What Was I Thinking When I Bought All This Stuff? – The Saga Continues

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Collecting creates mountains—piles of objects and boxes filled with objects that fill display cases and shelves, spills over into closets and basements, storage sheds and buildings such as barns and warehouses. I filled a 14,000 square foot elementary school. The rows of shelving and boxes extended over my head in most rooms.

When I sold The School (the former Vera Cruz [PA] Elementary School) in December 2010, I rented the auditorium and stage from the new owner to store the objects and boxes I left behind in the move to Michigan. Linda’s and my Michigan home is only 2,800 square feet.

My initial intent was to return, organize and dispose of the material within six months. Good intentions are one thing. Action is another. It took two years to find an auctioneer willing to deal with the stuff. Previously, six auctioneers left The School shaking their heads no. Attempts to organize the material remaining at The School only resulted in less organization than when the objects and boxes were first moved into the auditorium.

Mid-November 2015 represents a milestone. Kevin Smith of K.D. Auctions in Allentown auctioned the last of my objects—the balance of my jigsaw puzzle collection. The objects I left behind are gone.

[Author’s Aside #1: The decision to sell my jigsaw puzzle collection was gut wrenching. The Puzzle Pit, over 5,000 jigsaw puzzles (more than half assembled) and related ephemera, filled an entire classroom. Tempted to pull some of my favorite jigsaw puzzles, I decided to take a “cold turkey” approach. If I held back favorites, I would not sell any jigsaw puzzles. The memories of the 20 years I spent assembling, utilizing and enjoying the collection were all the satisfaction I needed or so I rationalized. My jigsaw puzzle collecting days were over.

I am certain the devil collects. The red, horned personification of evil delights in tormenting and tempting collectors. His is the voice that whispers in collectors’ ears—buy more, buy more, keep buying more.

A week before Kevin Smith’s auction of the balance of my jigsaw puzzle material, I received an email from an estate sale professional in Wisconsin. She had 24 wooden 1930s puzzles manufactured by Parker Brothers and other period manufacturers that failed to sell at an estate sale. Her pitch was simple. Now that I had sold my jigsaw puzzles was I having any second thoughts? If yes, she had a balm to soothe my wounds. My initial response was a polite thank you but no thank you. I no longer collected jigsaw puzzles.

The estate sale professional was determined. She sent me a list of the available puzzles accompanied by pictures of them assembled. Over 80 percent were complete. The majority of the Parker Brothers Pastime Puzzles were 500 piece examples. One puzzle had over 1,000 pieces. My mouth started to drool, a very bad sign.

After each auction, Kevin Smith and I talked about the high lots and the surprises. The Parker Brothers Pastime Puzzles in my collection far exceeded our expectations. The price the estate sale professional wanted for her client’s puzzle collection was a bargain. I could turn the collection over quickly and double what I paid. I bought the collection.

I have no intention of selling the puzzles. I want to work them. When I assemble puzzles, I relax, albeit I do get frustrated at times during the process. Over the course of the next few months, I will take a few puzzles to Linda’s and my condo in Altamonte Springs, Florida. I suspect the entire collection will be housed there eventually.]

Do I miss some of the objects I left behind in Vera Cruz? Yes. Do I chastise myself about some of the objects I thought I moved to Michigan but overlooked and were sold? Yes. Do I regret what I did? No. Given my passion for collecting, I am amazed at how easy it was to say goodbye to the things. I followed the same rules I give clients when I advise them about collection disposal. I found a person I could trust, did not attend any of the sales, and only looked at the check amount without going through the listings one by one to see what each object or lot realized.

Although the Vera Cruz, Pennsylvania, mountain of objects and boxes is now leveled, I live with a second mountain of material housed at my home in Michigan. Six months ago, the material comprising the Michigan mountain was as unorganized as the former objects and boxes in Vera Cruz. Somewhat to my surprise, I resolved to change this and have.

When Linda and I moved to Kentwood, Michigan, we made a decision that all boxes involved with the move would find a home within the house and not the garage. This pledge was honored until the final load from The School in Vera Cruz. There are eight archival file boxes of material in the garage.

The result of our initial decision were two major piles of boxes, one in a storage room and the other consisting of several rows of boxes measuring nine feet long, six feet wide and eight feet tall in a corner of my basement office area. Linda and I had wooden shelving installed to hold archival file boxes in a second storage area. There is no room left.

A year ago, I reached a point where I no longer could live with the pile of boxes in my office. Working with Joel Busser, one of my former Davenport University students, we spent two days a month going through the boxes, deciding what to save, where to store it and what to toss. The pile was significantly reduced.

While I rationalize that getting rid of the corner eyesore was the principal reason for undertaking the project, there were four additional motivating factors. First, I wanted to know exactly what I brought to Michigan. In theory, I moved things I “could not live without.” Actually, a majority of the objects were boxed randomly and often not by me.

Second, now in my mid-70s, I feel age-vulnerable. I am losing friends at far too rapid a rate. I became increasingly concerned that if something happens to me, Linda has no idea what I have and how to dispose of it. I have tried telling her, but she forgets. It needs to be written.

Third, I started asking a question that no collector should ever ask: “What do I need more—the objects or the money they represent?” In the past, the answer always has been the objects. It always has been my contention that I never collected for the money. I planned to die owning the objects I love. Although I am in a position to do this, does it make sense? My answer is no longer a firm yes. I am equivocating.

Fourth, I am reviving my Institute for the Study of Antiques and Collectibles and organizing my family genealogical information. I need easy access for hands-on material for Institute courses. This summer I spent hours looking through unmarked boxes for the objects I wanted to use. I also want all the Institute teaching and my lecture files in one location. The same applied to family material.

I bought a Nikon digital camera, lights and a copy stand. My intent was to photograph the contents of each of the boxes going into storage, save the images electronically and create an electronic collection of my catalog. As Joel and I started going through the boxes, we discovered similar objects were in different boxes. We needed to organize the objects before photographing them.

I requested a catalog from Hollinger Metal Edge, a company specializing in archival file materials. It was time to correct my decades of careless storage, especially for the paper objects. Although the cost for the supplies came as no surprise, I can easily understand why collectors are unwilling to undertake this expenditure.

There are two pieces of good news. First, I can see a nine-foot wall in my office that was rediscovered less than a month ago. It will be visible until the two bookcases I ordered arrive. Second, I have a list of books and dozens of articles I want to write based on original material that I own. I shared the list with a friend who suggested that I will have to live to at least 120 to complete half of them.

The downside is that I have hundreds of pieces of ephemera and other material that are too good to throw out, valued under $25.00 and defy easy classification. I cannot discard them, do not have the time to research and list them for sale and am upset because I am putting them in archival file boxes marked “Odds and Ends.”

[Author’s Aside #2:  Although proud that I have more than 85 percent of my material organized in Hollinger Metal Edge boxes, archival file boxes and filing cabinets, I recently tried to locate a historic menu from the Bethlehem area to make a copy for a friend. I looked in every logical location. My things might be organized but retrieval still remains a problem. Photographing the objects and adding them to a searchable electronic digital file should solve this.]

The saga of what does the future hold for my objects continues. It is a saga in which I have decided to become proactive. I am no longer able to ignore the haunting question collectors face:  “What is going to happen to your stuff when you die?”

You can listen and participate in Whatcha Got?, Harry’s antiques and collectibles radio call-in show, on Sunday mornings between 8 and 10 a.m. Eastern Time. If you cannot find it on a station in your area, Whatcha Got? streams live on the Internet at www.gcnlive.com. Copyright © Harry L. Rinker, LLC 2015.

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