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.

Sweet On Jack Dempsey?

Then check out this vintage sugar packet featuring the famous boxer.

This packet of Jack Frost Tablet Sugar not only features the famous sports figure (and his “Best Wishes”) but it’s from his restaurant, Jack Dempsey’s Restaurant Bar & Cocktail Lounge located on 49th & Broadway in New York City (there were apparently several locations). So this particular item contains more cross-collectible appeal (vintage advertising, ephemera, restaurant items, and sports collectors as well as fans of Dempsey) than there are calories in the sugar — not that you should even think of tasting what is probably at least 60 year old sugar.

The item was found at, and the image credits belong to, noegretsantiques. (And, in the interest of full disclosure, No Egrets Antiques are my parents!)

Can You Catch The Vintage Gingerbread Man Cookie Jar?

Since I already have a topless vintage cookie jar (I use it to hold my vintage rolling pins and store it, along with other vintage kitchen collectibles, above my kitchen cupboards), I couldn’t justify purchasing this cookie jar without a lid when I spotted it Saturday at a thrift store — no matter how the bold blue or the charming old gingerbread cookie man beckoned…

I sure had second thoughts when I saw that the back of this vintage pottery cookie jar had Mrs. Gingerbread Cookie.

But if I bought it, I’d need more old rolling pins or something to put in it… Where would it end?! (I did briefly pick it up, just to look for maker marks; there weren’t any.)

If this cookie jar interests you, contact me and I’ll see if I can catch him — even if he is The Gingerbread Man.

Jessie Lee Had Great Penmanship, But…

The inscription on the first page of this vintage children’s book reads, “This Little Golden Book Belongs To: Jessie Lee.”

Only this vintage copy of Peter Rabbit Proves a Friend, like its friend, a copy of Young Flash The Deer (which, incidentally, does not have a similar inscription by the previous owner) is by Platt & Munk Co.

Poor Platt & Munk, still competing with Little Golden Books for recognition after all these years.

Movie Props: Holiday Inn Jewelry

Mary Ann Cade doesn’t only preserve silent film history, she also collects movie and television props: “It is fun to watch the program and see if you can see the item worn on the show by an actor or actress or see the piece as part of the set decoration. It also makes one pay attention to other things going on during a particular scene instead of just the actors. The fact that a famous person or someone I admire or respect held that piece, touched that piece, is also quite exciting.”

Among her recent acquisitions, glamorous jewelry from one of my favorite films, Holiday Inn (1942). (I’ve always preferred it to White Christmas (1954), which was really just a remake — or at least a cannibalized movie “update” that’s not as good as the original.) Here are the brooch and earrings from the classic film that Cade now owns:

As the collector herself point out, “The neat thing about jewelry or wardrobe is that one can wear it too instead of it sitting on a shelf collecting dust and taking up space.”

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.

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*

Teaching Old Stuffed Dogs Tricks

sweet-vintage-stuffed-dog-faceI suppose technically, this vintage sawdust stuffed dog belongs to my stuffed animal collection, but like Tigger, I resist calling him a collectible.

In truth, I often resist calling things “collectibles,” because that tends to make people think of them as part of some set of things, as opposed to the more individual sentimental reasons for owning them… But in this case, I snatched up this old stuffed dog because it reminds me of my dog.

Well, at least a simplistic or childlike rendering of him.

Ween (named after the band; not short for Weiner), is a mutt with ancestorial Aborigonal roots. He does not like to have his photo taken, and we presume to imagine he fears photographs take his soul or pieces of it. As a result, I have very few photos of this dog. Here’s one, taken with a cell phone — before he figured out that it was a camera too.

ween

So now I must content myself with posing the vintage stuffed dog, rather than my always-eager-to-be-prone dog.

old-stuffed-terrier-dog

antique-sawdust-stuffed-dog

But don’t worry, my sweet old stuffed doygie likes to lay prone too. Quite lifelike. Or as lifelike as an old dog can be.

sweet-vintage-sawdust-stuffed-toy-dog-sleeping

If you think I’m somewhat crazy for taking photos of my toy dog, check out The Secret Lives Of Toys at Flickr and you’ll see that I’m not alone. *wink*

Terriers That Follow Me Home

In the 1930’s and 40’s, terriers were quite the popular dog.

vintage-terrier-figure

I usually refer to these terriers as Airedales because they seem so large to me — not ‘to scale’ or anything, but something makes them seem like big dogs rather than smaller ones. But I think because the bodies are more white than brown this figurine anyway might more accurately depict a Wirehaired Fox Terrier. In any case, they are lovely. I think I’m keeping this one.

vintage-terrier-dog-figurine

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

Lessons In Plush Toys (Or Whose Head Is Stuffed With Sawdust?)

my-tigger-the-sawdust-stuffed-toy-tigerI don’t recall how old I was when I received this tiger, whose head at least is stuffed with sawdust. Tigger, as I named him, seems to simply just have always been… When not waiting for me in my bed, he often could be found riding on my shoulder, wrapped about my neck. We’ve had a long life together, the two of us. Every one of his scars tells a story, a story of a lesson I learned.

