Posts Tagged collection

Wabi Sabi American Style

19 August 2015

Some people collect for the sake of collecting, most have a purpose beyond mere acquisitiveness. We collect because we connect with material things through memory, knowledge, inspiration and as many motivations as there are emotions in the human psyche. While some people maintain a degree of privacy, stuffing their collected items away where nobody sees them, others like to share. They fit their acquisitions into a decorating scheme or display a collection in a way that is artistically appealing, perhaps making a personal statement.  Antiques are sometimes valued for their utility as in a type of tool that is no longer made. Hand drills work well if you live off the grid. We also hold on to these things to appreciate them and show them off in a visually appealing manner. Aesthetics is simply this, how good does a thing look and how does it make you feel? It brings to mind Billy Crystal doing his Fernando Lamas imitation, “You look mahvalous. The most important thing is to look good.”

Looking good is an art.  It starts at the point of original design and continues as an object acquires the unique signature created by the usage of time. In short: dirt is beautiful. So are dings and scrapes and oil and wax. A nicer way to express it would be “environmental effects.” Well, that’s a little cold and analytical. Lets be more earthy. Let’s get comfortable in our own skins. It is a basic rule in antique restoration that you don’t want to strip an original finish or slather wood putty into the dents and dings. Old dirt and damage are the prime ingredients for a lovely patina. Antiques wear their history on the surface. Western sensibilities tend to like new items that look just like the day they were made. We do this with vintage automobiles and aircraft.  I think it works just fine in those areas. There is even a safety factor in preserving functionality in moving vehicles. You don’t want your 1920’s Curtiss biplane sputtering to a halt at odd moments. If you are going to drive your model T on occasion the brakes should work at least as well as they did in the old days.

I went through a period of fascination with Zen Buddhism back in the seventies. It wore off, but a little something stuck in the form of the Japanese attitude towards the simple beauty of utilitarian forms, ordinary objects made with care and superior craftsmanship.  Wabi Sabi is the reason the Japanese automobile industry kicked our butts back in the seventies. Some antiques come from an opposite visual perspective. The European renaissance gave us  a richness of decoration that was sometimes blindingly ornate. The level of workmanship was extraordinary but opulence is hard for most of us to relate to.

The Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th and early twentieth century gave us mission furniture and similar styles. Gustav Stickley pioneered an approach to furniture design that became an enduring American style. The same lines and honest display of joinery echoes the construction of Japanese shoji screens and temple architecture. The influence continued in the architectural work of Greene and Greene and Frank Lloyd Wright. The blending of furniture and architecture was an inevitable outgrowth of the design elements that grew in the American heartland.

What was once a new thing aged in a dignified manner. American decorative arts survived to form the core of what I experienced in the antique trade. As a dealer on the lower rungs of that particular business ladder I had little contact with Chippendale and Sheraton, et al.  It was entertaining to hang out at auction and watch the New York or L.A. connected dealers throw money at each other.  The antiques I had a shot at moving through the mire of commerce were the common furnishings of my grandparents and great grandparents world: kitchen tables that showed the wear of rolling pins, knives, and elbows. Their patina was enhanced by spilled milk, smeared lard and the blood of both farm and game animals. It was all stoutly built of oak and ash, pine and maple. Mahogany, bird’s eye maple and crotch grain black walnut was reserved for the parlor or perhaps the bedroom. Those finer furnishings were better cared for but still took their own punishment. Look at the legs of old chairs and tables to see the traces of myriad collisions with toy trucks and the careless feet of children. Shellac finishes oxidized into a noticeably reptilian patterns. water glasses quickly left rings and spilled alcohol was like a dissolving tide.  The introduction of nitrocellulose lacquer made the household environment more durable and family friendly.

Metals and plastics not only brought forth new often “streamlined” styles they changed the nature of the way we regarded wear and tear. We were initially repulsed by rust, flaky chrome plating and sun faded plastics and chipped enamel. The postwar era ushered in the throwaway economy. Disposable material was a virtue to be worshiped by the culture of modern convenience. A decade later environmentalism criticized the attitude and threw roadblocks in the way that were ultimately hurdled by the acolytes of recycling. America stopped blithely disposing and engorging landfills with cultural detritus. It created a whole new gray market operating out of a vast network of garages manned by individual entrepreneurs. The antique marketers took notice.

