On Collecting: Early and Late
There must be a million stories about how people become collectors! Many of the stories are strikingly similar. Others are wildly different! Many collectors started early – think baseball cards and Barbie dolls. (Those two examples date my youth!) But if you’re reading this column, chances are you’re over thirty. (Are you kidding!!! Try “over fifty! – We’ll leave it right there!) The great thing is… that we’re still here, and still collecting. And… we love it!
Many of us did start young, collecting whatever it was that kids collected back then. But it’s interesting, from time to time, to kind of take stock, to look back and recall how it was that we got to the “collecting point” where we are now. Some ancient philosopher did say, I suppose, that “The unexamined life is not worth living!” Not sure exactly how much examining I want to do with regard to my early years of collecting. Retrospectively, I would just say that my collecting focus shifted a few times, with the result being that a surplus of “must have” collectibles had to be diminished.
Slight digression… Did you see the news item (mid-August) that reported a pawn shop owner buying an old violin for $50 and then discovering that it was made in the mid-1700s and was worth $500,000. Unhappy ending. Turned out that the violin was a stolen instrument. We do, once in a great while, hear about someone buying a great hunting or fishing artifact on eBay, or elsewhere on the Internet, for a bargain basement price; but those events are rare.
Early American country stuff… That’s how/where Deb and I got infected with the collector virus. A vintage bentwood churn and an honorable old maple sugar firkin still greet us every morning in our country kitchen. And three different-sized Southern dough bowls in other rooms display antique “prizes” collected together in bygone days. The largest of the hand-carved wooden bowls plays host to ten century-old, English, lawn bowling balls, each with an inlaid, carved ivory medallion bearing the owner’s initials. A variety of initials are found on the ten balls – JWB, HM, S, OWI. No doubt they belonged to Royalty and are worth at least $100K each!
So…. We’ve been collectors for a long time, and our venture into the Decoy World came late in the game. But time flies. It’s been eighteen years now since we launched this magazine. In some ways, “seems like only yesterday.” In other ways – seems like a lifetime! But still having fun. Love the history we’ve preserved; still a lot more of it to be discovered and recorded.
Under the “Hunting & Fishing” banner, there are so many great things to collect. And we have loved collecting many of them, but my own personal path took me down the “Decoy Trail,” and then the “Sibley Trail.” Twenty-six of them, now – on our shelves, and tables and desks! Local friends come in the office library and see them and say, “But they all look so much alike. Why would you want so many of them?” You know….. that’s just not a question that a real collector would ask!
And besides…. So many good friends out there who let me know about every Sibley they see on eBay or the Internet! (“Collectors helping collectors…” That’s the way this hobby works, isn’t it.) I do remember the very first Sibley I saw. It was at the MDCA National Show in St. Charles, Illinois in April, 2003. Deb spotted it on one of John Freimuth’s tables. It’s the very decoy that I’m holding in the photo that runs with this column. It retains a good bit of its original paint, but it saw plenty of action in the rig of A.W.Harris, founder of the Harris Trust & Savings Bank of Chicago. (His AWH brand is deeply incised on the bottom.)
John told me that he bought the Sibley redhead from Tom Billing in 1984; he was the son, or grandson, of the man who took care of the Lake Geneva estate of A.W. Harris. Freimuth recalled that Tom told him that there had been many decoys at the estate but that only seven were left, three of them Sibleys. Interesting story. It’s all reported in my article in the Jul-Aug, 2003 issue of this magazine.
Enough Sibley talk, except to say that Bob Poel and I are working toward the publication of the long talked about Sibley book. Maybe a year from now. Don’t hold your breath.
In this issue… some really interesting material that’s a little bit over the horizon from our usual fare. Bob Poel has a thoroughly researched article that focuses on the collectible artifacts that relate to the life and work of Game Wardens, a most interesting, but under reported, category of collectible artifacts.
Also, the Ondricks, Chuck and Margaret, stepped out of their quasi writer retirement to research and share with our readers a bountiful report on the spear fishing decoys made by the Native American carvers of Wisconsin’s Lac du Flambeau area.
And, of course, there are the reports from the Summer Auctions – Major prices realized and many new records set. Not unrelated to record prices, you’ll find a short essay on the disparity of “prices realized” for great OLD decoys vs. great NEW decoys – an interesting read!
Finally, in this issue we run the first of a series of articles that showcase some of the ways collectors display their artifacts. You’re invited to “join the parade.” Just send us your photos and a little bit of text to explain why you did it the way you did.
Happy Collecting, Everybody!