Publisher’s Message

         All You Need to Know about Collecting

There must be millions of articles that have been written about “Collecting.” Just for fun,let’s explore “one more time” some of the reasons why people collect things. It’s probably fair to assume that even half-hearted collectors have a reason(s) for collecting whatever it is that they collect. I mean, surely nobody collects stuff just because it’s “there.” Like, they see it, and “Whamo!” they decide to collect it. No, no, surely it doesn’t work like that. If it worked like that, everybody would be collecting everything, and then what kind of world would that be!

No, I say every collector worth his/her salt has a reason for collecting whatever it is that they collect. Mind you, it may not be a good reason, but they do have a reason. Maybe their Aunt Nettie or Uncle Fred collected whatever it is that they collect. Or maybe they saw a television show where people were collecting all kinds of stuff, and they seemed to be excited about it. I once knew a guy who collected paper, any kind of paper – newspaper, catalogs, telephone directories, advertising flyers – you name it! People who knew him said he had a whole room full of paper. I asked them if they had actually seen the room, and some of them said they had. I say he was crazy as loon! Just for the record, the word was that he lived alone.

But we should probably pause here and check our compass bearings before we lose sight of land altogether. We need to define what kind of collector we are talking about. I mean, you know, there are all kinds of collectors. And I’m not talking about what they collect; I’m talking about how hard they collect. It’s vital to know if they’re serious “dyed in the wool” (whatever that outdated phrase might mean!) collectors, or if they’re just half-baked pretenders who are just trying to “be cool.”  

It’s imperative that we all understand that we are talking about serious collectors. OK, that being the case, let’s explore the traits that are common to serious collectors. Rule #1 – Quantity counts. Many is better than a few. (“How many decoys do you have, sir?” “I believe it’s 640 right now.” Rule #2 – Quality counts. All decoys were not created equal. (“How can you tell if a decoy is of collectible quality, sir?”) (“If it’s in my collection.”) Rule #3 – History and provenance are important. (“Does this decoy have a great story, sir?” (“I’m working on that.”) 

Of course, we’re just having a little fun here at the expense of the serious collector. But I do remember my first time at the National Decoy Show at the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Illinois about twenty years ago. All these grown men in the parking lot and in the hallways with bags and boxes and handcarts filled with decoys. I remember well my perceptive comment: “Wow! What a bunch of ducks!” 

I was new to decoys then, but not to collecting. For more than twenty years Deb and I had been “Weekend ‘Tiquers.” Among other things, I had amassed a serious collection of embossed, brass railroad switch locks and the handsome, hollow-barrel, brass keys that went with them. Oh, yes, I had long ago given in to the three cardinal rules of the serious collector cited above. 

But truth be told, there is an arduous learning curve for all serious collectors, no matter what they collect. For collectors of railroadiana, whether it be brass switch locks and keys, or dining car china, or whatever, there is the ubiquitous issue of authenticity – “Is it real or a repro?” “Was the switch key ever used?” “Does it have wear at the end of the barrel where it was engaged with the lock hundreds (or thousands) of times?” Does the key have the initials of the railroad owner incised on the loop of the key?” 

Finally, in all honesty, there is the temptation on the part of the serious collector to fall (or even jump) into the “more is better” mode of collecting. And that is understandable, maybe even sensible. If you love sunsets and/or great music, fine literature, good dogs, good people, and baseball… then, “More really is better!” Go for it! 

I’m attaching here for non-railroadiana collectors photos of classic railroad brass switch locks and keys.

Happy collecting, everybody!



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