Somewhere along the way while some of us were still trying to hawk the furnishings of our great grandparents a shift in time took place. The definition of antique went from 100 years old to 50, sometimes 25. Items of cultural significance that become overnight sensations become objects of nostalgia almost as fast.

The new ethos on the block was shabby chic which evolved into the art and craft of “re-purposing.” The market is driven as never before by domestic decorating. You can  see it on reality television as the public is regaled by tales of home makeovers and wandering duos of dealers pestering random hoarders for not only genuine historical artifacts but rusty gates, aging light fixtures and worn out leather jackets from pilots and motorcycle bums to bell bottom jeans that belonged to hippie girls who might have been at Woodstock.

The descendants of the industrial revolution will never stop making new and ever shinier things. It is their mission to attract the eye with things that are smooth or shiny or have a rough masculine feel or a soft feminine silkiness. We are intoxicated by the smell of a new car. What you remember most of all is the ragged old blanket that your first born hauled everywhere. your favorite coffee cup and the movie that makes you cry when you watch it every year at Christmas. The essence of utility built into every truly useful object is manifested in nostalgia and value lies at the intersection of purpose and beauty. The greatest creations of man are no more than this and that is all that they need to be.

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Caring About Things That Last

28 July 2011

We spawn new  verbiage as fast as we mangle the old into new applications. Among the neglected nouns of the past is “muntin.” Also called muntin bars, they are the bits of wood that separate individual pieces of glass or lites in a window. They once had a wide application when glass was a luxury and the method had not been invented to make it in large sheets. As words go, muntin is not proving to be durable. The people who sell windows are apt to speak of “grids” which are made of plastic and snap off for easy cleaning.

The current bastardization of language runs parallel to the general decline of standards in manufactured goods. There is a lack of concern for quality as a measurement of suitability for the many common things in our lives. We accept lower quality from everyday items as if it had no effect on utility much less beauty. Items of everyday use freeze in our memories like often repeated words in a favorite book.

Why should we care about muntins? Their image remains on display in the mental pictures of our past. Muntin bars framed the physical view from within the home of many a child. They divided a living room window into many frosty pages of finger drawings. I have some stored in memory to browse through on cold winter days.

When you see a window made in the old way you know that an extra layer of craftsmanship has gone into it. The joining of a network of carefully shaped pieces of wood required a skill born of a coordination of hand and eye. The knowledge of materials and the guidance of tools put to the test a craftsman’s central nervous system. Such things are more likely to be cared for when we know that personal effort was applied to the making in an intimate way. The industrial age has found many ways to save labor while creating mountains of material that is easily cast off after a brief period of use.

Things of quality endure like friendships filled with trust, music that warms the soul, crackling dry humor and form that follows function. If the soul lasts forever then anything we make with soul will too. Good antiques are repositories of some long ago craftsman’s essence. To collect them is to save a portion of treasure which is worthy to decorate our lives.

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The Best Old Things Are Old Friends

27 February 2011

We don’t call old friends antiques.  It might hurt their feelings.  We do collect them, at least for a time.  The memories of them are lined up on shelves in my mind.  Some of them are covered in dust.  Because I moved far away from where I spent the majority of my life most of them are beyond my reach.  I can not see them frequently and be reminded of their mannerisms and familiar behaviors.

The internet helps take up some of the slack in my memories.  Facebook has enabled me to renew old acquaintances.  I have a tendency to research names from the past that come to mind.  It’s a thrill of the hunt thing, like looking for rare collectibles.  When I find some person that I have wondered what became of them I don’t always get in touch.  Who am I to intrude on the lives of people who have been busy stemming the tides of life?  My own opinion of myself may not be shared by others who I have spent time with.

Sometimes it is just too late to pick up the pieces of a long severed relationship.  Through the power of Google I recently traced a friend from the 1970’s era. We lost track of each other a long time ago.  In 1972 Hurricane Agnes turned an impressive swath of Central Pennsylvania into a sodden mess.  It thereby created summer jobs for idle youth on flood cleanup crews.  Gene and I worked together on a crew of boys our own age but with differing attitudes.  We were unofficial partners and learned to drive iron rods through railroad ties repairing fish damns on trout streams. You come into an attitude of trust holding an iron rod while your partner swings a sledge hammer at the relatively small target that is the top end of the rod.  We already knew each other prior to that summer but our bond was strengthened with each ring of metal on metal.

