A Little Knowledge

One of the better-known journals in the field of antiques featured an article intended to enlighten consumers about ten things they didn’t know were collectible. Undoubtedly some readers agreed with the title statement while others scoffed and perhaps even declared out loud “I knew that.” This reader has the attitude expressed by a character in Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop: “Up to a point, Lord Copper.”

Scrapbooks which provide a record of significant historical events like wars or ship voyages can certainly be of interest to museums and university archives. Books filled with food scraps left over from family picnics and class reunions will only appeal to a modern Typhoid Mary or Toxic Tommy.

A monogrammed handkerchief belonging to a famous musician such as Louis Armstrong or a linen souvenir from a royal wedding would look attractive in any home. A framed hankie kept by a woman who attended a concert in 1968 and who claims “Tom Jones wiped his sweat on this” merits a title of one of the Welsh rocker’s hits: “I (Who Have Nothing).”

Menus from notable cruise lines or from well-known restaurants such as the Brown Derby or Copacabana certainly have some appeal to collectors. A sauce-stained card listing 21 varieties of egg foo young offered by the Wong Time No See carryout should be carried out with the lemon peels.

Photo albums containing vintage black-and-white images of visits to historic sites like Gettysburg or European cathedrals capture a time period, especially if the people in the images are wearing dresses, hats, or suits of the period. Multiple snapshots of orange-tinged diapered children taking their first steps across shag carpets in ghastly­–decorated living rooms only add nausea to the ad nauseam.

Telephone directories are quickly discarded when new directories arrive, yet phone books from metropolitan areas are sought by genealogists and historians. A directory from 1997 with multiple dog-eared pages found in the back of a basement cabinet under half-empty cans of paint will likely be unusual only in the fact that all of the damp pages qualify as yellow pages.

No one can be blamed for saving Christmas cards, particularly if the cards are handmade or dated on the front with a colorful illustration by a well-known artist. Keeping every holiday card received since 1983 in shoe boxes, including those sent annually by the local pest exterminator, will provide few pleasant memories, just a nesting spot for mice and silverfish.

Though timetables may seem behind the times in a society where being tardy is valued, railroad and steamship schedules are sought out by collectors of transportation ephemera. Collections of “Sorry We Missed You” door hangers are not missed or valued by anyone other than hoarders.

Fabric sample books are admittedly a niche collecting interest, attractive mainly to interior decorators, fashion designers, and those who find salesmen sampler books fascinating for the variety of swatches included. Compulsive savers who rescue every useable piece of cloth from holey shirts and pants will end up a thing of shreds and patches.

Labels from grand hotels in exotic places like Singapore, Monte Carlo, and Rangoon were often affixed to suitcases of travelers by bellhops, and now those luggage labels with art deco graphics are desirable if they can be found in unused condition such as the example from the Repulse Bay Hotel in Hong Kong illustrated in the article. Beer-soaked coasters are only painful reminders of a repulsive stay at the Low Rate/We Fumigate Motel.

Paper bags are certainly a borderline collectible sought only if the sharp graphics suggest they were produced for an event like a concert, the premiere of a film, or introduction of a new product. Anyone who missed those events can amuse themselves by taking a brand new bag and writing “Papa James Brown” on it.

The adage “Collect what you like” is still the best advice. Let the refuse collectors take the rest.


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