Sunday, May 24, 2009

What's it worth to you?

I couldn't have a steady diet of this. Or could I?

Old time tinted postcards, orange-crate art. I have a small collection (well, ok, maybe ten, and of those, two are missing). Sure, it's bland, but sometimes I like to picture myself in a scene such as this, under a pastel sky, sitting in a deco dining car, riding through the old California.

But bland would eventually make me misbehave. I'd have too much champagne and needle my traveling companion. Derail the train, steal the oranges.

But nevermind about that. Actually, this is about collections. You know, collections of orchids, teacups, Nancy Drew, fine old wine, ceramic frogs. I knew someone who knew someone who collected old doors. Not The Doors, doors.

I always wanted to be so captivated by some subject that a collection would naturally arise. As a child, I tried rocks once. Went out in the backyard and picked up a bunch and put them in a shoebox, then compared them to the pictures in a library book for identification purposes. All were granite.

Next came coins, but of course those were regularly plucked out of the cardboard display for juicy fruit gum and butterscotch lifesavers. (Speaking of which, who the hell stole my collection of two silver dollars?)

I have four first-edition books, generously given to me: The Prime of Miss Jean Brody, Nexus, and Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, and As They Were.

They're no longer worth anything as collectibles because I've read and re-read them. Bent their spines, dog-eared some pages, lost the dust covers of two. But they're still valuable to me.

I don't know why, in collections of old things, the goal is pristine. I'd rather have a Bauer pitcher that actually saw some use; the patina from generations of human hands, a chip, a scratch.

Which brings to mind the hand-tinted postcards -- in terms of value, they're supposed to be innocent of stamp, postmark, or handwritten message. By god, those are the best parts! The really old ones might just be addressed to a name in a city. "Miss Caroline D. Barnes, Watkins, Ny." And the messages are poignant. "Dear Mother. I promise to write more soon. This is just to say I love you. Your son, Robert."

So I guess, I don't understand most collections at all. Or better yet, it means I can always get mine cheap.


  1. Twice I've proposed using Orange Crate Art in public luck. On the other hand, after the Whittier earthquake I got some great deals on cracked Bauer ware.

    What about the Antique Road Show. Your Federalist Highboy would be worth a gazillion had you not cleaned it with Pledge.

    Collections...I got a gazillion. I'm currently looking for the Huntington Half Moon Bridge post card (in Chinese laquer red).

  2. I have a couple of those orange cards. To me they worth infinitely more when there is writing on them. I have a set of 3 that have neatly type written text on the back.

  3. I knew, of everyone, you two would understand. (I'll email you the story of the no longer red bridge pa)

  4. I agree. I always love it when I find a book at a used book store with an inscription.

    I managed to amass a collection of antique Humpty Dumpty figurines. For some reason, he's an archetype that resonates with me.

  5. I love orange crate art--and have a collection of one piece. That's my problem with collections; I tend to stop at too few. Except for books, and all of mine are worn and read--at least partially. I too love it when there's an inscription, a shopping list, a drawing, a marginal note or an advertisement--just a partial list, of course, of the stuff one finds--in the book.

  6. Old postcards are much better when they have someone else's stories on them.

    I don't mean to collect as much stuff as I do, but it seems to find me. I intentionally collect ammonite fossils. I unintentionally collect other fossils, rocks, broken glass that I find in the desert or wherever, and a million other tiny things that I am convinced I will use in a jewelry day.

    Oh, I also like to find used cookbooks that have writing and notes in the margins.

  7. The only kind of collection I don't like is the kind you have to dust. Actually, I don't like dusting anything. I feel insulted when I find dirt I didn't generate directly. Having said that, I'm a total sucker for stoneware. And found objects. I'm completely defeated by small pieces of driftwood, unusual rocks, or sections of rusting tin roofing.

    Lately I've been organizing my collection of yarn and knitting books for my impending neck pull. Suddenly, after a year or more of not a lot of time spent knitting, it's all become very dear to me. Sleeper collections can be such a comfort.

  8. Wow, you had granite?


  9. There is a television show called The Collectors which intruigingly shows other peoples' achilles heel. The kookiest that I have seen is a collection of pubic hair.

    However innocently started, these all end up being about value, at which point I lose interest. The best sort of collection is those that end at about 5 - one can then have a multitude of collections.

    And to me, like to many of you, the only valuable items are those that have the patina of use; certainly not those created for collections. Ugh!