My friend showed up on a Google search some time back.  It turns out that our paths were not unrelated.  He had become an antique conservator and restorer.  He has worked for an impressive client list and had carved out an excellent reputation in his field.  Unfortunately he is also very ill.  Time passes for us all.  The antique trade can make us fatalistic.  We gather the particles of culture unique to our own generation and venerate the dust of the ages beyond measure.  In the end “value” is in who we are, not in what we have. That can not be cataloged.

Addendum 3/13/2011: I guess timing is everything. Acting on the contact information I obtained on the internet I emailed my old friend Gene McCall in hopes of making contact.  Unfortunately the reply I received was from his wife who informs me that Gene passed due to a brain tumor on March 1st. The intelligent, creative and good humored soul that I remember must have been a blessing to his family and friends. I am sure they have a rich treasure trove of memories to give them comfort. God bless you Gene. Friendship knows no boundaries of time or space.

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History Lives in Auction Houses

30 November 2010

Auction houses display historic artifacts from the momumental to the mundane.  Spending time at auction is like being in a class room where everyone has come to participate.  You can learn much and often enjoy the simple emotion of amazement.  So many times I have seen things at auction that I dimly recall reading about.  Seeing a tangible object associated with an important person or event stirs the memory, engages the imagination and brings history to life.

I am not alone in the auction as history point of view.  Rosemary McKittrick writes about auctions at her website, Live Auction Talk.  She has been writing about art and antiques for over 20 years.  Her site archives over 800 articles covering a broad array of categories.   The depth of her experience and keen eye for the story behind the story shows clearly in her articles.  Typically they focus on a particular item that has come up for auction with a description of the historical personality who owned it.  Her research is very good and filled with educational nuggets of information.

Rosemary looks at auctions all over the world to find the story behind historic objects as they come up for sale at auction.    As she says:

“It could be Harry Houdini, Bob Dylan, Truman Capote, Amelia Earhart, Babe Ruth or William Randolph Hearst. I tell their stories through the handcuffs they’ve owned, books they’ve written, songs they’ve sung, planes they’ve flown, empires they’ve built and homeruns they’ve hit—all of which sold on the block.”

Her story on Baron Von Richthofen (The Red Baron) includes interesting details surrounding his untimely demise.  I’m a pilot and dedicated aviation history buff and had forgotten this story.  It’s nice to have it back in my memory bank.  One of his silver beakers commemorating a victory in aerial combat sold at auction for $28.000.

These articles contain some great research on auction prices realized.  Don’t pass up this kind of resource.  Rosemary gets it in one when she says, “When the bidding stops and the hammer falls, the value of an item is set. The buyer, not the seller, sets the price. This simple distinction cuts through all the chitchat about what art, antiques and collectibles are really worth.”

Go to Live Auction Talk and sign up for her free weekly subscription.  It includes an article on the 8 essentials of collections.  It will tell you exactly what needs to be at the forefront of your thinking every time you enter an auction house.  It’s brilliant stuff and lots of fun.

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Book Collecting Warms a Sailor’s Soul

2 November 2010

Old books are a lifesaver on the stormy seas of circumstance. This is especially true as the autumn mornings descend icily on sailors that are landlocked for the coming season.  It is time to seek comfort in book-lined anchorages where time is suspended like a boat in a gale hanging on the crest of a wave.  Somewhere beyond the multitude of whitecaps is a blue sky and a kinder wind.

There are various kinds of book collector.  The antiquarians are seeking the oldest and rarest volumes.  Speed readers tend to get through a volume and then pass it on to someone else.  I like to savor a book and will reread some if they are particularly useful, meaningful or well written.  Selling books is interesting because you can get an insight into a person by what they choose to read.

A niche market grows from niche interests.  If you are a stamp collector you will like selling stamps.  If you are a sports fan, sports memorabilia, autographs or trading cards are will suit you.  I am a sailor.  You can get an idea of the depth of my interest by looking at my other blog: Seaward Adventures.  Although I have always followed a broad array of interests sailing is the one that never wanes in my worldview.  Back in 1985 I spent a year of my spare time and a lot of money getting my private pilot’s license.  I have an interest in aviation that goes back to my childhood. My passions have been expensive ones and in deciding between boats and airplanes the winner has always been sailboats.

