Not another collection
I am 78. According to my qualitative observations of other collectors, I should have started to curtail my collecting in my mid-sixties and begun thinking about selling my collections in my seventies. Never one to conform to the norm, I still am accumulating.
Prior to Linda’s and my move to Kentwood, Michigan, in 2011, I sold the Vera Cruz [PA] Elementary School that housed Rinker Enterprises, Inc., over 1,400 square feet of room for anything I desired to accumulate, and our apartment. I sold over 35,000 objects, not because I wanted to but because I was unwilling to rent space in Michigan and pay to move them. The good news is that over 15,000 of my objects moved west with us.
The move resulted in a temporary halt to adding to the collections that came west. I needed time to locate and organize the collections I brought.
[Author’s Aside #1: The move taught me an important lesson. Moving is a disruptive process. No matter how carefully one attempts to pack in a predictable and orderly fashion, it does not happen. When others help pack, as they did in the case of our move, the result is chaos. In looking through the few unpacked boxes that remained in Linda’s and my Kentwood garage in early October 2019, I found a box containing my mother’s china and glass that I packed in May 1976, a box with family photographs of my Prosser aunts and uncles as young adults, some Tijuana bibles I forgot I owned, and my long-lost Lehigh Class of 1963 Freshman beanie. I put it in a box of “Lehigh” memorabilia so I know where to find it for my 60th reunion in 2023.]
Once a collector, always a collector. In order to satisfy my collecting urge, I assembled for Linda what began as a Victorian era jewelry type collection only to be expanded into a strong period collection and a collection of jewelry made by contemporary jewelry artisans.
In both cases, I worked closely with a single dealer. Lenore Dailey became my advisor for the Victorian collection. Karen Lorene, the former owner of Facêré Jewelry Art in Seattle, worked with me on the contemporary jewelry artisan collection. New acquisitions to both collections are on hold--possibly permanently. Karen Lorene sold Facêré Jewelry Art and retired. I have no desire to return to square one and work on developing the same personal relationship with the new owner, not a person but a mega-jewelry firm, that I had with Karen. Lenore is not well and has withdrawn from the business. She is younger than me. We worked together for over 15 years.
[Author’s Aside #2: In the late 1970s when I began collecting American historical Staffordshire, especially pieces with canal views, David Arman was my advisor. We became friends. This was the only time I worked with a dealer to assemble a personal collection. We drifted apart when my primary collecting interests shifted. David died in 2001.
When working with individuals or heirs in the disposal of antiques and collectibles collections in the past, I often suggested they contact the dealers and representatives of auction houses where the collector bought the bulk of his/her objects. What I forget is that auction house personnel and dealers can and do die. Auction houses also can cease operations or discontinue interest in a collecting category.
I keep a list of people Linda should contact for help in disposing of my collections if I die before her. William “Bill” Kurau, five years younger than me, was on the top of the list for my historical Staffordshire. Bill died on September 23, 2019. I always assumed Lenore Dailey and Karen Lorene would handle the disposal of Linda’s jewelry collections when the need arose. These recent events are a grim reminder that I need to develop new approaches to the instructions for the dispersal of Linda’s and my collections.]
I started collecting when it was assumed that a collector would identify one to five collecting categories and collect them for a lifetime. My American view historical Staffordshire collection still is intact. Although I will not admit it publicly, I do add to it occasionally.
I cast aside my personal collecting funk a few years ago. I found it emotionally unrewarding and far to challenging to deny my urge to collect. I started buying again based on the simple “I want it, buy it” premise. The result is a hodgepodge of objects in my basement office, all of which are fun to own but which have little or no relationship with one another.
A collector is never satisfied with one. Before I knew what was happening, I was acquiring mini-collections—a lot of over 7,000 postcards, my Uncle Bill Prosser’s matchbook collection which I doubled by buying a second matchbook collection, and small collections of 10 to 25 items that were once highly sought after antiques but now were selling for pennies on their historic secondary market value.
