Antiques are big business these days. It is estimated that 50 million Americans keep things that are old, funny looking, don’t work, are expensive to maintain and are kept around only for sentimental purposes. In this case we are of course referring to wives who collect husbands.
But people are also collecting much more valuable objects such as old telephones, license plates, sheep bells, pocket watches, dolls and even old newspapers. (and to think you’ve been putting me on the bottom of the bird cage!) Despite their priceless value, a collection is not any good sitting in a safe. It must be proudly displayed for all the world to see. That is why license plates are nailed to barns, old boots hang on fence posts and time-honored quilts are draped across beds. I have a friend who has saved every single vehicle he ever owned. The rusted wrecks are all parked in a line on his ranch. I’ve even heard of one gentleman back east who has put together an extensive collection of old fan belts, and he doesn’t even bother to lock them up at night. Can you imagine? Talk about living dangerously!
The secret to being a good collector is in knowing what will be valuable 40 years from now. I didn’t save the ten silver dollars my grandpa gave me for my birthday every year, or my baseball cards, but I do have an extensive collection of old seed, feed and weed spray caps. And if my house was burning down the second thing I’d save would be my motel stationery collection that I’ve carefully put together over a life of 40 years on the road.
People save some of the dumbest things. My wife for instance collects thimbles. We started collecting them because they used to be cheap but then somebody found out we were collecting them and the price of thimbles has skyrocketed. My wife has over 100 thimbles but last week when my shirt needed mending she couldn’t find one. I suggested she use one in her collection but, “Oh, no, she couldn’t use one of those!”
I, on the other hand, collect much more historically significant and valuable items such as those little shampoo containers found in motel rooms and free bars of soap. Of particular value is my 1957 Soap-On-A-Rope.
Americans have an obsession with collecting things. In a neighboring town there are more antique stores than bars, proving that collecting stuff has now become America’s favorite pastime. Antique stores were invented as a means to redistribute the wealth in this country. A 40 year old Roy Rogers lunch pail that some antique illiterate individual paid to be hauled away is now referred to as an antique and sells for 50 bucks or more. Oh well, I guess the price of materials and labor has gone up since Roy rode the range.
I have a friend who lives on an earthquake fault in California who has an extensive whiskey bottle collection. That doesn’t make sense to me but then neither does the fact that to be considered valuable whiskey and beer bottles must be full while milk bottles must be empty. I would think it would be a much more enjoyable hobby if it were the other way around.
I don’t really know why we collect things. I suppose for some people it is simply because they are pack rats, or maybe when they were younger they were deprived of material pleasures. Maybe it’s just a bond with the past. I explain my habit of collecting things in a much more practical manner. I might write a Purlitzer Prize winning novel someday on stationery from the Yogo Inn in Lewistown, Montana. And with the EPA on a mission to ban everything with a chemically sounding, multi-syllabic name, who knows what a Soap-On-A Rope could be worth 50 years from now?