People love to collect items. For every interest or hobby, fans will search out thousands of objects, from photographs and ads to jewelry, clothing, art, and so much else. Some are very obvious and mainstream; we all know someone who collects coins or stamps. But what about the lesser-known collectibles? Is there such a thing as the Island of Ignored Treasures, like the one for the misfit toys? Are there collectors who don’t have hundreds of websites and groups to be a part of because they collect something that isn’t well known? As it turns out, yes. Not an island, of course, but collectors that are fans of items not generally thought of as worthy of collecting and curating have created their own communities, and it’s worth a look at what they have.
LET THERE BE LIGHT
The invention of the automobile changed history forever. So did the development of computers, appliances, and telephones. Plenty of collectors have made these items their focus. They learn all about them, collect certain brands and models, and interact with other enthusiasts. Electric light is much the same. Going from candlelight to the widespread availability of electricity in homes was a game-changer for society as a whole. Lightbulbs gave us night baseball, safer streets, and reduced house fires; shouldn’t they be considered just as collectible?
As early as 1800, inventors in the UK experimented with arc lamps. After that, German scientists began investigating “lightning in a tube,” and the Geissler tube, the precursor of fluorescent lighting, was born. In 1879, Thomas Edison patented his first incandescent bulb. From then on, homes could glow from lamps equipped with glass bulbs that would supply light at the flip of a switch. Much like fans of antique cars or phones, people who love vintage lightbulbs are proud custodians of their collections. Recently, CBS News featured vintage lightbulbs on their program Sunday Morning.
Besides lighting homes and offices, even early lightbulbs from the 1920s could be used for holiday decorating. Novelty bulbs that were handpainted with Christmas designs were popular but are now extremely rare since once the lightbulb burned out, they would simply be thrown away. Examples of these bulbs are coveted by some collectors.
Souvenir keychains have always been my go-to when bringing back a gift from a trip. They are fun and functional, and yes, some people do collect them. However, far fewer people collect actual keys. Not ornately carved skeleton keys, but rather motel room keys with tags that promised return postage if lost. Today most hotels have key cards with magnetic strips, but in the heyday of roadside motels and resorts, keys with large plastic tags were standard. In addition, inns and motels had arrangements with the USPS beginning in 1926 to guarantee the postage paid on any key found and turned in to the postal service. Some travel fans also collect card keys, especially from luxury hotels.
In the Victorian age especially, many pieces of furniture came with casters on the bottom. When fireplaces were the heat source for most homes, moving seating or tables closer to the hearth was sometimes necessary. For parties or gatherings, furniture was often pushed out of the way for buffets or dancing, so casters made that more manageable, but they could be hard on hand-woven rugs and wooden floors. The solution? Caster cups, often made out of glass, to keep iron or brass wheels and hardware from leaving dents and scratches. Some of the more popular ones were Uranium glass; others were ornately designed to go under grand pianos. The weight of the average grand piano could easily damage the flooring. Caster cups had to protect the floor and not interfere with the instrument’s sound and the position of the piano pedals.
THE BAG NO ONE WANTS TO CARRY
Airline collectibles are pretty mainstream. Branded luggage, flight attendant uniforms, and passenger souvenir wings are just a few examples of what collectors in this space look for. That said, there is another item some might forget. In the seat pocket of every plane is a bag, and it’s there if a nervous flier or a toddler with a tummy upset needs to offload a meal. Yes, the airsick sack, or as it’s commonly called, a “barf bag.” Yes, people do collect these. Interestingly enough, most auction listings make sure to mention they are unused, which is good to know. Some of them were also used as seat occupancy signs, as if the presence of a puke pouch wasn’t enough to deter a seat stealer.
REMEMBERING LOVED ONES…WITH HAIR?
While parents usually keep a lock of their baby’s hair, especially after a first haircut, the Victorians took it up a notch. As a memory of a loved one who had passed on, family members would use locks of hair to make jewelry or intricately woven wreaths. These death souvenirs were prominently displayed in homes alongside portraits as a way to keep a memory alive.
Not every vintage object or antique that a person chooses to save will be understood by other collectors. We all have different tastes, and that’s the best part of collecting and cataloging the things we love. There is always some treasure to be found. Who knows, maybe 50 years from now, someone will have a collection of fidget spinners?
Brenda Kelley Kim lives in the Boston area. She is the author of Sink or Swim: Tales From the Deep End of Everywhere and writes a weekly syndicated column for Gannett News/Wicked Local. When not writing or walking her snorty pug Penny, she enjoys yard sales, flea markets, and badminton.
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