The Things People Collect

So why do we collect what we do? It's always good to begin a journey—any journey—with a full tank of gas. And that's just what we're going to do. We're going to glimpse at an interesting cross-section of collectors and their choice of collectibles.

Collector's Universe at www.collectors.com lives up to its name with a bonanza of links and solid, up-to-date information on such favorite topics as stamps, coins, sports, records, and autographs. Collector's Universe is also the place to go to locate grading and authentication services for sports cards, stamps, coins, and autographs.

Gasoline Collectibles

Why would anybody be drawn into the collecting of gasoline-related collectibles? Glad you asked that question. Many people have. There are categories of gasoline collectibles devoted to the numerous companies that sell us gas and oil: Amoco, BP, Chevron/Standard Oil, Citgo, Esso, Exxon, Gulf, Pennzoil, Phillips 66, Quaker State, Shell, Sinclair, Sunoco, Texaco, Tydol, and Union ‘76.

A peek through the curtains into the lives of gasoline collectors reveals a host of pathways leading them down Gasoline Alley. Some of the collectors own or owned gas stations; others pumped gas as hired hands. (You'd be surprised at how many men have pulled a greasy rag from a boilersuit pocket at some point in their lives. It was a rite of passage.) For still others, the mere memories of those globe-topped gas pumps, free road maps, and friendly service from the fossil filling stations of the past jumpstarted their present collections.

Esso gasoline—now Exxon—was a favorite of so many kids, courtesy of its feline mascot and catchy advertising slogan, “Put a Tiger in Your Tank.” And let's not forget their reassuring salutation, “Happy Motoring,” extended to all the weary travelers who pulled up to their pumps. These kinds of memories die hard. For some people, the memories manifest themselves years later in a raging collectible fever—and a collection is born.

Gas and oil collectors should visit www.oilcollectibles.com, sellers of original gasoline pump globes and other related memorabilia. Also check out www.openroadcollectibles.com, where you can rest your weary eyes on the gas pumps themselves—a fine addition to anyone's living room.

World's Fair Collectibles

If you are old enough to remember a vintage World's Fair, you're very fortunate. World's Fair collectibles are highly sought after by those who recall with awe and excitement of having attended one. Ironically, twenty-first century World's Fairs do not engender the same sense of bigness and marvel that past World's Fairs did, even with the startling advances in today's technology. Britain's Millennium Dome was both a financial boondoggle and poorly attended. On the other hand, the Chicago World's Fair of 1933–1934 celebrated a “Century of Progress” with large, enthusiastic crowds. Collectibles from that momentous occasion range far and wide, from the pedestrian “I Was There” pin-back buttons to cookbooks, from spoons to thermometers, and from desk blotters to playing cards.

The New York World's Fair of 1939–1940, celebrating presumably five more years of progress, was another super-charged event. It was also a collectibles heaven. Fair attendees walked away with Heinz pickle-shaped pins, Mobil gas “Pegasus” charms, fraternity pins, scarves, Underwood Typewriter brass-finished metal mini-banks, perpetual calendars covering the years 1939 to 1960, and Scot Tissue packs of towels, with the familiar Trylon and Perisphere on its packaging, along with their original price: two paper towels for a penny. Collectors are coughing up a tad more for that pack of paper towels today!

If you're looking for other people who collect what you do, check out the Seeking Collecting Clubs section of www.collectors.org. Some examples of these collectible inquiries include airline cutlery, Arizona tea bottles, black face sheep items, “Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil” figurines, and women's slips.

Again in 1964–1965, New York City took center stage, hosting another World's Fair in the same location as a quarter of a century before, in Flushing Meadows Park, Queens. This event showcased 140 pavilions on 646 acres of land with the bold mantra, “Man in a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe.” Among the varied items from this World's Fair, trading in today's collectible marketplace, are maps, wall plaques, ashtrays, Unisphere banks, flicker rings, even Schaefer “The One Beer to Have When You're Having More Than One” coasters. There are literally thousands of collectibles from the many World's Fairs (including fairs in Philadelphia, 1876; Chicago, 1893; Buffalo, 1901; St. Louis, 1904, and Seattle, 1962). They were souvenir Shangri-las, with vendors of all sorts producing their own very unique “Souvenir of the World's Fair.”

The pace of technological advancement is so swift now that World's Fairs—as they once existed—are extinct. The World's Fairs weren't carnivals just passing through town long enough to leave the scent of French fries wafting in the wind. They were monumental extravaganzas that have left their mark on many men and women who now collect and treasure World's Fair memorabilia.

War Memorabilia

Innumerable collections are merely the by-products of the collector's love and appreciation of history, both its gallant side and its more disturbing doppelgänger. Militaria is the name applied to the collecting genre devoted to war memorabilia. From the Revolutionary War to the Civil War, the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, and Desert Storm, collectors in all walks of life keep history alive by amassing collections of uniforms, weaponry, field gear, medals, ribbons, posters, documents and maps, and other wartime ephemera.

