So, What do You Like?
We’re often asked what it is that we like. What makes us excited when we see it, what sets our little history loving hearts aflutter? Both of us will be answering this question in our respective blog posts. It’s not possible to discuss just one particular thing that makes me excited when I see it. Often, my headspace in a flea market or estate sale or thrift shop resembles Sid in Ice Age chasing an acorn. There are things I will make a beeline for if they are available.
I’ll start off by saying, I love music I’ve had a grand love affair going with music since I was a small child. I wanted to be Stevie Nicks when I grew up. Unfortunately, I can only really play the radio. Though I am not musically inclined, I do appreciate fine musical instruments. The one instrument that makes me the most excited is the guitar. My excitement is more an aesthetic thing than a musicianship thing. I love the look of a vintage Gibson Les Paul. The Sunburst is my favorite pattern. I just know that one day; I will open a random guitar case and find a Martin. I will then shriek like a little girl and just stand stunned at the beauty of a fine hand crafted instrument. One day, I hope to tour the Martin factory. Hey, I can’t be Stevie Nicks, just let me believe I can one day hold a Martin. There is something to be said about a hand crafted in America guitar. There is a certain attitude that comes along with playing American music on a hand crafted American guitar. Nothing can compare, even as far as the girl who can’t play a note is concerned.
For years, I have appreciated music memorabilia. I once spent a solid hour staring intently at Joey Ramone’s Chuck Taylors at the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. A Joey Ramone bobblehead has graced my desk for ages. In terms of guilty pleasures, I guess you can say punk rock is mine. Not really, though, I’m not guilty about loving a style of music. And I do love punk rock. Specifically The Ramones and The Replacements. I would love to own a First Act Paul Westerberg edition guitar one day. Henry Rollins will always have a special place in my little book loving heart. He turned me on to Albert Camus and other notable writers. Music and books, music and books, these are a few of my favorite things. I still want to be Stevie Nicks though. Well maybe more of a Stevie Nicks/Joan Jett mashup.
Eclectic is probably the best way to describe the things I love collecting. I hope to one day own and old side show gaffe. I love the art and artistry of old traveling carnivals and side shows. Quack medical devices are of great fascination to me. The things I would collect if I were independently wealthy include old side show cabinet cards, Victorian memento mori, the aforementioned guitars and musical memorabilia of the punk rock era. I’d have a room for quack medical devices and old snake oil displays. I suppose it’s best that I am not independently wealthy because I’d need rooms upon rooms to house such collections. I say often that I am weird. You see, eccentric is reserved for the wealthy, so I’m saving up for eccentric. My collection at the moment consists of several old medical “cures” that would probably kill you, a preserved pig I’ve christened Hamilton and my favorite weird thing, a copy of the “Home and Farm Companion” that Lee gave me when we first started dating. It lists old home remedies alongside veterinary care and a planting guide. Surprisingly (or not), the cure for most things back then was either arsenic or mercury. Both will cure almost any ailment including breathing. There’s also a handy guide to preparing a body for burial presumably after the arsenic cured the pulse.
What lead a girl who loves all things oddity and punk to become part of a two person auction team? To quote John Lennon “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” There is plenty of room in the auction business for the weird and eccentric. In fact, I know of a few auction companies who make most of their living selling the weird and eccentric to the weird and eccentric. It’s a good business if you can break in to it. It is my dream to one day be able to host an oddities and other eccentric artifacts auction. I do love art and history and old architecture, don’t get me wrong. But, I love the zany and creative as well. There is much to be said about the outside the box thinkers, the no box at all thinkers, the square pegs who never seem to fit in to the round holes, the rebels and freaks. They’re almost never boring, that’s for sure. They have also normally been the ones to shape the future. Think about it, people laughed at all sorts of visionaries through time. As far back in history as I can remember, the weird ones were laughed at and then recognized for their works.
Even in the auction world, there are so many different types of auctions and auctioneers. Auctions run the gamut from livestock to fine art and just anything else you can imagine. We know an auctioneer who does most of his business in chicken manure. Yes, you read that correctly. There’s enough room in this business for the quirky and the serious. When we kicked around the initial idea of starting our own auction business, I made it very clear that my sense of humor had to come along for the ride. I was familiar with two types of auctions at the time. These were the very casual style farm auction where one buys livestock, feed and equipment and the very serious type of auction where one buys a Dali or a rare Tiffany. I didn’t really feel that there was much middle ground, I stand corrected.
