In the Eye of the Beholder

Reader Contribution by Leslie C. Mcmanus
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Eye appeal is at the heart of a varied collection assembled by Nebraskan Steve Renz (read about Steve’s collection). Steve gravitates to the piece marked by exceptional artistry and design, whether it’s a buggy tag or a cast iron seat or a check-row planter.

If all collections were assessed in a clinical manner, eye appeal would no doubt be the primary motivator in many. Industrial design today reflects an almost insatiable appetite for the futuristic ideal. In today’s world, flourishes are few and far between.

Steve’s collection may be rooted in eye appeal, but it also honors the small businessman and the industrial designer. Windmills, buggies, hardware, tools and implements were often produced by small local operations and sold fairly close to home. Those small businesses were the backbone of thousands of small towns, in an era that, decades later, seems bathed in unprecedented optimism and promise. It is hard not to feel nostalgic about the growth and industry that gave our hometowns liftoff a century ago.

Steve’s collection also salutes the early industrial designer. Industrial products of the late 1800s and early 1900s reflect a sensibility unknown today. Where today’s products are streamlined, those of the past were ornately embellished. Hand-drawn pinstriping and lettering, typography and remarkable detail elevated industrial pieces from the mundane – making them highly sought by collectors a century later.

At least some of us are hard-wired to the past. As children, we were already drawn to old things, old ways; as adults, we collect old things. I have no doubt that people 50 or 75 or 100 years from now will build collections of relics they remember from their youth.

What is less clear to me is what, exactly, those items will be. Flip phones? Dash-mounted GPS systems? Drones? A tractor built in 2010? You’d have to be a technician to work on any of those: For a collector, getting it running is the real deal. And none of today’s mountains of stuff is particularly rare. What fun is it if everybody has one?

If that leaves you shaking your head, you’re in good company. The man who bought a Waterloo Boy in 1918 is probably equally befuddled as to why you’d spend good money on an old pile of junk and put even more money into making it look better than new. Beauty, as ever, is in the eye of the beholder! FC

Leslie C. McManus

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