The Web site www.theonlinecollector.com is dedicated to many of the most popular collecting classifications. If you collect in advertising, animation, autographs, antiques, books, cameras, coins, figurines, food and drink, glassware, guns, insulators, kitchenware, military, models, movies, music, orientalia, postcards, sci-fi, sports, stamps, and toys—you won't be disappointed.

Collectors' interests in war-related collectibles are often directly traced to their youth. Learning about historical events in school and from relatives, coupled with their own outside reading, captured the hearts of many collectors-to-be. They came to appreciate the magnitude of war and its impact in shaping all of our tomorrows. Many veterans, as well as active service men and women, collect militaria. Military service is more than just a job. Those that wear the uniform will tell you as much.

Even Hollywood can make a positive difference on a rare occasion. Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan sparked a renewed interest in the D-Day landing on the shores of Normandy—and in World War II itself. Book sales on the subject skyrocketed, and so did collecting memorabilia from World War II, which is by far the most expansive war-related collectible field.

Bottles

What catches people's eyes often gives rise to a collection. Collecting bottles, for example, is a hobby that's more than half full. Putting down the bottle is not so easy for these particular collectors. All sorts of bottles make up collections, from attractive-looking, snappy ones to the most bland and utilitarian kinds.

You've probably seen those miniature whiskey bottles and other mini alcohol bottles around. People collect them. They collect the fruit jars that Grandma used to preserve her peaches and pickle her cucumbers. A stopover at Antique Bottle Collector's Haven at www.antiquebottles.com, the leading Internet site for locating, buying, selling, and educating collectors on antique bottles, reveals the scope of bottles collected. Its bottle classification categories run the gamut—from apothecary bottles to beer bottles, from seltzer bottles to poison bottles. Was that poison? Yep. Macabre tastes always make for interesting collections. The skull and crossbones on a bottle captures your attention when you need to exterminate roaches and water bugs, and it gets noticed in collections, too. An old bottle of “Petty's Lightning Fluid” with its sweeping claim that it “destroys all insect life” makes a nice addition to anybody's collection. Older bottles, in general, with their labels intact are considered the most valuable and desired by collectors. Unique, historical, and bottles with pleasing patterns are also prized.

A thriving subcategory among bottle collectibles is the fabled milk bottle. There's something about milk. It wasn't too long ago that all milk was sold in glass bottles. Even some New York City residents, remarkably, were having the milk truck deliver their milk and butter into the 1970s! The milk was placed in a galvanized steel milk box resting on their front stoops. Sometimes the milkman's money was left right there in the box. Guess you can see why the neighborhood milkman has fast become a relic of the past in the cities of America. His memory is alive and well—in many collections at least. And if you've got an old milk box around, hold onto it.

In 1858, John Landis Mason designed a jar with a unique screw-on lid, something that we know today as the Mason jar (and that probably every home in America has at least one of). Nearly 150 years later, collectors seek out Mason jars with their unique factory monogram, trademark, and patent date. Mason jars that are decorated with animal designs and war heroes are real treasures.

Police and Firefighter Collectibles

It shouldn't surprise you to learn that there are collectors of police-related items, from badges to patches to nightsticks to license plates—even call boxes. The collectors in this field are very often police officers themselves, or their sons and daughters. There are families with long, proud traditions in law enforcement. And what better way to hold onto the memories of the past than to collect and preserve the hallowed instruments of crime-fighting?

Law Enforcement Memorabilia: Price and Identification Guide by Monty McCord is the first guide dedicated solely to police-related collectibles—proof of the growing popularity of this field. Although the pricing might be outdated, Firefighting Collectibles by Andrew Gurka is brimming with pictures of uniforms, tools, lanterns, fire extinguishers, and more.

Similarly, there's a flourishing collectible specialty devoted to firefighters. From the sprawling fire departments in cities to the all-volunteer units across rural America, collectors gather helmets, patches, extinguishers, and fireboxes, vintage and contemporary alike. As with their police brethren, there are numerous firefighters and firefighters' family members who want to preserve the tools of the trade of this chivalrous vocation.

Other civil service jobs are not generating the collector interest of the police and firefighters. There's not a great demand for IRS tax collection agent memorabilia, but there are people collecting IRS ephemera. Vintage IRS manuals, and old tax stamps and coupons for alcohol and tobacco are traded in today's collector's market. Nostalgia's bright light shines a little on the IRS. And that's an accomplishment!

Fishing Memorabilia

There are legions of collectors of fishing-related items who collect flies, lures, reels, and rods, all the accouterments of the fisherman. This is a prime collectible hobby born of location and recreational opportunities. A rural Minnesotan in the land of 10,000 lakes is more apt to be collecting fishing-related memorabilia than is an Upper West Side Manhattanite living in the land of one lake, who has caught nothing but a cab and a cold in his or her lifetime.

For both the fledgling collector and the pro, www.collectors.org is a Web site worth bookmarking. This comprehensive site unites the sundry worlds of collecting with a directory of over 2,500 collector clubs, a calendar of club conventions and collector shows, a flea-market directory, an auctioneers listing, and much more.

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