Celebrating “Genteel Reciprocity”
Well, I’m writing this column while the North American Vintage Decoy & Sporting. Collectibles Show is in full swing at the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Illinois. I’m not sure if it’s exactly the right word or not, but I’m a bit sad not to be there. It’s been a dozen years or more since we missed this “downhome” international extravaganza. Great people, great stuff (artifacts), great conversations, great friends! How could I not miss being there? But I’m not, and for that reason, I’m in a reflective mood. How come?
There’s an old saying that goes something like this: “You don’t miss something until you don’t have it anymore.” I suppose that could apply to almost anything… Like.. You don’t miss salt (or coffee, or sugar or anchovies) until your doctor says you can’t eat them anymore. Or, taking the analogy up the scale a bit, you don’t miss Sporting Collectibles Shows until circumstances cause you to miss your favorite one. And that gets this little essay out of the “starting blocks” and headed in the direction that I want to go. (Little explanation here: I “ran track” in High School…and Mrs. Robinson said: “Never end a sentence with an infinitive!”) Where I’m headed is this: In our hobby / business / “affliction” there exists a kind of “genteel reciprocity” – a kind of generous sharing and “looking out for each other.” A kind of helpful friendliness. It’s kind of hard to describe, but you know it when you see it and feel it.
I can give you a quick example. Anyone who has been around this magazine for a year or two (or nineteen!) knows that I am a “Sibley Nut.” And so, when they see or hear about a Sibley decoy that’s coming up for sale in an auction or by a private party, they call or email me and say: “Hey Stan….” And, of course, you know the rest of how that story goes! How else would I have come to be the slightly demented owner of more than two dozen vintage (1899-1902) Sibley decoys.
What we’re talking about here is a bunch of folks who love what they collect, but who also what to help their friends achieve their collecting goals. Pretty neat concept! I like to call it “genteel reciprocity.” And what’s so great about it is that “It works both ways.” Helping others often end up helping yourself! Our contemporary business and political world would probably use the term quid pro quo which “Wikipedia” defines as: “Something for something, a favor for a favor, give and take.”
All in all, though, I like the sound of “Genteel Reciprocity” better! “Genteel” has the feel of being gentle, kindly, caring – doing something because you want to, not because you are bargaining to get something in return. After nineteen years in our hobby and answering phone calls and emails in the H&FC office, I can tell you – We have a lot of folks who understand and practice genteel reciprocity! They don’t even have to work at it; it just comes naturally for them!
So, now that we have put it “in the record” as to what thoughtful and generous persons we all are, I will give you an example of what we are NOT. The human example is “Big Fred” Logan, but I have to set the stage for his entry into this monolog. For many, if not most, of us, our collecting careers began early. I have told the story of my “forever lost” baseball card collection in this column before, perhaps more than once! It is a very sad story. A Midwestern boy, when I went off to the University of Chicago at a tender age, I consigned my 200 (or more) card collection, in the proverbial shoebox, to my sister in Monmouth. The stand-up, high and dry attic in her rambly, turn-of-the-century, three-story house would be the perfect (and totally) a safe place for my prized collection until I could reclaim them three years later. But… “No, it was not!” Alas, thinking they were of no real value, and that I would most likely forget about them altogether anyway, she sold them for a pittance at a yard sale.
But there is more to this story. It is really not about my sister’s less-than-perfect guardianship of my baseball cards. She meant no harm and had no idea of the collection’s potential value. But it was a great collection, and the difficulty of assembling it was mainly the fault of “Big Fred” Logan. He was the “Bully on the block” (several blocks, actually) who somehow managed to get hold of all the rarest cards. He was NOT a disciple of the benevolent concept of genteel reciprocity! No, not even a little bit! You can guess how he handled younger (and much less muscular) boys when he was “working a trade.” Nonetheless, over time, I had managed to put together a very solid collection of cards in spite of “Big Fred.”
I suppose you may, by this time, be wondering if I have lost my way altogether in this meandering monolog. Well, perhaps a little bit, but not altogether. I only bring “Big Fred” into the discussion here because he represents the exact opposite of our many, many practitioners of genteel reciprocity. “Big Fred,” if he were a member of our collecting “fraternity” today, would never call to inform me of the upcoming availability of a Sibley decoy. But, in his own day, many years ago, he did on many occasions try to trade me three worthless cards for a genuine rare card in my “trading box.”
I told you at the beginning of this diatribe that I was in a reflective mood because I was here on the farm working on a somewhat delayed printer’s deadline instead of having fun with all our friends who are at the National Decoy Show in the Chicago area. I miss seeing old friends and making new ones. There is a kind of fraternal history that surrounds and supports us in our great hobby of collecting vintage sporting artifacts. I like to call it genteel reciprocity. We could just call it genuine friendship. What we do, in our collecting, preserves history and enriches our lives. I love it, and I know you do, too, r you would not be reading this column.
“Happy collecting, everybody!“