    What am I prone to? Old books of poetry: yellowed, dog eared, unglued. Sticks, stones and seeds that bring the countryside home. Cuttings nicked whilst leaning over a fence in some backofbeyond village and lovingly planted in a pot in the courtyard.

    The older and the junkier, the better. Something to bring the past along with me. I have a postcard exchanged between my mother and her mother. Shall scan it in and put it up on Plumbing. Not Californian orange box, but hand written upon and precious. It is a collection of one.

    Collections are frowned upon by the small-footprint brigade. Piffle ...

  10. Years ago a new friend asked me, "What do you collect?" She assumed that everyone collects something. I didn't. (She taught me that if you have 3 of something, you have a collection.)

    Since then, I started collecting silver cigarette boxes and American pottery. And, given the rule of 3, I guess I also collect cats and dogs.

  11. For some interesting insights into collecting, take a look at John Fowles' "The Aristos" and of course, "The Collector." Fowles noted that the collection begins to own the collector. The hunter gets captured by the game. Collecting is a very interesting and complex subject. I've collected a few things in my life, but always adapted the way I collected to suit my needs, not the external standards of the "insiders."

    If you really want to travel through orange groves pulled by an F-7 locomotive like the one on the postcard go to Fillmore, CA and ride the Fillmore and Western train. They use these trains in movies and commercials, but they also have rides through the orange groves of the Santa Paula Valley.

  12. Well, the title of my poetry book is In Defense of Objects. You can probably tell where I come down on the issue of collecting. And since moving to California, I should have bought stock in museum glue, I've used so much trying to lock stuff down against the inevitable earthshake.

    Lovely postcard, by the way.

  13. Bland??! Bland?
    I would collect the crates with the art - if I had the room.
    I love that postcard - I've got a BNSF freight train print by Robert West (a winter version of this one by the computer desk.
    Some day I'll bore you with my stamp collection, my 1.5" apples collection, and my newly acquired Keystone Stereoscope of vintage 3-D images - they are fantastic, did you ever see any?

  14. Bookmark:

    This is from another piece I'm working on, and apropros to pa, vanda, julie, laurie -- well actually, almost everyone who had a thought here.

    But it has to do with the handwritten notes you find on letters, some books, and recipes. Especially when the notes were made by someone you knew who is dead. The handwriting seems alive. It leaps off the page, almost as if it were written just hours ago. And I'm not sure I understand why.

  15. When you lose someone, having anything they have touched and that has not been washed or cleaned or altered in any way, well, the value of that object is incalculable.

    wv aussest

  16. I have a two-volume biography Abraham Lincoln by Albert Beveridge that was published in 1928. What I have is a limited first edition of 500 copies. It was given to me by a friend of our family after I wrote a paper on Lincoln when I was in high school. The paper was inspired by something this man had told me about. He inscribed the book to me, and it contains his book labels, which from a monetary point of view are no-nos, but from a personal point of view, it's priceless. Thank you for making me appreciate that again.

    I agree that old postcards that have been written on, stamped, and mailed, are the best!

  17. That's a great print Tash, but please don't think it's BNSF. BNSF is a new hybrid railroad - Burlington Northern merged with Santa Fe. What you have there is pure AT&SF! A classic! The Harvey girls would be proud. In Kansas City they have a Harvey's at Union Station!

  18. You know stuff, Earl. Like, how did you learn this about the railroads? And I believe you, 'cause I've fact-checked some things in the past (and you're almost always right)

  19. Thanks, Karin. I do seem to know something about a lot of things, but not a huge amount about one thing. I know about trains because I've done some model train stuff in the last 20 years, and I've read some train lists on the internet, although I'm by no means the expert a lot of people are. I know about the Fillmore and Western because a friend took me there for my birthday once. I tend to ask people questions and I guess I'm curious about a lot of little things. Harvey House, I should have said Harvey House!

  20. I love the robin's egg blue pottery. And the only way I can afford it is to buy the stuff with the small chips or whatnot. And I LOVE it. I have something that someone else loved too! Chips facing the wall, of course.

  21. Yikes! Not able to find said postcard at all at all. Turned house down-side-up ... cat had lovely time rustling around back of musty sideboard. But ... but ...

    Realised that I have something else you might like, seeings how you get off on original handwriting. And I suspect it is a collection: there might be a dozen or more letters exchanged between members of my family. Not only letters but stuff written on the back of envelopes ... I will start with a hand written birth notice of 1895 (on Plumbing).