Books are at the foundation of all my interests and so it is with sailing.  They teach, entertain and encourage like loyal friends.  Thus, I have always been a collector of books on my favorite subject.  Life sent me in directions which have caused me to leave behind a large library of precious friends but I am making an effort to recover them.  In the world collecting few things are as ubiquitous as books.  The opportunity to find new treasures or replace old ones is everywhere.  There are used bookstores in every city.  Antique malls always have a loose selection of old books and often some very good dealers in printed matter.  Flea markets and estate sales teem with boxes of books to be had at dirt cheap prices.

There are many classic stories of the sea, from Moby Dick to Mutiny on the Bounty. Everybody knows these from school but the wider body of work is immense.  Fiction is just a part of the whole.  There is a vast array of real life accounts of voyages short and long.  There are instructional books on sailing, navigation, boat-building, seamanship,  pirates and more things naval than I care to contemplate.

Certain classics have been in print for many years.  Ashley Book of Knots is a big heavy book.  It is formatted in an encyclopedic style showing every conceivable way to use rope From the practical to the irrelevant.  If you are into marlinespike seamanship it’s an essential text.  When I settled into life in Washington state it was the first book in my new library.

Maritime history in our country has had no stronger preservationist than Howard I. Chapelle (1901–1975).  He roamed the country documenting and measuring traditional working craft that were disappearing from the waterways.  His books are part history and part studies in naval architecture.  I have been rummaging through these volumes since electronic cigarette brands I was a high school student hiding out in the library.  The Search for Speed Under Sail, The History of the American Sailing Navy, Boatbuilding: A Complete Handbook of Wooden Boat Construction, and American Small Sailing Craft: Their Design, Development and Construction are essentials of which I am still missing two.  As money allows it will be easy enough to pick them up on ABE books.  Fortunately they had a long print run.

L. Francis Herreshoff (1890-1972) is one America’s premiere yacht designers.  He published several of my favorite books, The Common Sense of Yacht Design, Capt. Nat Herreshoff: The Wizard of Bristol, The Writings of L. Francis Herreshoff, Sensible Cruising Designs and An L. Francis Herreshoff Reader. The Compleat Cruiser: The Art, Practice, and Enjoyment of Boating is one of the most engaging and informative books on cruising under sail ever written.  Some would find the book to be very outdated but if you are paying attention you will learn more than you expected about anchoring, boat designs and simple navigation tricks. Such tricks might save your bacon when the GPS goes unexpectedly silent.  I will never understand why the same people who will deny the existence of a holy God will put blind faith in battery powered electronics in a salt water environment.

For the kind of entertainment that can only be had in the pages of fiction I have always preferred C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series. These 11 novels tracing the career of a British naval officer during the great age of fighting sail ring with authenticity as well as drama.  I have read the whole series at least five times.  I also like to have a shelf full of Alexander Kent’s Richard Bolitho novels.  More ripping yarns from a British pen.  Many people like the more modern equivalent in the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian but I have never quite warmed up to the characters.

A favorite part of the nautical book genre is books that review various sailboat designs or feature the work of a particular designer.  They are usually illustrated with photos and plans.  Prime examples are Good Boats, More Good Boats and Still More Good Boats by Roger C. Taylor.  It’s a little like motorheads who can tell you the make and year of any car you see on the road and can give you an opinion on it’s performance.  In my head is a catalog of boat designs built up over more than 40 years of absorbing everything I could about sailing vessels.  Wooden boats take precedence but I don’t discriminate against other materials. The best boat I have owned so far was fiberglass.

The best of vintage nautical books have either great engravings or maps bound in.  One of my other collecting passions has always been maps.  This goes hand in glove.  The art of navigation begets the art of topography.  I cannot see a detailed chart, old or new, without concluding that it springs from an artistic sensibility as well an applied science.  I give all the credit to God for creating both the canvas, the paint and the brush.

Nothing makes me feel more secure and at home than to be snuggled up among my books.  A chill is coming and the soul must have some fuel.  Literature can be a beacon to a sailor, even on dry land, as snow falls softly amid the ranks of sleeping hulls in the Wintry boatyard.

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Find it, Fix it, Sell It – Your Done

25 September 2010

The antiques business always seemed exceptionally busy.  That was my perception anyway.  I had a schedule that never quit.  The good part was that I could control the pace well enough to keep the activity level bearable.  It helped to find tools to make my time more productive.  Quickly, some of those tools were a computer and printer,  price guides and catalogs,  reference books, a vehicle with good gas mileage and a basement suitable for stuffing like a Christmas goose.

