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*

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.

Appreciating Vintage Glass Punch Bowl Sets

I know some collectors will find this inherently evil, but I like to use my collectibles. In fact, one of my favorite things about the holidays is using my vintage glassware.

One of our family traditions is to stay home with the kids on New Year’s Eve and have a party. A geeky party, filled with nerdy retro boardgames, vintage vinyl playing on the record player, and party food, of course. Most commonly our party snacks consist of cheese, sausage, crackers and whatever holiday cookies we have left over. And then there’s my punch — simple mix of orange juice and white soda — served in my vintage Anchor Hocking punch bowl set.

vintage-holiday-punch-setThis vintage milk glass set, a punch bowl with its misleading red and green proclamation of egg nog and cups falsely declaring individual spiked Tom & Jerry servings, is something special that marks the occasion — and hopefully adds to the memories.

I know that using such glassware has it’s risks. Every glassware does, and vintage pieces would be even more difficult to replace. But I treat the vintage glass set well.

I carefully wash and dry each piece by hand — caressing it clean, anticipating the fun of using it. I carefully fill the punch bowl and serve the punch into each vintage milk glass cup, and as I place them into hands that eagerly await them I, like all mothers, remind even those with large strong man-hands to be careful with our special old friends. When all is done, I caress clean each piece in the vintage holiday punch bowl set again, slowly saying thank you and goodbye… Then I place the set carefully up above the kitchen cabinets, where it awaits next year’s use.

The set is visible above the cabinets — should someone want to crane their necks to look — but I find that’s not enough adoration and attention for such cool vintage pieces.

Plus, my vintage punch bowl set is much more likely to find a home after my passing if each of the kids have memories of its use. In that way, using vintage glassware actually increases the odds of its survival. *wink*

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*

New Life For Old Forks

It’s not always easy for me to accept altering antique and vintage items, but sometimes it’s a matter of salvaging things the best you can, breathing new life into them so that they are appreciated once again. When I spotted these vintage fork easels, I had to say I thought it was a beautiful way to display a collection of photographs, ephemera, small art works, etc.

display-old-photos-with-vintage-fork-easels

And given the number of unappreciated and neglected old silverware pieces (individual pieces and entire sets), it’s a great way to recycle not only the materials, but the appreciation and usefulness of old flatware.

vintage-fork-easels-displying-vintage-photographs

As a collector, I would suggest protecting photographs, especially antique and vintage photographs, by sliding them inside those little plastic sleeves first. And displaying little photographs this way not only saves the hassle of finding the right frame size, but allows you to rotate your favorite photographs so that they all get attention. What a lovely display! Even if the stems aren’t ornately decorated, the gleaming silver is elegant.

The seller/creator, WHIMSYlove at Etsy, also suggests using the vintage fork easels to hold individual recipe cards while baking. Clever!

vintage-fork-easel-holding-recipe-card

I’m not sure how easy this is to do — even if you’re the Amazing Kreskin, and you’re used to bending spoons, I imagine the tines are quite a bit more resistant. But thankfully, WHIMSYlove makes them for us *wink*

vintage-fork-easels

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*

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?