Copyright © Harry Rinker, LLC 2016

Déjà Vu

The stage is set. The actor with sweat slowly trickling down from his hair to his neck, hands in endless motion, and body language expressing a mixture of nervousness and expectation, stands before a closed garage door. What waits behind the door? Cue the music. Not the “Storage Wars” theme, but rather the heart-beating, rapid pace music associated with the knock on the door in a horror movie scene. As the door opens, the actor’s eyes enlarge and a gasp of “Oh, No,” akin to a scream, is heard by surrounding neighbors. Just when the actor thought the past was behind and the present organized, his worst nightmare returns with a vengeance.

The morals behind what follows are simple. Knowing what to do is not the same as doing it. Good intentions often succumb to reality. A true collector has no choice but to face the inevitable. Whether a collector is normal or abnormal is a matter of opinion.

I begin with the backstory. When I lived at The School [the former 14,000 square foot Vera Cruz (PA) elementary school], it served as a depository for whatever I decided to buy. Over the course of the 19 years I owned The School, I acquired dozens of boxes of material that I never opened. I kind of, sort of had an idea what was in them, albeit most only had a two or three-word notation on the front to indicate the contents. Mystery is an essential part of a collector’s mindset.

When it became evident in 2009 that Linda and I would not be returning to Vera Cruz, I made the decision to sell The School. I was naïve in thinking that moving my things once The School sold would not present a problem. The problem was selling The School. The School did not sell until the fifth buyer secured the funds to fulfill the sales agreement.

After the first sale contract was signed, I panicked. It provided 60 days for me to vacate The School and move my collections. The buyer was not open to my moving my things to the auditorium and renting it until I developed a disposal plan. I breathed a sigh of relief when the buyer backed out.

In early 2010, Dana Morykan, my webmaster, proofreader, and close friend, had a nephew looking to earn extra income. Realizing that I had to start downsizing sooner rather than later, I let Dana take what I remember as a dozen or so boxes of paper ephemera to her nephew to sell on eBay. After taking a quick look, I assumed the boxes contained nothing I would miss. The nephew quickly lost interest. The boxes were relegated to Dana’s and her husband Ray’s garage.

Since moving to Michigan, Dana reminded me on occasion about the boxes that occupied a table in her garage. I promised her that I would set aside time during a visit to eastern Pennsylvania to sort through the material. Pennsylvania visits during the past five year were filled with dealing with the items left behind at The School and visiting friends and grandchildren. On more than one occasion, I suggested that Ray should just take the material to auction and get rid of it. It is far easier to part with something if you do not remember what it is.

In early October 2016, I finally had a free morning following a trip to Washington, DC, to attend a Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee Meeting and conducting an appraisal clinic for the Hellertown Historical Society. I met Ray around 10:30 AM at the aforementioned garage door.

When I looked inside, there was not a dozen boxes piled on the table. There were dozens. My two immediate thoughts were to strike a match or tell Ray to just get rid of it. I was afraid the moment I opened one box I would be hooked.

Author’s Aside: While driving from Phoenixville, where I was staying with friends Jane and Robert Kahn, to Spring Valley where Dana and Ray live, I remembered a few of the items I had sent for sale – a Steelcraft Zeppelin toy and some early manuscript material relating to the Caribbean. Realizing that extra space in Linda’s and my Kentwood home was non-existent, I made a firm resolution to take home no more than two boxes of material. The Pennsylvania Germans have a saying: Dumb is as dumb does. I should have known such a pledge was dumber than (you fill in the missing word).

I opened the first box. It was loaded with paper ephemera. When asked about my love of antiques and collectibles, my standard reply is: “I have never met an antique or collectible I have not loved.” The assertion is not completely true. I should use “liked” instead of “loved.” I like all the items in my collections. My love is more restricted.

Of all the general collecting categories, I love paper ephemera more than all the others. Each scrap represents a story, a story that was transient in nature but somehow survived via the paper object that remained behind. Besides calling out to touch, hold, and feel, each paper object whispers “research me,” “find out more about me,” and “put me in the hands of someone or some institution who will love me as much as you do.”

Paper ephemera has a mystique and enchantment that is difficult to explain. Paper can feel old, immediately transporting the holder into the distant past. Paper has a historic aroma, a smell of antiquity that is difficult to explain to those who have not experienced it. Paper ephemera is the history of common people, a chronicle of daily life. It is information preserved on a hit or miss basis by historic societies, libraries, museums, and similar institutions. The true preservers are the local and regional collectors scattered across America.

Upon arriving in Spring Valley, I had set a limit of two hours to go through everything. I was hoping the time limit would encourage me to take a “sell it Ray” approach more often than a “put it in my car trunk so I can sort it in Michigan” decision. As soon as I made a request to put the first box I examined into my car trunk, I knew the battle was lost.

It took an hour and one-half to do a quick review of all the material on the table. When Ray and I passed the three-quarter of the box pile mark, my trunk was filled as was the length of the back seat. It made the “leave behind decision” easier but did nothing to relieve the angst from making it.

After two hours, I took one last look at what remained and told Ray I was finished. I did not tell him I wish I had rented a van to drive east rather than use my 2002 Buick Park Avenue. We shook hands on a job well done and felt Dana would be pleased with our efforts. If only I had walked out of the garage at that point and not looked back.

Instead, I turned around and looked at a metal shelf loaded with boxes. Assuming they held material belonging to Ray and Dana, I paid no attention to them and focused on the table. Unfortunately, they contained a numbering system I used for material stored at The School. There were over a dozen large size boxes. Ray and I looked at each other in defeat. The material would have to wait until I drove east again.

Meanwhile, I had a car trunk filled with boxes loaded with miscellaneous paper – programs from Allentown’s Dorney Park Melody Ranch Theater, yard-long photographs (I did not take the time to unroll them), engravings of 17th and 18th century historical figures, autographed material, Gerald Ford for President campaign memorabilia, a Goldwater for President poster, well over 5,000 postcards, nineteenth century store ledgers, and who knows what else.

I left Spring Valley with much the same mindset when I moved from The School – what am I going to do with this stuff; it is too good to throw out. I love Linda too much to bring it into our Kentwood home. For the moment, it resides in the trunk of my car – a homeless refugee seeking shelter from the storm.

I have been home a week. I have not opened the trunk. I am afraid. I know what will happen if I do. I will not be able to resist the urge to handle and sort. Perhaps the best solution is to leave the keys in the unopened car and hopes someone steals it. Linda has been after me for years to get rid of the “old heap.”

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 harrylrinker@aol.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered.

You can listen and participate in WHATCHA GOT?, Harry’s antiques and collectibles radio call-in show, on Sunday mornings between 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM Eastern Time.  If you cannot find it on a station in your area, WHATCHA GOT? streams live on the Internet at www.gcnlive.com.


back to top back to columns page