacturers to ‘lump’ women into fewer sizes, reducing cost and, we vintage fans feel, decreasing a more specific fit.)

Then, as today, there are variations in sizing by stocking brand — and sometimes within the same brand. The top brand names tend to be more consistent in their sizing (Hanes & Berkshire, for example, tend to be incredibly consistent), but even specific brand consistency may vary greatly from the sizing of other brands (stockings by Alberts, including the sub-brand of Araline, for example, measure an extra half inch in the foot and an extra inch longer in length too).

Since worn stockings will be a little larger (even freshly laundered ones), than unworn stockings, these sizing measurements work for unworn vintage stockings.

However generalized these sizing measurement tips are, you can get a pretty good idea of fit — especially if you compare the measurements to the measurements of your favorite fitting pair of worn vintage stockings!

How To Find The Size Of Vintage Stockings

In order to best measure the stocking, I recommend beginning by securing a tape measure to a table top, taping it down just like at the counters in fabric departments, so that you have both hands free to handle the stocking.

If you don’t have a measuring tape, get one; they’re cheap and you’ll use them over and over again. (I suggest you carry a tape measure with you when you visit estate sales, thrift stores, flea markets, etc. too — you can always ask for a literal hand with measuring!) Or, you can tape paper the length of the table, mark off your dimensions, and measure them later.

Once you have the measuring tape securely in place, you’re ready to get your measures. Since true stocking size is always determined by the foot measurement, we’ll begin there.

The industry standard for measuring the foot of a stocking is to measure from the tip of the toe to mid heel, however, most people are more comfortable defining the end of the heel rather than making a guesstimate of the middle of the heel, so I’ll be discussing measurements from the tip of the toe to the end of the heel. That said, that’s what you do.

Place the tip of the stocking toe at the top of your measuring tape and, holding it firmly in place, extend the stocking foot taut along the length of the tape measure. As you extend the stocking’s foot, keep it pulled taut — not stretched; apply just enough tension to remove the folds and wrinkles in the nylon. Measure the distance between the tip of the stocking’s toe to the end of the heel (the darker, reinforced area).

Just as with shoe sizes, a measurement of 10 inches does not equal a size 10 stocking — well, not quite, anyway. If your measurement was taken from the tip of the toe to mid-heel, then the number of inches does indeed give you the stocking’s foot size. (So if you’re comfortable with assessing the middle of a stocking’s heel, go for it!) But if you’ve measured the stocking from the tip of the toe to the end of the heel it’s still easy to get the size: subtract either ½ or ¾ an inch to obtain the true stocking size.

Which one? If your stocking is smaller, measures 9 ½ inches or less, subtract half an inch; if your stocking is larger, measures 10 inches or more, subtract ¾ inches. (Larger stockings have a larger heel reinforcement.)

To get stocking length, measure from the bottom of the heel to the top of the welt, using the tips above. The measurement you get is the size; no math necessary.

STOCKING 

SIZE

 

STOCKING
LENGTH
SHORT MEDIUM LONG XL OPERA
8 1/2 28 1/2 29 31 33
9 29 30 1/2 32 33
9 1/2 29 1/2 31 33 35 37
10 30 32 34 36 38
10 1/2 31 32 1/2 34 1/2 36 1/2 39
11 33 35 37 39
11 1/2 33 1/2 35 1/2 37 1/2 40
12 40
13 40

Collecting: It’s Not Just For The Materialistic Among Us

auctionpaintingPeople who don’t collect often wonder why a person collects things. They neither understand the things, nor how it becomes an addition. For those that just don’t understand, here’s a primer; for those who do get it, feel free to sing in the choir by leaving the preacher some comments. *wink*

Collecting is not always about the things; it is what they represent.

Sometimes you hunt for things, specific things that you know exist. Sometimes, they are things you want back. Perhaps things from your childhood. A favorite toy can bring back simpler days, remind you of the bonds with your siblings. Or maybe you search for replacements for items that broke. Floral cups just like the ones Grandma had. Picking them up, taking them home, you are suddenly flooded with warm memories of hot cocoa with Grandma.

Sometimes you search for things you never had, but know are out there, and need them to complete. Pieces to a set of china you wish to complete, or a volume in a series of books, or the missing piece in a game — some collectibles ‘complete you’ in that way.

auctionfigurinesOther times, it’s the thrill of the hunt, the pleasure derived from the moment of “Aa-ha!” which completes you. In a world where survival is no longer based on hunting & providing by use of wits & skill, these exercises in collecting play with that primitive need to ferret & produce. Like a giant rack of antlers, items hunted for & brought home are symbols of our success.