Antiquing is part carefully laid strategy and part getting stuck with a bewildering array of things you may not be able to (a) identify (b) restore or (c) get rid of.  Clearly defined areas of interest go a long way toward establishing a productive business model.  Life is easier when you can confidently separate your eenie’s from your meenies and your mineys from your mo’s.  It is inevitable in the trade that you will often buy a group of items to get a hold of just one gem.  Naturally the gems go to the head of the class. They are either sold in very short order or they  are stored in a place and manner such that they will be rediscovered within your life time.  Think inventory control.

Reach into those musty auction boxes and you will find things that are either worn or broken.  Have a garbage can handy.  Identify each item to establish if it is worth the time and materials to restore.  Be careful with genuinely old items, especially furniture, which gains value from patina. Classic example: wooden benches.  Almost any old wooden bench with six peeling layers of paint and worn edges where the bare wood shows through can be sold in an antiques mall or flea market.  Price it low and move it fast. If you can tighten up wobbly legs that’s probably as much restoration as you will need to do.

Most furniture that is post 1930 is not precious museum quality stuff.  Restore it enough to make it attractive in the shop.  Your primary tool here is Old English furniture polish and a rag.  A badly crazed shellac fish can be re-amalgamated with a careful aplication of denatured alcohol.  Throw on a wax finish and you are good to go.  It does great on old oak desks that get surplussed out of old schools and goverment buildings.

Find some handy instructions on the technique and practice on an old piece of waterfall furniture.  Your first effort will not be spectacular but for the right price it will still sell for more than the five bucks you gave for at it a garage sale.  A handy source of materials, tools and general supplies is Thomasnet.com. You probably won’t need a fork lift or titanium sheet but they can guide you to companies with almost anything you need in finishes, solvents, tools, etc.  Their listings under varnishes give 220 results.  There is a ton of information much of which is on a larger scale than you need but keep in mind that even a small shop now a days has requirements for workplace safety and sound environmental practices.

Modern collectibles often do not fall into the patina equals value zeitgeist.  Barbies and Star Wars action figures are best presented as new, even better if they are still in the original box or packaging. Certain niches lend themselves to a lot of tinkering and repair such as model railroading.  Trains have a lot of small parts and electric motors.  there is a marketplace devoted to model trains old and new.  Those Lionel and Marx trains-in-a-basket that surface in estate sales are like a goldmine. If you have the skills to put a deader into running condition or even just reattach all the wheels floating loose in the bottom of the box then your time can indeed become money.

The best part of antiquing is the discovery of buried treasure.  Arghh! We be pirates here.  So look lively and keep a weather eye out for more booty. Once you’ve found it, identified it, and fixed it up it’s time to either keep it as your own or get rid of it.  Either way a little bit more of the world gets sorted out and maybe a little jingle goes into your pocket as well as your step.

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Vintage Postcards Transport The Viewer To Another Time

17 September 2010

Here is your trivia word for the day: Deltiology, the study and collection of postcards .  Not that it is trivial to the millions of post card collectors all over the world.  Haunt enough auctions buying up odd box lots and you are sure to end up with a collection of old postcards.  Do not take them lightly.  When they arrived on the scene in the 1860’s they were a rather utilitarian item.  They provided a cheap means of communicating a short, informal, message.  Think, the Twitter of the letter writing era.  Later on they became a virtual art and photography publishing medium.  Post cards became collectible in short order and the variety of images gave them an appeal to people with a wide variety of interests.

My favorite postcards have always been the transportation scenes, especially aircraft, ships and trains.  The amount of available material for collecting is unbelievable.  The early real photo postcards form an illustrated history that often includes events or vehicles not well recorded in books.

Cards featuring aviation related subjects may have photos of aviation pioneers or rare experimental aircraft that have become lost to history.

Back when eBay was in full swing in time to a vigorous economy they were a good source of regular sales in the $10.00 to $20.00 range with occasional “oh wow!” surprise bidding wars.  One of the beauties of postcards is that you often get duplications in lots purchased.  On those occasions I kept one copy for my personal collection and sold the other.  It can be a hobby that pays for itself.

Trains are another universal favorite.  They suited early photographers because they were good still subjects.  Quite a few early cards featured train wrecks.

Later on when cameras got better at stopping motion trains were often captured moving through dramatic scenery.   The railroad companies found postcards to be a handy advertising medium.  As a result a lot of railroad history is preserved for both scholars and railfans.

