Sometime around the age of 10, my son, Wyatt, became a serious collector.
It started with toy trains, mostly Lionel and Marx O-Gauge, but soon grew to include other vintage curios. Like railroad keys. And cardboard dexterity skill games from the 1920s and ‘30s.
The more antique items he picked up, the more history we all learned, and the deeper we went—back in time.
The trains Wyatt searches for now are Ives windups from the early 1900s, and the blob bottles, coffee cans, and petroliana he collects always date back more than 100 years.
He’s become quite specialized in his interests, and along the way it’s rubbed off on me. Bitten by the bug, I spend our frequent weekend picking runs looking for men’s adventure paperbacks from the ‘60s and ‘70s and jazz records.
The first weekend in February found us knocking on a couple farm doors, though not wholly unexpected. Not having the same kind of production staff (or budget) as the History Channel’s American Pickers, we tend to avoid pulling in “unannounced” and schedule our trips around pretty sure things.
This time we walked away with some vintage photos, a milk jar, and a Delft flower pot. Nothing that really fit our prize collections, but things we decided would enrich our lives anyway.
The find we’re most excited about is a set of old metal porch chairs and glider. We refurbish much of what we bring home (which I think is one secret of the successful collector) and these’ll need a lot of work. First we’ll have to take them apart, strip off the paint, and fix the rust holes. But reassembled, with fresh paint, they’ll be just the ticket for summer.
In my Dan Spalding series of mystery/thrillers, Dan owns a record store in the fictional Ozark City.
When I first imagined the character, he ran an antique mall and was more of a general picker. The original idea had Dan getting into trouble as, with each book, a different dealer or collector brought his problems into the store.
I’m glad I went with the record shop. Vintage vinyl works well because it’s something I enjoy collecting, too, plus it’s something I already know a lot about. As I indulge in new interests, I can slip in a record review or some emotional gushing therein (right now it’s Milt Jackson —as can be seen in Stage Fright).
Wyatt’s moving into old telephones this winter, saving up for a pay phone or even an entire booth. Where he’ll put it, I don’t know.
What I do know is that we’re continuing to explore culture and history in a literally hands-on way.
And best of all, we’re doing it together.