Thursday, May 6, 2010

Diggin' into the past.

In my last post I stated that I was not an entomologist....

Well, that is STILL the case.

But, I am sure that out there in the world, SOMEWHERE there is an entomologist/picker.

What I have discovered throughout my antiquing career is that folks in this business come from all walks of life.

As an example, a friend of mine was a former long haul trucker (R.I.P. Dale). Our mutual friend is a former genetics professor. Can't get friends too much more odd than that, I suppose...though, I am sure that in this business, there are many odd matches in friendships.

We all are aware of the "snob factor" in this business, with some collectors/dealers feeling their collecting/buying habits are superior to others. Just a fact of life, because we are all human. Perceived "superiority" tends to be part of human nature. I strive to avoid following the idea of my being "superior" to some folks I deal with, or with them being "superior" to me, in my day to day experiences. First impressions and people's facades can be very deceiving.

One thing I do enjoy seeing is a level playing field arising, or even a role reversal between collectors.

That advanced Hot Wheels collector, who is a life long Gas Jockey, can be seen explaining the finer points of Hot Wheels to some Corporate President who has just started collecting. You see it every day at shows, flea markets, etc. People from all walks of life collect. If they follow their hearts in collecting, and not collect what someone of their "stature" should collect, they will be happier. Just because you are rich does not mean you should be collecting Renoir, Tiffany, etc.....If you dislike the stuff, or have no appreciation for it, in the end it will just make you miserable. You will look at it, shaking your head at remembering how much you spent on some painting, when your soul craves owning that rare Red Lines Hot Wheels you had when you were a kid, or that Coca-Cola sign you used to see on the door of your grandparents store when you went to visit.

Objects are a connection to our past, a trigger to opening a memory. From there, we start to collect similar items, developing an appreciation for them. We get interested in the history, maybe of how something was made, and want examples of that. I still love enamel signs, the varying depth of the porcelain rising and falling as you run your fingers over the enamel. Though, I have to admit, I don't know for sure where the love of old advertising came from. The town in which I grew up did not have many old signs plastered on buildings, as it was "progressive", so in the 1970s & 1980s there really was not as much dated advertising hanging around there. I do remember an old Coca-Cola push bar on a door of the "Hi-Way Grocery" in town, but I don't think that was the "trigger". It could be the remembrances of working in my grandfathers farm supply show, where I did find a few old advertising pieces.

He purchased the business from his son, my uncle, who was not doing well with it. So, my grandfather the entrepreneur, came out of retirement for about the 3rd time, and turned the business around to a profit making enterprise. The fellow my uncle bought it from was either the first or second owner of the business, which started as a gas station/garage back in the tens of the 1900s. Cool little old building, with an addition on the back, made of true "cinder bricks". That is, concrete bricks literally made of cinders dumped out of the old railway locomotives form the rail line near-by.

Judging from the crammed aspect of the place when my uncle bought it, the previous owner (or 2) rarely threw anything out. The floor in the back warehouse/workshop/former garage part of the building  appeared to be just dirt...until they started scraping at it, and realized it was just a 70 odd year, several inch build-up of  dirt on top of the original concrete floor! Yep, an accumulation from years of muddy tractor tires and farmers boots dropping topsoil through the place that had packed into a prairie sod, indoors!

So, they set to work. You may have read in my past blogging that my Grandfather was not much for "old stuff". Thus, several grain truck size loads of stuff went out to the local dump. Sadly, I was not of the age to be grabbing things, nor was made aware of the events. 

My mother may well have kept me away on purpose, for all I know!

In my early teens, which was a few years after the big clean-up, and as well as after the second clean-up/purge my grandfather did, after bailing my non-entrepreneurial uncle out of the business.

 I had a fair bit of down time, as I mainly was there to pump gas, and in a village of 500 people, the Bowsers (as my grandfather called them) weren't exactly hopping all day long. 

My personal work ethic is pretty strong, so idleness does not sit well with me. So,when I was bored, I took it upon myself to clean & organize whatever I could find that was in disorder. I sorted out junk drawers into categories,sections (etc) of  screws & random bits of this and that. I organized shelves of parts in the back, moving around NOS tail light lenses of cars from the 50s, NOS piston sleeves for old tractors, and assorted old stuff that amazingly somehow had not been tossed in the 2 big purges. In this organizing I did come across an old Willard Batteries flange sign (a 2 sided sign with a strip on one end bent at a 90 degree angle to allow mounting to a building) that my grandfather was using as protection for the wood shelf.

 Protection from what? A car battery, which had sadly corroded one side of the sign. But, it was a treasure I ended up being able to take home. He also allowed me to take the NOS tail light lenses and some old car repair manuals....In his mind he was getting rid of junk, I'd assume!

In my boredom, with all the remnants of disorganization that was not already in landfill being all pretty organized, I set my sights on the attic door I spotted in the ceiling of the little building. I finally convinced my grandfather to let me get up there and and explore on a coffee break.

I managed to get a ladder propped up, and pushed the door up and into the attic.

It was a tiny attic, with not much in it. But, there was a sign made of cut out wood letters, which I did not take interest in. (Actually might still be there today. The building is now in the hands of the local museum , however). But, there was this round thing with convex sides. It was painted with beige paint, all over.

I dragged it down, and my grandfather's immediate response to seeing it was:

"Throw that piece of junk out!"

I replied that I wanted to see what was under the paint, as it seemed to have something on either side of it, which you could view through the hole in the bottom.

It wasn't like we were busy, anyway, and something else to do to keep my mind and hands busy was not a bad thing.

I grabbed some razor blades, and not-so-carefully started scraping paint off it, only nicking the glass a few times. 

Colour started to appear with each scrape.

Red, Yellow, Black.

I eventually got most of both sides exposed.

It read "RED HEAD GASOLINE" with a somewhat cartoon like picture of a boy with red hair on it.

I thought it was pretty cool, and so did my grandmother, who cleaned it up more, and my grandfather put it out on display.

 I wanted it, but did not express that deep desire much at the time, feeling it wasn't my place. I was a shy, timid kid.

One day I came to work there on a weekend, and the gas globe was gone. As was the beautiful old oak rolltop desk with all the cubby holes, and a 4 drawer oak filing cabinet.

A picker had come along, and bought all three for a grand sum of $300. $100 an item. I don't know if that is what my grandfather was offered, or it was a price my grandfather quoted.

 I my mind, as a picker myself, there would be a big difference, ethically. The globe, even at that time was easily worth $800+ (now upwards of $4000? $8000?) I am sure my grandfather was happy with the sale of the "old junk", and maybe that is all that matters. A newer, modern desk took the roll top's place, and a 2 drawer tin file cabinet from somewhere like Sears to the place of the oak filer. 

Nothing replaced the globe.

I think I might have gotten bought an extra Coke that weekend. Those times sitting out front of the station, drinking Coke from a glass bottle with him are fond memories, and something I looked forward to each time I was there. Nothing like drinking ice cold Coke from a glass bottle. My generation was the last to really experience that en-masse. Coke in a plastic bottle just is not the same.

Maybe all these years I have been trying to replace that globe. I actually did know where it was, and may still be, but I know the antiques dealer/collector owner refused $2000 for it many years ago. His son has inherited it, but, who knows what he'd want for it. I doubt I could buy it, even if I had the funds to make an offer that would be realistic in today's market, on such a rare globe. 

And, besides,  I'd hate to have to pay retail, I am a picker, after all!  Who knows, I might even ante up a retail price if I have the financial means someday....if I can locate the globe again. 


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