Our first few auctions showed me that there was, in fact, room for the quirky. It was during one of these first auctions that another of my favorite things emerged. That thing is glassware. Specifically, I became very interested in Fry Glass. Those of you native to the area know that Fry was produced in Rochester, PA. Fry made everything from art glass to an ovenware line which was made for everyday use. Though I’m still not a huge fan of clear glassware, I adore Fry colored glass, foval and ovenware. I now own several pieces which are housed either in the shop or at our home. My collection has crowded out the one cabinet we have at the shop for such things. Next came Beaver Falls Flint Cooperative glass. It is very hard to find locally despite being made in the same city where our auction house stands. Lee gifted me a piece one year while he was traveling on business. The piece arrived at just about the same time that I was beginning to miss him terribly. It is done in a pattern called Amberina. Through time, some of our consignors and a few of our friends have gifted me various piece of glassware. They come from just about every manufacturer who was prevalent in the earlier parts of the 20th century. My collection now includes pieces by Fenton, Viking, LE Smith, Fry, Consolidated and Jeanette. I’ve had the opportunity to purchase Phoenix glass twice. Both times, I held out for a lower price and lost. My favorites remain Fenton and Fry. I know, not very rebellious but hey, Iggy Pop plays golf from time to time. There is much left for me to learn about glassware. Specifically in the realm of art glass which is a passion of mine. I adore hand blown pieces and hope to find a John Ditchfiled one day. Through my own collecting, I’ve met several wonderful members of the local Fry Glass club whom I value as friends and associates. They have imparted upon me some of the wealth of knowledge they possess and for that I am grateful. One lovely middle-aged lady goes on annual digs around the former Fry Glass grounds in Rochester. She told me once that the property owners don’t particularly like it, but there aren’t any signs and she’s got a shovel and what can they really do about it. How very punk of you dear lady.
I mention our cabinet quite a bit. When we bought it, we had every intention of turning it in to a cabinet of curiosities. We still do. The original plan as for me to create small tags similar to the ones you see in museums for each piece. We will do that one day once my glassware collection moves to its permanent place in our home. For the time being, the collection is housed in and on the cabinet. It shares space with my “weird stuff” and the final item I collect aside from books. That item is witches. I love anything and everything witches or witch related. It doesn’t have to be antique or vintage honestly. Vintage and antique Halloween items are among my favorites, however, I’ve often found them to be cost prohibitive. I’m fine with reproduction Halloween and witch items. Sometimes a good repop is all that is available. Normally, when we’re out thrift shopping or perusing estate sales, I bring home anything I can find that is witch related. My dear friend collects black cat related items. We’re two peas in the same weird pod really. That pod probably has whiskers and a witch’s hat on it to be honest. Each year, these pieces become incorporated in to our Halloween decorations at the shop. I think I was the first person in the entire business district to put up a Halloween tree. That tree still gets odd looks even today. That’s alright though, the kids love it. We’re probably one of the few businesses who hand out candy in full costume each year; again, the kids love it. The sort of funky, quirky, weird people who stop by on occasion seem to love that I can discuss their favorite movie or band or book with them as well. Not many people who spend their day surrounded by antiques can talk about The Misfits or Rocky Horror Picture Show or the works of Neal Gaiman with any level of comfort on the subject matter. I once had a younger man tell me that I was the first “antiques lady to call Glen Danzig a whiny little girl.” Maybe I am, but I sure did. We had a lovely discussion about John Waters movies, old B films and the music of The Misfits. All that was missing was tea really. Those are the days I live for. When someone walks through our doors expecting a little old lady possibly with her glasses around her neck on a tasteful chain and they get the not old lady with the Social Distortion T-shirt who can talk to them about the strange and quirky or the serious and antique all while turning on the pinball machine in the back for the cadre of little boys who take great delight in playing it while their mom shops (Hi boys! Hope you’re all doing well), then they realize they are someplace different. We never wanted to be so stuffy and serious that we forgot to have fun. That’s why we let the kids actually play the pinball machine. It’s why we’ve been known to plug in a guitar and let someone play it. It’s why I’ve been known to let another little boy act as our sales associate from time to time, it gives him something constructive to do with his time and he’s learning valuable skills.
My message in this long ramble that has weaved its way from punk rock, guitars and fine glassware to end up on little boys playing pinball is, don’t forget who you are. This world seems almost designed to suck the unique out of each of us. Don’t let it. Turn your music up to 11, still strive to be Stevie Nicks, wear your favorite rock t-shirt, let the kids play, play with them, dress up on Halloween and be who you are meant to be. Sometimes that road takes you down some pretty dark alleys, just look for the light and you’ll be fine. It’s not a train, I promise you that. Take the road less traveled when you can. It turned out OK for Robert Frost. Don’t be afraid to be you, don’t hide it. The old hippies used to say let your freak flag fly. I like that, it fits.