Tigger is the reason I cared to learn how to sew. I loved him so much, I had to repair him myself and there are the clumsy stitches of childhood sewing down his back — in multiple colors of thread, each indicative of the multiple repairs — to prove it.

tiggers-stitches

If it weren’t for Tigger, who knows if I’d be able to replace a button?

But the most embarrassing story involves the mark on his left or backside.

This dark spot marks a dirty secret… When I was about eight years old, I thought I was super smart, sneaking a big grape gumball into bed with me. Once tucked in, I popped it into my mouth, assured that I’d chew for awhile and properly rid myself of it before falling asleep. I mean what sort of idiot would fall asleep chewing gum and risk choking on it, as my parents feared?

…Morning came, the gum was forgotten about until I grabbed Tigger to bring him down with me for breakfast. When I picked him up to place him on my shoulder, there it was – a giant gob of chewed purple goo.

Poor Tigger!

And poor me if I were to be busted!

Amazingly, the gum had only attached itself to the plush tiger, not my nightgown or my bedding, so I rushed to save Tigger (and my own hide). Not having access to any how-to guides, or knowledge or possibly using ice to help me, I began to scrape the gum off. It mushed, but it didn’t really move. My mind flashed to a gum at school memory, when Liz had to have the teacher cut the signs of Scott’s affection out of her hair — I grabbed the round-tipped scissors from the desk I shared with my big-mouthed baby sister and managed to hack the purple blob off before she discovered — and outed — me.

Tigger still has a purplish bruise. But no one else would notice. Like my bruised ego, he carried it around as a reminder that not all parent’s rules are stupid.

bare-bruised-tigger-spot

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*

Christmas Trees Have Never Been My Favorite Things

merry-christmas-unhappy-children-circa-1910This antique photo of a Christmas tree surrounded by little boys who seem less than thrilled suits me because Christmas trees have never been my favorite things. Primarily because it was our family custom for my father to get the itch to go Christmas tree shopping on the coldest, nastiest day of the year — and my mother, ever-interested in presenting a united parental front, agreed.

So there, in the frozen Christmas tree lot, wind freeze-drying our eyeballs, or feet and hands so cold we nearly prayed they’d get frostbite so they’d actually go numb, my sister and I stood, agreeing with any tree selected to hurry this thing up.

Only it never did.

My parents took their time looking over every tree in the lot. They called it “being selective.” But my sister and I begged to differ (and to go home) as our family’s other Christmas tree tradition was to bring home a tree with severe scoliosis — and a bad side dad would have to hide in the living room corner.

Once our tree was selected it was time to get it home, into the house, and set up. Parental bickering was involved, of course, as mom questioned dad’s desire to break all her holiday knick knacks and he in return wondered why she didn’t understand his simple directions of how to hold the tree while he sawed off branches and fit the trunk into the tree stand.

Then real fun was supposed to begin. But let me tell you, dripping noses and frozen fingers prohibit you from enjoying decorating the tree.

It’s no wonder I wished Christmas trees arrived by Santa’s sleigh too.

antique-photo-children-horse-sled-with-christmas-treeWhen I hit my 20’s, I actually had a beautiful tree selecting experience. My then-boyfriend took me out on the family property — complete with horse in tow — to cut down our own very own little Christmas tree for our apartment.

I giggled with joy over such a charming and comparatively discomfort-free holiday tree selection. On the way back to the car, holding hands with my boyfriend who led the horse, tree trailing behind him, a gentle snow fell to complete the Normal Rockwell imagery and my insides warmed with the romance of it all.

Too bad that relationship ended with more pain and tears than the cumulative hours spent Christmas tree shopping with my folks did.

Since then, I’ve had children. And a divorce. Then a new marriage — with a new daughter. All situations which affect Christmas trees and my affection for them.

Marriages bring debates over conflicting traditions, such as Real Trees Vs. Artificial Ones, just where the tree should be placed, when and how to trim the tree — including whether or not tinsel can be used.

Children bring ornaments. By the truckload. Each child has multiple Baby’s First Year ornaments, packed in layers of tissues with of all the ornaments they’ve made through the years.

My husband, ever the packrat, has all his old childhood ornaments, set aside and saved for him all these years by his loving mother.

presents-on-christmas-tree-dated-1896Which means every year my Christmas tree looks more like the cliched family art gallery refrigerator than the holiday tree of my dreams.

Among the complications of a blended family like ours at holiday time, are the sheer number of ornaments. Since we both were single parents for a number of years, we each had more than enough ornaments for one tree — and now they’re combined. The only preferential treatment my fancy themed ornaments get is to remain safely tucked into their boxes, saved for that future One Day.

You know, that one day when my children are older and I give them the boxes of their ornaments I livingly saved for them… Then I can have a fancy designer styled tree.

Only thing is, I’ll probably miss my cluttered Christmas tree, that literal mess of memories, and the stories each ornament had.

No, Christmas trees have never been my favorite things; but they do contain memories and they are decorated in stories.

Vintage Christmas photos via The Antique Christmas Lights Museum.

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?