The hunt for old postcards is fun because so many people saved the cards informally. You find them in desk drawers and pigeonholes, in shoe boxes and coffee cans. They appear to have been the number one bookmark of all time.  They often come as part of a stack of paper items perhaps meant to be scrapbook material. You can find some good old advertising items, trade cards, tobacco cards, or small engravings.

It seems like printed cards of all types become handy items to trade.  Barter and baseball cards is practically a rite of passage for American children.  The value of post cards varies widely, naturally, the older the better. Condition counts a lot. It’s not unusual to have messages written on the front of early cards as the postal regulations reserved the back of the card for addresses only.  Tears and bends are what really downgrade a card.

When I started selling collectibles postcards came on to my radar screen along with vintage photographs.  They go hand-in-hand.  So much history was preserved at the same time that it was made accessible to the public.  We take that aspect for granted in the internet age.  At the time postcards were invented America was a largely rural society.  Radio was largely theoretical and the modern marvel of the day in personal transportation was the bicycle; another worthy topic for a post card collection.  You have the advantage to explore a century and more of our world unfolding before you in a handy format that is very user friendly.  Hitch a ride on history and be transported.

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A Passion for Paper

1 July 2010

What does a dealer in collectibles collect for himself?  For me it was paper.  There is something about printed media that interests me on many levels.  Maybe it’s the pack rat in me.  As I grew into the antique and collectible field I continually came across what is called in the trade “ephemera.”  It fascinated me like nothing else in the profession.  I like the way the name suggests something that is lacking in substance and liable to imminent decay.  It suggests that not only our lives but the physical traces of our path through history are but dust in the wind.  The great paper trail of society comes in many forms: advertising, books, maps, documents, trading cards, lithography, prints and engravings.  The field is a grand combination of history and art.

I am fascinated with the artwork found on old documents.  Check out an antique stock certificate.  The engraved illustrations can be quite beautiful.  A postage stamp album is an art gallery in miniature.  Old checks and bank drafts often have very well done engravings or lithographed pictures.  As an item to collect collect old paper can include a broad array of subject matter or be highly specialized.  I have enjoyed maps since I was very small.  they feed the imagination as well as keep one from getting lost.  They record the locations of history and remind us of so many things now gone.  I used to have a climber’s map of Mount St. Helens that I kind of took for granted until one day it became instantly collectible as it became apparent that they weren’t going to need to print anymore of them.

Remember when road maps could be had for free at any gas station?  They are quite collectible especially if they have the right art work on the front panel.  If you are new to collecting road maps be advised that the printers didn’t always place a date on them in an obvious way.  Instead, they had a code in one of the margins.  you can read the date codes at websites such as http://www.roadmaps.org/date.html.  Maps were one of my first surprises in the collectible business.  I had always appreciated them and enjoyed them and didn’t realize what a treasure they were until I put one on eBay for a dollar and it got bid up to sixty.

One of my other favorite items were Victorian trade cards.  I had hardly known of their existence.  They keep showing up in box lots and stuffed into old books as page markers.  I admired the many charming lithographed designs and appreciated the historical detail they conveyed.  The light soon came on in my head and I adopted them as a lively little niche market.  They were doubly fun as I could gather them up at estate sales and flea markets. I kept the ones that interested me and sold everything else.  It was the first hobby I ever had that paid for itself and then some.

Of course the category includes books but that is a huge subject I will leave for another day.  There is so much more to cover in this fascinating area.  The use of paper spans centuries and the printers art has been so important in developing civilization it can hardly be grasped.  The invention of the printing press was every bit as world-changing as the invention of the Internet.   Before photography brought every man’s eye view to printed pages the graphic arts flourished wherever ink landed on paper.   Art in the hands of the common man is democratizing.

There seems an endless supply of ephemera stashed away in attics, basements and store rooms.  A good specialty shop in the field is like a god mine.  Back east I loved to go to Mr. 3L, Leonard L. Lasko’s shop on The Lincoln Highway east of Lancaster, PA.  Mr. lasko is a character and he’s been in his business for a long time.  The shop is not the neatest and if you like organization forget it.  This is a place to adjust your attitude and surrender to the thrill of the hunt.  You can find a staggering array of old advertising sometimes in new old stock wholesale units.  I remember finding packets of old Seven-Up soda bottle labels that had never been used.  They were just as they had come from the printer.  I bought them for a good price and sold them in small lots on eBay for over a year for a healthy profit.  Deals like that are just the ticket for steady cash flow.

