A Collector’s Perspective
I have to look back in my memory to try and understand why I loved antiques at such an early age. I attribute this to walking around the border of our property in Eliot, Maine at the age of 7 or so and discovering shards of antique bottles from a 19th century dump. I loved the way the glass had turned purple with time, and the embossing on them told stories. I eventually got a garden hoe and started to dig, and found treasure after treasure of these intact examples of history.
I caught the bug and was hooked right there and then. I eventually got some friends together to search other properties, burrowing deep into the woods, poison ivy and all. I would bring the finds home, clean them as good as I could in a washtub, and display them on shelves in our barn. I had bottles, insulators and inkwells of all kinds, colors and sizes. The shelves became overloaded and eventually went into boxes. I still bear the scar of a bad cut I got at a site and remember it exactly. I was so enthralled in the dig, I tore some cloth of my T-shirt wrapped my finger and kept up the hunt. My prize possession that day was a cobalt blue poison bottle. In the 19th century, there was low lighting, so bottles containing poison had rough ribbed or faceted surfaces. When you grasped one in the dark, you knew not to ingest the contents. In general, the bottles I found were mostly common, and had little value, but for some reason the stories they told were more important than money to me.
Next in my youth, was coins, and I really got into that. As they say, I cought the collector’s bug. My prize possession was a 1909 S VDB uncirculated penny, which I saved up for a year to buy. Unfortunately, at age 14 a former friend broke into my home when I was away, and stole the entire collection. He and a friend of his spent everything as face value at a bowling ally, including uncasing my prize possession to spend as a penny. I have not collected coins since. But, it still did not kill the bug.
Eventually, in my adult years, I moved on and have collected all sorts of things. For awhile it was paperweights, then rare examples of Wallace Nutting colorized prints, American 19th century paintings, then bronze sculptures. At one point I decided to amass an eclectic variety, including period American furniture, arts and crafts, clocks, weathervanes, more paintings, and even modern pieces.
When I was leaving California for the east coast in 2011, I hired two separate auction houses to sell almost everything I had. I looked at it this way, there would be nothing to damage on the trip across the country, and I could always start over again. Even though I am a huge fan of collecting in general, I felt a great sense of relief as I watched the last truck pull away toward the auction house. As much as I loved the pieces I had, it was somehow a burden to own and care for them all. Sometimes I felt that the collection owned me, instead of the other way around.
Now the owner of a former museum/conference center, I have all the space I could ever want, and all the showcases I could ever fill. I could collect for the rest of my life and still have plenty of space to display things. I have never been able to resist a good find in any of my travels, and believe I will never be cured of the collector’s bug. It all started with a broken bottle and I have no clue what the last piece will be, but most likely, it will be just as excited finding it.
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by Martin Willis
Gemr Community Manager