First Things

Passing the Test of Time

| November 2005

  • LeslieMcManus.jpg

  • MemoriesOfAFormerKid.jpg
    Memories Of A Former Kid

  • LeslieMcManus.jpg
  • MemoriesOfAFormerKid.jpg

I've been to a bunch of shows this summer, and I didn't see much new. Thank goodness!

Call me a dinosaur (shoot, all the teenagers I know do … I assume it's a term of endearment!). I love the way you can go to a show and leave the modern world behind. I like old stuff. I like the imperfect surface of rusty cast iron, the sandblasted feel of sun-bleached wood. Equipment in original condition fascinates me; ancient casting numbers and names speak to me in solemn tones. I like nothing better than to see faint ghosts of original paint on old equipment, manufacturers' names just clear enough to be discerned.

I know, of course, that to a serious collector, condition matters. Many who've amassed very fine collections counsel the novice to focus on the best quality he or she can possibly afford. Pick up duplicates; spin off those that are inferior. Pay top dollar for quality. Those are the rules.

There's no denying that an immaculately restored tractor, a flawless porcelain sign, a piece of ephemera in mint condition or a vintage toy new in the box have great appeal. Who among us isn't drawn to the shine of perfection? Increasingly, though, I find myself gravitating to the porcelain sign that's been used for a bit of target practice. The stationary engine with a dull coat of color beneath a film of oil beckons, as do jumbles of rusty iron at a swap meet.

Each relic has a story. Many of those stories are mundane, ordinary tales; nearly all remain mysteries. But it's easy to imagine; easy to wander back to a time when a family's life savings went into the purchase of that first tractor … to picture the farm wife who cherished a brightly-colored wall calendar her husband brought home from the dealership … to marvel at the sheer power of a steam engine, and the labor it performed.

Lest I sound too noble, too nostalgic, let me go on the record here: When it comes to collectibles, my budget does not allow perfection. But I'd like to think I've made a conscious choice. If tomorrow I won the lottery, chances are good that my tastes would stay about the same. What's new? For me, not much. And I wouldn't have it any other way.