Lasko doesn’t have much of  an internet presence but apparently he is still in business if you are interested.  You can find him at 2931 Lincoln Highway East, 17529 Gordonsville, PA, Phone: 001 (717) 687-6165.  oddly enough his favorite advertising strategy is announcing a “going out if business sale.”  he’s been going out of business for as long as I can remember.  Maybe he will shutter his shop someday but it’s still worth stopping in sometime just in case.  After all business in this day and age can be somewhat ephemeral.

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Cap Pistol Collectors Go To The Round Up

16 June 2010

Bang, bang! You’re dead.  No I’m not. Yes you are!  Ah, the peaceful days of childhood.  Why is making noise such a large part of being a kid?  Whether we old guys like it or not, noise is fun.  One of the all time great kid noisemakers is the cap gun.  They first showed up sometime after the Civil War when gun manufacturers augmented their reduced sales revenue with toy guns that fired loud gunpowder caps.  They became a common American toy but really came into their own after WWII when radio, then television popularized western dramas.  When the genre faded about 1965 so did the cap gun market.  As the children of that time period grew up a collectible marketplace was born.  The number one driver collectibles in the economy is nostalgia.

The memories of shoot ’em up days is about to surface at auction. Kenton, Ohio resident Bob Bailey will be auctioning off his extensive collection of over 230 cap pistols at Kenton’s 17Th annual Gene Autry Days, June 26-27 at the Pokies Hardin County Fairgrounds.  Bailey’s collection is the largest in the country and features guns made by the Kenton Hardware Company from 1904 to 1950.  He has one Gene Autry model gun from each year of manufacture from 1938 to 1950.  His collection is on display at the Hardin County Historical Society.

It will be interesting to see what kind of interest will be shown in this day when children are more likely to relate to light sabers and and ecologically friendly fun.  Social change also made cap guns a less popular item on the American scene.  The 1960’s anti-war movement, the counterculture in general and academics in the field of psychology pointed to violence on TV and violent toys as influencing violent behavior in children.  The point is debatabe but the effects of the discussion can be seen on the shelves of  toy departments across the nation.  It’s clear that  the big box stores are kinder and gentler places than the old Woolworth’s stores of my youth.  And quite a bit more sterile.

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You Are What you Collect

20 May 2010

The first time I had a collection was when I was about eight years old.  My mother worked part time in a department store.  Every payday she would bring home a ceramic dog.  each one had a chain around it’s neck that had  metal plate stating the breed.  I still have them.  Later on my plastic models of ships and airplanes formed a large collection displayed in my bedroom. I put a lot of myself into those but they disappeared over the years.

I have always been a voracious reader and collector of books.  They are not just a momentary exercise in symbolic recognition.  If I like a book I want to keep it.  I like having plenty of reference works at hand.  Some books are kept as a result of an appreciation of an attractive, well crafted, binding.  I have always felt at home in libraries and it seems completely natural to make one a part of the home.

Because of dramatic changes in my life I no longer possess some of my collections.  I used to have a selection of hand thrown pottery.  Ceramic birds that decorated an antique fireplace surround.  There was also about a hundred bookmarks old and new.  I am fascinated by navigation and collected maps and plotting tools.  Anything old and related to aviation caught my eye.  My coolest collection ever was an assembly of pilot’s wings.  They came from airlines, aircraft manufacturers, pilot’s organizations, the military and some old radio show premiums.  The whole lot were kept displayed on a ball cap that had wings on each side.  It was given to me as a gift from a friend when I got my pilot’s license in 1984. I sold the whole hat to a dealer in militaria at a time when I was jobless and the family needed food.

I don’t have huge regrets about the loss.  I don’t make idols of these things. That would be blasphemous.  Besides I learned one thing sitting at hundreds of auctions: If you don’t get the winning bid today there will be another chance eventually. Very few things are so unique that another won’t come around again sometime.

In their time all these things meant something special to me and I had a lot of fun hunting them down.  I still prowl around always on the lookout for a pair of wings, a rare book, or a beautifully drawn and lithographed map.  As I look on this listing I see some of my personal history, my interests, and a glimpse into who I am.

What do you like to collect?  What does it mean to you and what does it tell other people?  Gather your goodies and thrill in the hunt.  You can’t “take them with you”  but you can enjoy them while you are here.

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