  22. As a kid, I collected baseball cards and beer cans. The latter became much too large to display. Not sure about unmarked or unstamped post cards. I find it fun and interesting to read of other's travels. That's the trouble with collections, there seems to be strict rules that I never follow. So,I'm done with collecting. Well, almost done. we have a very nice collection of dust bunnies we're willing to trade.

  23. During the interview portion of a high-dollar private college scholarship competition, I was asked to describe any collections I might have. I'm like you: collect? Why would you need more than two of anything? I'd rather have one of everything than all of one thing.

    Being an insecure 17-year-old, I gave a stupid answer: bells. I did have a small collection of bells, but I think my mom wanted to collect bells far more than I did.

    Had I answered honestly, and said I don't collect anything, and that I thought collections were stupid, I probably would have won that full ride. Dammit!

  24. I agree with Altadena Hiker (in fact, I'll just follow up around blogs and agree with your comments from now on, okay?)

    Mister Earl knows everything!

  25. Kimberly, I know. Without those collection rules I'd never be able to afford anything.

    And DL, I'll bet it's your wife who made you get rid of one of those collections.

    SDFG -- Bells? I'll bet that did cost you the free ride.

  26. Something with a story is always 20 times more fascinating than the blank and pristine.

  27. excellent photo and narrative on collections. you have brought back many memories. why do we collect and then move on to another collection. and i agree i find the writing interesting as you read it and touch someone's life long ago.

  28. What a strange question to ask a scholarship candidate. What on earth could they have been delving for? What meaning could they take from ANY answer? Is it better to collect Barbies or Cabbage Patch Dolls? Is it better to collect Matchbox toys or Hornby trains? What are the character traits that differ between collectors and non-collectors? I collect the works of impressionist painters. I do, too. As small jpg images.

  29. ahhh. I love this. Keep collecting!

  30. I've tried to stay out of this but I can't help myself. My hand is up and I have to give the answer.

    One of the signs of giftedness in children is making collections, either with a particular focus or with a certain je ne c'est quoi that implies that it will find a use/uses sometime in the future. A kind of synchronistic marker.

    I'm sure that also holds true for adults, either that or we all have one form of OCD or another.

    wv helluic
    That's Yoda speak for, "In hell you I see."

  31. PJ, aren't you the cutest thing? Were you one of those kids in grade school that waved the arm and said, "ooh,ooh,ooh!"

    Me too.

  32. So I'm wondering if we were separated at birth, Karin. I too have flirted with collecting, but with pretty much exactly the results you so perfectly describe here. I've got a dozen or so vintage cameras, but no desire to acquire more. And the vintage postcard you enticed me with here reminds me of how I tend to use them. I'll occasionally buy a handful in flea markets, only unused ones of places I've lived or visited, and then actually use them as postcards. Recipients are invariably delighted by them. I'm guessing the vendors who sell them to me would be appalled by my actions, though. That's okay. I'm used to reactions like that in general.

  33. "Oooh, oooh, oooh," while draped across your desk, reaching your arm as far forward toward the teacher as possible, while supporting your torso with your other hand in your armpit and your elbow on the desk!!!

    I thought I'd mention that I have a small collection of battery-powered coin-counting machines that I've picked up at garage sales here and there. How many IQ points do I pick up for each collection?

  34. Ok. I've very late, I know. I'm going crazy grading papers. But you just thank your lucky stars that you're not a collector. My daughter is a collector, and I think collector is just a colorful word for pack rat.

  35. Terry, didn't your mother tell you? We were.

    Earl, go to san diego farm girl blog -- we have a challenge for you.

    Margaret, did I get an A?

  36. OH I was out of this one but I am still such an "ohhh ohhh ohhhh er that it's pitiful". When at workshops or in a class I have no control over my mouth." I'm sure you are all shaking your heads and saying, "Oh hell yes, we all knew THAT!"

    Collections....hmmmm.... I have shells and a lot of them. Paris paraphernalia, a few Eiffel Towers and other than family photos that's about it. THe older I get the less I hoard.

  37. KB, actually I wasn' was just for this posting but you conjured up the right image Mr E. And you can have all the coin counters and IQ points you want. I've had to interview kids to find out how they view themselves and asking them about any collections they had could have revealed a lot about them, sort of like what everyone else has done here. SDFG, I think it was just one of many ways to get you to open up.