But there is also a great charm in the serendipity of collecting.

Sometimes you run into things you didn’t even know existed, and you wonder how you lived without them. Such delights lie in dark corners of garage sales, in the bottoms of boxes not explored at auctions. Suddenly, you are face to face with this thing & you realize you must have it. This old recording you have not yet heard, this porcelain piece depicting some creature you cannot identify, suddenly they make life worth living.

Perhaps they are the comic relief you need to get through your day, or an example of what made a person in the past make it through their day. The humor transcends time. The knowledge that others have survived their times too brings a comfort as real as cocoa with Grandma.

Sometimes you run into things and you wonder how anyone could live without them.

Sometimes you run into things and you wonder how anyone could part with them. Family photographs, diaries, a much loved doll… You adopt them because they are worthy of a home. And it’s obvious they are not getting the respect, let alone the love, that a treasure deserves. You rescue them because no one else seems to want to. They may not be your family heirlooms, but they at least deserve to have a family.

auctiongenpic0Some of us buy the treasures of others as a form of insurance: One day, sadly, all these items, near & dear to us, may end up for sale *gasp* by family members who don’t value them; maybe we can pay it forward and someone will rescue our beloved mementos.

This collector hopes there are many out there that will come to rescue & adopt my treasures — each with the sense of delight of a real collector who understands these objects are not just materialistic things.

When Things Are More Than Just Objects

One of the things we try to do here is move past simply describing the objects of our (or any collector’s) affections and try to show the passions behind (or instilled within) the objects themselves. You may have thought that our blogging was all about the justification for our quirky pursuits, but that’s not so. Well, not always

One of the number one reasons for collecting is a passion for history — be it our own personal history, a sense of nostalgia for people and places just at our memory’s edge, significant world history, or some other stop along that continuum. When we collect, we do not merely posses objects and clutch them to our chests, we cultivate collections to capture moments in time, to understand people, places, moments… To understand our collective and personal selves.

Recently, in New York Magazine, Amanda Fortini wrote a piece on a series of photographs of celebrities in their homes. In it she reassures us that our adoration and curiosity of celebrities isn’t just some silly voyeuristic exercise. She wrote:

If these images reveal much about the time in which they were taken — the white shag rug of the sixties, the pro-choice poster of the seventies — they reveal more about the celebrities captured therein.

Even gawking at these celebrities is worth something, for they were the icons of their day representing something larger than just themselves; they represent a culture, a time. Many are still considered icons and so they continue to tell us something of who we are even now.

In that same article, she summed things up well with this:

“Only because history is fetishized in physical objects can one understand it,” Susan Sontag wrote. In one sense, these images are themselves fetishized objects; they are fascinating curiosities. But the physical objects they capture are also historical artifacts, a way of making history concrete.

Ultimately the objects we preserve tell us of human events and motivations, even if what we collect and conserve is not fully appreciated by others.

Viewed this way, our collections are really private museums.

Which leads me to this announcement by the USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute.

In May, 2007, the institute is hosting a major international conference called “Collecting across Cultures in the Early Modern World” which will examine aspects of collecting as “a global and transcultural phenomenon.” In preparation they have posted a call for papers on the following subjects:

– The formation and organization of collections: trajectories, networks, circulation, exchange

– The motivations and uses of collections: science, art, religion, curiosity, commerce, empire

– The interpretation, contextualization, and reinvention of early modern collections

– The transference of techniques, artistic styles, ideas, and beliefs through the circulation of objects

– The role of geography in the production, circulation, and interpretation of collections

– The usefulness of theories of center and periphery, diffussionism, transculturation, metissage, etc. in the understanding of collections

– Relationships between objects, texts, and images

While these all seem rather lofty and ambitious (not to mention specifically focused on a period of antiquity ca. 1450 to ca. 1850), these questions are relevant to nearly every collector.

Don’t let the big words fool you, these are applicable to your collection. I plan on proving this here, and I encourage all you collectors to do the same. Post your stories here, write about it at your own blog, or maybe even submit a paper to USC for the conference. You are the curator of your own museum; you know why it exists, what affects how you build it, and what it means.

Stop right now, and look at your collection; besides ‘dust me,’ what is it telling you?

And what would it tell all of us if we could see it?