I now am faced with a space problem at out home in Kentwood, Michigan, and our condo in Altamonte Springs, Florida Filled to the brim is a foreign concept to a collector. I keep telling myself, to the point where Linda is tired of hearing me say it, that I am at the maximum square foot of living space I ever want to own. I will not buy a larger house. I refuse to rent a storage unit or office/warehouse space. I am determined to make do with the space available.
I tried the “if something new [in terms of recent acquisition, not an antique or collectible] comes in, something has to go out” approach. This approach is untenable to a collector.
For the past decade, I have been fighting a voice in my head that keeps telling me that I have one more great collection in me--a collection that fills me with the same sense of commitment, enthusiasm, excitement, joy, and passion I experienced when assembling my American view historical Staffordshire, Hopalong Cassidy, and jigsaw puzzle collections.
God or some other force willing, every collector wants to end his/her collecting career on a high note. Selling a beloved collection or collections at a loss is a low not a high note. I still plan to have a bumper sticker made for my car that reads: “Dying to collect. Not dying to sell.”
I toyed with a number of ideas but dismissed them. I started to believe I was no longer capable of completing another great collection. I became a semi-depressed accumulator.
In June 2018, Linda and I visited Seagrove, one of several centers for North Carolina folk potters. I visited Seagrove twice before. During one of these visits, I acquired a collection of small face jugs made by Jack T. Manass. During a personal appearance at the Greater Charlotte Home and Landscape Show in the mid-2000s, I bought two face jugs by Joe Foster. They became book ends on the top of one of my Pennsylvania German hutches.
Although Linda and I bought primarily utilitarian pottery during our June 2018 visit, I did acquire a face jug from Ryan McKay and Keane Owen, the grandson of Boyd Owen.
Linda and I, accompanied by my daughter Paulanne and grandson Ian, returned to Seagrove again in mid-November 2018. During our visit, we stopped at Luck’s Pottery, met Sid, and purchased several face jugs and a few utilitarian pieces. The “ah-ha” moment occurred when Linda and I visited Crystal King Pottery.
In addition to being a legacy folk potter, Crystal King is a historian, scholar, and promoter of Seagrove pottery. On three of the walls of her shop are shelves holding a substantial part of her personal face jug collection. The variety is exquisite. Over 100 pieces represent the work of five generations of folk potters in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and other parts of the South.
The voice I had longed to hear echoed from above – collect face jugs. The voice is equivalent to The Force from Star Wars. I had no choice but to trust and obey. Although late out of the gate, collectors have been collecting face jugs since the 1920s, I was off to the races.
Redware and stoneware pottery, especially utilitarian pieces, always have appealed to me. Linda and I have a large collection of revivalist folk pottery made by Lester and Barbara Breininger and Ned Foltz in the 1970s and 1980s. I could easily fall in love with the entire range of forms and shapes of Southern pottery.
At 78, I must limit my focus. I am not certain how much collecting time I have left. The highly creative and innovative faces (the more grotesque, the better) on the jugs overwhelms me. Because they are hand thrown, there is an individuality associated with each piece not found in duplicate mass-produced objects.
Besides the jugs themselves, I am excited that I can meet and interact personally with many of the makers. In terms of those who have gone before, I still can talk with their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
I also have met several new young collectors. I see in them the same level of enthusiasm and passion that I experience. They take pride in sharing their latest purchases with me.
Eleven months have passed (over a year by the time you read this column) since I met Crystal King. Thanks to her contacts with older collectors who have decided to liquidate their collections, my collection now includes examples from more than 35 different potters, some living like Crystal Lee and her father Rufus King and others like Dorothy Cole Auman, Gracie Nell Hewell, and BB Craig who are no longer alive.
Finally, in my recent “The Collecting Roads Less Traveled” column, I mentioned that Linda and I spent a morning in Gillsville, Georgia during our August 2019 drive to take our 2013 VW Beetle convertible down to its permanent home in Altamonte Springs, Florida. Gillsville is a center for Georgia folk pottery much as is Seagrove is for North Carolina folk pottery. The individuals I mentioned at the end of the column are potters whose face jugs are now part of my collection. They are only the first wave.
Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Selected letters will be answered in this column. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Photos and other material submitted cannot be returned. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Point Court SE, Kentwood, MI 49512. You also can e-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered.