Abysmal was the only word to describe this moonless overcast autumn night. The neighbourhood had been forgotten by society, polite society that is. The street lights were old and outdated. New lights found in the up-scale areas would never see this neighbourhood, not even when they were felt to be out of style. The lights would be sold to smaller municipalities; never to be installed here. Many of the lights were out, shot out by pellet guns making the darkness here purposeful and with an intent repulsive to gentler folk. This the city planners called “Urban Blight”, however in more knowledgeable circles where actual “doing” was the norm was whispered a different term. “Ghettoization of the Poor” was the term bantered around, a purposeful concentration of those less fortunate to serve as fodder, victims if you will, to the criminal element. After all as long as you can ignore an area in decline thereby creating a hunting ground for the wolves of society the chances are less likely that they will ply their trade in the white bread world of “up-town”. This is nothing new and every city has their Cedar Street, corner of St. Ledger and Young and “Shooters Lane”. This will never change as high speed commuter train systems are more important than the welfare of our fellow man. It truly is still a Dickensian world.
Along with the blinded street lights very little other light was visible short of the odd window through which an eerie sporadic pulsating glow emitted from a television set. One or two upstairs windows were lit up and there existed hope that in the room was a small desk with a young child who was pouring over his or her lessons with the slight hope of earning their way out of this cess pool. Experience, however, told a different likelihood. That of a single mattress thrown on the floor where a lady of the evening carried on her so-called trade in order to earn just enough for the next hit of crack, smoked using a crushed soda can as a pipe and a butane cigarette lighter as the ignition source. She was old before her time, even though she was barely out of her teens, just more collateral damage in the political gaming circles.
The house in question had long past being described as run down and old. It was an ancient pile or half rotten timbers and broken window panes awaiting the caress of the arson’s touch. A sure fate when the property became more valuable than the rent squeezed by the slumlord from these poor retches. Still it was someone’s home and castle, their refuge from the greater decay looming all around in the darkness. Paint had long since given up trying to make a home on the building’s exterior and what did still reside there was in flakes peeling off as if it too were trying to follow after its comrades to a better existence. The front steps had long since given up being even close to horizontal and the wooden treads were bowed downwards as if the stress of thousands of desperate souls treading on them had been too depressing for them and they now just existed without the will to live. Under the porch could be heard a rustling scurrying sound of creatures best left unseen and unmolested least their unwanted attentions be turned loose on the inquisitive interloper. On the corner of the porch next to a very narrow unpaved driveway, was a square-based tapering pillar holding up the porch roof with the house number 23 affixed to it. The letters had been of good quality at one time, enameled white letters on a metal base. Now they were missing much of the enameling with what was left being stained yellow by the rusting medal. Under the letters was nailed a board with little to no regard to right angles or even an attempt to be slightly horizontal. On the board was scrawled the words, “23½ ROUND BACK!” by someone obviously sick and tired of being inconvenienced to give out directions to 23½.
“Why is it always ‘round back?”
The driveway was put in long after the house had been built, before Henry Ford’s creations, constructed to accommodate the Model T or Model A automobiles of the day. It had gone unused due to its lack of width through the craze for super sized automobiles and the muscle cars. A Smart Car would now fit but that would never be seen in this neighbourhood. The driveway was equally dark and uninviting ending with a dilapidated garage, more than a mate for the ailing house. The sill had long ago rotted away and the vertical wood siding was now all that held the structure erect. The sides themselves bowed out leaving the structure resembling a circus tent more than an accessory building.
The sound of a dog barking in the distance could be heard but it sounded to be a few doors over. No barking came from this property in response to the other dog’s challenge so that may not be an issue here.
“At least it’s not the end of the shift.”
There was a superstition among the officers in the division that if all went well for your whole shift then the last call was likely going to be the most dangerous. If you were going to “buy it” then that was when it would happen. This caution was probably started to keep the new officers on their toes. As the biggest factor in any officer’s injury or death is quite often complacency.
Taking a deep breath the summons firmly in the officer’s leather encased Kevlar gloved left hand, he drew his right hand back past the Asp (extendable baton), undoing the dome on his 9 mil. holster and finally coming to resting on his three-cell Mag-Lite. He preferred the Mag over the stronger beam of the mini flashlights carried by some of the younger officers. The reason was simple, deadly simple. A Mag might not be able to blind a charging rhino or fry ants at fifty feet such as the young officers bragged about their mini lights, but it gave sufficient light and could serve, as it had on several occasions, as a defensive “weapon of opportunity”. Here is the simple logic. When something “goes down” you have 1.5 seconds to react. So, 1.5 seconds to drop your mini flashlight, un-holster your 9 mill (did you remember to unfasten it earlier?), snap off the safety, point it at the assailant and come up with a memorable line out of a Dirty Harry or Rambo movie and save your butt. All in 1.5 seconds...won’t happen sweetheart! At least with the Mag-Lite in hand you have something, well, at hand, what you do in the next 1.5 seconds is up to you.
“Thank God for my Mag-Lite”
The officer had seen just about every kind of trap and trip fall over the years. From boards with nails protruding waiting like some spiny sea urchin in the dark waters of night, to impale any unwary pedestrian venturing into their domain, to trip wires set across the top of exterior basement access stairways. The lights at the bottom of these egress wells were always “conveniently” out of order. The one that always stuck in his mind was one basement apartment access stairs, as usual in complete darkness, that had a row of soda cans sitting along the front edge of one of the treads, about one half way down the stair case. Stepping on top one or two of these cans would send you down the stairs on your backside in a flash. The worst were concrete stair cases. Then there were the “screamers”. Battery powered alarms that emitted a sharp whine so loud as to nearly split an ear drum and the fright enough to bring on a heart attack, or at least it seemed so. These were attached to one side of the stair case, a monofilament line stretched across the stair way. These were activated similar to a hand grenade with a pin being pulled out when someone tripped the line. If there was one thing in abundance in this neighbourhood it was human ingenuity, whether protective or malicious.
Reaching the back corner of the main house there was a smaller structure attached, probably a former kitchen with accommodation for the “help” dating back to more affluent times. The porch light was off but the window beside the door was lit up. As he scanned the property and especially the path to the door he noticed that the only potential traps were those of children’s toys reluctantly left when “time for bed” was announced. He could imagine the protests of the young adventurers as their mother put an end to their conquests of the imagined castle or the slaying of the evil dragon. Some things common to children everywhere is their ability to ignore brutal reality in favour of their own worlds of make believe. This made him smile slightly.
Reaching the entrance the officer opened the screen door and knocked on the old paint cracked wooden slab. He actually lightly kicked the door with the toe of his shoe but it was still a knock. Immediately the light was turned off that had illuminated the window and the porch light was snapped on. The officer instinctively shut the screen door which he braced closed with his foot; toe on the door and heel firmly against the decking of the porch. This was the moment of truth, the seconds before the bull charges the matador or the moment before when all is revealed, the expected raging bull or a peaceful member of the heard.
A woman opened the door; it was hard to tell her age due to the lack of light as she stayed in the shadows afforded by the frame of the screen door. It didn’t matter at this time as the officer could see that she held nothing in her hands and shining the flashlight’s beam in her face would only serve to annoy more than identify..at least for the time being.
“Is Mr. Larry Oatman living at this address?”
“Yes, I’m his wife”, she offered without hesitation and offered her full name and date of birth following the officer’s request.
“Please give this to him” the officer calmly said in a helpful tone of voice practised to garner cooperation.
“What is this?” She queried as she instinctively reached out and took the document. This happens more than not when serving a summons which is helpful though in Canada there is no need to actually touch the person with the summons to complete service.
“It’s a Summons for Mr. Oatman to appear in court”
She accepted this with a look of someone familiar with the term recidivism; the cycle of conviction followed by incarceration, release and another crime leading to arrest and conviction. This time all went down smoothly and peacefully. It is not always so, but one needs to be thankful for small favours and not dwell on the times when you’re met with violence.
Back in the patrol car the officer couldn’t help but think that this cycle of crime, incarceration, release then crime was like the instructions, wash, rinse, and repeat on the label on a shampoo bottle being applied to life. He also couldn’t help but wonder if this was always going to be the case for many in this part of the city. Deep down he knew the answer to his own question.
This is a scenario played out over and over day after day year after year all over the country. In most cases there is no need for a firearm, the asp is not drawn or the pepper spay not released into an assailant’s eyes. However it’s the trusty old flashlight that is employed repeatedly. So it has been since the days of the watchmen with their burning brands, or torches, the candle lit lamps followed in time by oil fueled and then to battery powered lights, shedding light on crime and making it safer for officers to carry out their duties.
For quite some time now my good friend and fellow GMIC member, Mervyn Mitton and I have been discussing a collaboration of sorts to expand one of his earlier posts, regarding early police lanterns. This will involve specimens from both of our collections and a detailed description along with photos of the different specimens. I anticipate this taking some time as between the two of us we possess quite a good number of examples. In addition to this blog I will kick the project off with a “What do they have in common?” question. Sorry, no prize for the correct answer or even the wittiest response; just bragging rights. Which I suppose could be considered “priceless”.
Watch for the knowledge testing question coming to the appropriate section of your form shortly. Then tune into the police section to follow our post on police lanterns.
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and I hope that you found it entertaining and will check out our Police Lantern post in the Police Section under the title “What did they do in the dark...”.
An Adventure? Are you out of your mind? Part Two.
As stated in the last installment Linda, my wife and best friend, and I had paid our admission to the Christie’s Antique Show and were at last on our way to the happy (antiques) hunting grounds. Once we crossed the causeway the area opened up to reveal the affects the night long rains had on the dealers. The wide rows were blocked with large vans and trailers because many dealers had waited until morning to start to set up their booths. Normally something like this would anger me but given the hurricane-like storm that had raged all night and the steady rain we were now experiencing, who could blame them for this late start? Many of the dealers house their wares in tents, though these are mainly protection from the intense heat of the sun; that would not pose a problem today. Some had tents with sides and plastic windows of the same design you see at outdoor weddings, the sides prevent the rains from getting in but also impedes the customers somewhat. Many of the dealers who only have tables set up outside in the elements had cancelled and those who decided to brave the elements were now regretting it. Plastic covered the tables and looked much like the dew spangled web of a grass spider (Agelenopsis spp.) in early morning. Pools of water had collected anywhere there had been a pocket formed in the plastic sheets. In one case between the spokes of a ship’s wheel producing a circle of small triangle lakes and another, in the form or a rectangular pool that was bordered by a picture’s frame under the plastic. There was one poor lady who had left her wares out over night at the mercy of the elements and now had to deal with emptying out the water from dozens and dozens of bowls and vases. The positive aspect of this was that she only sold glass and ceramic ware so everything at least had a good wash. A few were not as fortunate because the winds had ripped the plastic away for the tables and the paper goods and photographs were in ruin. Anything made of cloth or stuffed items like bears and their ilk were saturated. I can only hope that these were able to be salvaged.
Our immediate goal was to go directly to the pavilion, a permanent structure on the grounds, consisting of two adjoining show rooms, a refreshment concession and washrooms. It would seem that one of us was not willing to wait until we got to the show before consuming an extra large double, double coffee making the trek to the washroom of paramount importance. Yes, that would have been me, good sense and planning ahead not being a familiar state of my thought process. This would not have mattered anyway as we always go to the pavilion first as there is one dealer who always has a few medals and good quality black powder firearms for sale. I would like to point something out at this point regarding washrooms. The washrooms in the pavilion are always in good condition, however, when the show’s attendance it at its zenith the demand for the facilities out strips the availability of fixtures. It is for this reason the Conservation Authority brings in portable toilets and lines them up along the wall of the pavilion opposite to the entrance to the washrooms. Having worked for a conservation authority myself for some time now there is one thing I have learned. Water will always run down hill and if there is a depression in the ground the water will find it and fill it to the brim before continuing on to its destination at the lowest possible point wherever that may be. In this case that lowest point, at least for the time being, was where they had placed the portable toilets. These blue beacons of relief for the desperate victims of the extra large double, double coffees consumed, even though their spouses warned against it, were perched on wooden skids. I am sure this was to facilitate the placement and removal by the units by the waste management company. The water in this little lake was at least four inches deep judging by how little the skids were still out of the water, and that was not much. I could not help but think of later in the day when the skies cleared and the crowds arrived that there would be long line ups for the pavilion washrooms due to the inaccessibility of the portable toilets unless the conservation authority was about to open up a ferry service, though I suppose canoes would be a suitable alternative. Imagine if you will a long line of patrons, bladders filled to bursting, forced to wait their turn for relief with a large body of water adjacent to the walkway. Now think of a breeze causing a slight ripple on the surface of that pond. An exquisite torture that only Tomas de Torquemada could fully appreciate.
Leaving behind the thoughts of the torments of those late arrivals to the show I’ll move on to the dealer I wanted to see here in the pavilion. As I have stated, more than once here on the forum, I tend to make purchases from only a few eBay sellers and some fellow GMIC members, in a couple of cases they are one in the same. With all of the scam artists and out and out fakes and reproductions out in the world today I suggest that all collectors find such suppliers, it will be well worth it. The dealer in question has supplied me with black powder firearms as well as medals over the years and his word is his bond. At this point in time at the show there were few collectors on the field so we had time for pleasantries which is a rare thing at this particular show, as the pavilion is usually a mad house of activity. I was looking to add a Snyder Rifle to the collection and I recalled that he had a couple for sale at the spring show. They had, as I feared, been sold but there was a British percussion rifle with bayonet and scabbard on display that caught my eye. I thought that it was an 1858 Artillery Carbine but he identified it as an 1853 Calvary Carbine, both look pretty much the same to my eye. The price was not too bad but there were some condition issues. In our conversation, remember there were few buyers at this point so we had some time, I mentioned that Linda has an interest in the War of 1812 as well as the Fenian Raids as do I of course. I’d have to say that my wife is much keener on these areas of Canadian history and I tend to concentrate on British Empire, Police and World War One history. The dealer pointed out a few condition issues I had missed and reminded me that this particular type of rifle fell between the two areas of our interest (1812 and 1866). Further, this was the rifle that was converted to the Snyder, which would be the rifle we should hold out for and then add to the collection. I think my point about sticking to a few select trusted dealers has been made.
When I first arrived at the display I had noted a nice group of five World War Two medals with a boxed Memorial Cross (therefore Canadian) along with the supporting documents. I figured that I would purchase that since the rifle was not going to be secured. I turned toward the display case next to me and was about say, “I’ll take that group”, when I heard the voice of the fellow beside me as he said, to the dealer’s wife, “I’ll take that group”. I looked at the dealer and we both had to chuckle a bit as it was quite the coincidence. The collector turned and just inquired, “What?” I related why we found this a bit humorous and told him it must be his lucky day. He thought so too.
There was a Canadian Decoration (CD) in a box, this is the Canadian Long Service Good Conduct Medal, and it was named to a Captain. I decided to purchase this one, not only because of the rank, which I didn’t have, but also due to the box which was different than any of the ones presently in the collection. The pavilion was staring to fill up so we decided it was time to brave the elements once again and besides the rains had slackened up a bit and it was now just what I would call a steady rain. The type of rain fall you like to see, one that would soak in rather then run off your lawns a gardens. Tough by this time the ground was pretty well saturated anyway. Just before leaving I took a last look at the rifle, you know how it is...just in case there was a change of mind. It was at this point the dealer asked me to wait a minute and he went to the back of his truck which was backed into the pavilion’s open side behind his booth. He pulled out an object wrapped in some dark cloth and started to unwrap it. He said that I might be interested in this and he that he had just purchased it. What he uncovered was a percussion cap dueling pistol. A British dueling pistol marked as being the Manton Patent. Joseph Manton was a very important gunsmith in the 1800s and his innovations greatly improved the dueling pistol, among his other achievements. This was the treasure of the day, an actual dueling pistol. These are usually in pairs (of course) and come in a fitted box. This was a single pistol from what was undoubtedly once a pair. As most who know me from this forum are aware I seldom disclose what I pay for items as I believe money is secondary to the artifact. If you can’t afford it, don’t purchase it. If you have the expendable cash then make the purchase, however, talking about what you paid for an item results in either bragging or whining, both I find distasteful, and crass. I will post the pistol in the appropriate area of the GMIC at a later date. The rest of the morning passed with no really exciting finds and we left just as the sun was starting to appear and the rains starting to recede. We were both pretty well soaked and with mud splashed half way to our knees as well we arrived back at the van to begin our trip home. Needless to say I thought the day was well worth the effort and not being one to just let it go (see part one) commented that the day had been quite the adventure. To this Linda just laughed and said, “An adventure? Are you out of your mind?”
Summer was just about over, a summer plagued with drought conditions here in this part of Ontario, Canada, with crops being devastated and shallow well drying up. For us at the Grand River Conservation Authority it was equally serious. Fire bans angered the campers, even though it was as much for their protection as anything else. The cottagers who lease their lots from us around two reservoirs were more than a little edgy as the “lakes” receded from the shore line to a record distance as the water was depleted and not replenished by nature. Boat launching from the cottage lots was out of the question and in front of each property was now a border of what could only be described as mud flats. After the drought we had started into what may be described as the rainy season and with its arrival the severe heat of the summer was vacating our lands. It was a heat that was reported to have been in the low forties centigrade, if you calculate the high humidity into the equation. I tend to hate the high temperatures, being born in the North, in a place formerly known as Fort William. The rest of my family are “Southerners” and can’t understand my love of the Canadian winter, I don’t mind being the odd duck of the flock, after all they’re Southerners and you just have to tolerate them; an attitude that led to many, to say the least, awkward situations while I was growing up. I really like autumn and refuse to refer to it as “fall” because it is autumn and not the direction of travel when one’s feet are suddenly horizontal with one’s head when footing is lost on ice. I like the slap in the face from Mother Nature as she strikes your cheek with that fine frozen drizzle propelled by high winds just before winter sets in. Suddenly I am starting to see my family’s point of view, perhaps I am the “odd” duck of the flock, could they have been right all of these year; no that would not be logical...they’re Southerners.
The story is not about my eccentricities, though that is exactly what an eccentric would say, it’s about collecting. That last statement probably surprised absolutely no one.
A neighbouring Conservation Authority to the one I am so fortunate to work for holds a bi-annual outdoor antiques show. This is the Christie’s Antiques Show, named after the Christie Conservation Authority, situated near Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. There are hundreds of dealers and is attended by thousands and thousands of dedicated antiques hunters, collectors as well as a good smattering of curious and interesting characters. As always the plan was to arrive before the show opens to assure a parking spot close to the means of egress as after walking for miles searching for collectables one doesn’t need to walk an additional mile to their vehicle. The older I get the closer I want to be to that most welcome exit at the day’s end. It was up at 05:00 and get ready for the day’s outing. Remember that this was the rainy season and the forecast had not bode well for a dry excursion, but we had our rain gear out and were ready for whatever Ma Nature could throw at us. My dear wife, Linda, was born and raised in Perth Ontario which is an hour’s drive south of Ottawa, our nation’s capital the home of our Parliament, or as I like to think of it, “the gas works”. The location where Linda lived would make her a Northern girl; however, the number of years spent here in the South has had an adverse effect on her. Her tolerance to cold wet weather is about as low as it is toward my sense of humor, though she is a good sport about the latter. I have heard her referred to as “Brian’s long suffering wife”; though what “they” are getting at eludes me as her health is just fine, thank you very much.
So there we were on our way to the antiques show, in the dark, in the rain with windshield wipers on full speed and visibility far from ideal. After an hour ‘s drive in relative quiet, the possibility of this being an ominous silence never seemed to dawn on me, though dawn itself was upon us. As we sat there in our van, awaiting the gates of the show to open, the storm seemed to increase in ferocity. Gusts of wind laden with rain hit the side of the van at a near forty-five degrees rocking the vehicle with a violence that only the most vengeful elements can muster. Lightning and thunder were all around and I discovered right there and then that breaking into a chorus of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody (you know, “Thunder and Lightning, very, very frightening”) was not to be received in the vein of humour in which it was intended. My dear wife did say the anymore Queen renditions from me and it would result in “Another one bites the dust!” Oh, and I suppose that Queen reference was funny? Suddenly, with the storm raging all around, there was an uneasy silence that only men know when they tell their wives that they can’t attend the ballet because the Stanley Cup playoffs are being played on that same night. Women, go figure. In fairness to the ladies I suppose one could say, “Men, go figure”, though that, of course, would not be my first choice.
Not being one to learn from my mistakes, no matter how recent they may be (it’s a guy thing), I broke the silence with the suggestion that one should see this as an adventure. I offered the image of Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Capt. Ahab standing on the deck of the Pequod as he sailed her around the horn. I often like to think of myself as one of Gregory Peck’s heroic characters, though I am beginning to regret sharing that, oh well, I did say I have a tendency toward the eccentric. Linda offered that this was more like being on the bridge of the Edmund Fitzgerald. For those not familiar with Great Lakes lore this was a ship that sunk in a gale on 10 November 1975 in Lake Superior with all hands, no bodies were ever recovered. Check it out on the internet it is an interesting story, one made legend by Gordon Lightfoot in his song of the sinking of this ship.
By this time the winds had subsided though the rain continued in a torrential downpour and finally after what seemed an eternity the show’s gates were open. We approached the gate, Linda safely sheltered under her umbrella and me in my rain coat and good luck Tilley hat in anticipation of what treasures we would uncover. After passing through the gate we walked over an earthen walkway that cut through a pond, so water was on either side as well as teaming down from the heavens. I could not help but feel a little like Peck’s Capt. Mallory in the 1961 movie “The Guns of Navarone” as they approached their goal climbing up the shoreline cliffs in the gale force storm. Strange, as you would think that I would liken our pending adventure to some Indiana Jones movie but I have always liked the classics and let’s be honest Indie will never be a classic, not as far as acting is concerned.
Finally we entered the hallowed grounds of antiques heaven.
Up before dawn and after a stop at Tim Horton’s coffee shop back on the road for an hour’s drive. Arriving at the “Tim’s” located in the town or city of your destination, after all, Canadian’s plan their trips in accordance to the location of a handy Tim’s. Fresh coffee in hand you pull into the show’s parking lot and at this early hour there is almost an unlimited choice of parking spaces. Dawn has broke and you find yourself in line, hot coffee in hand to help fight off the cold chill of the morning, awaiting the minutes before the doors will be flung open allowing the flood of eager collectors and hunters to stream in.
Yes, it’s Gun Show Day down Canada way!
An auditorium filled to capacity with dealers and enthusiasts alike. There are guns, swords, knives, medals and sundry equipment in abundance. People talking to people of like interest and you are able to actually pick up an item, unlike the on-line auction houses wares you may have “won”. With a bit of luck and a fair bit of haggling you may be heading home in a few hours with a new treasure to add to your, collection room, war room, Rambo room or study, whatever you call your Sanctum sanctorum.
Gun, militaria and medal shows are tactile and social events filled with sights (no pun intended) and sounds ranging from laughter to argument. Deals made, information and goods exchanged. They are the market places of old where customer met wares, the trading centres so important to the development of our countries and our way of life.
For the past decade I have more or less turned my back on shows opting instead for the ease and convenience of the internet based auction houses such as the famous or infamous eBay. There are others though this is the one I have carried out business with. It hit me a few days ago that while I was collecting a lot more I may, in fact, be enjoying it a lot less.
My mind got to wandering, which it is prone to do now that I am older, of the days when I would go fishing with my childhood buddies. On the lake in our canoes before dawn, listening to the loon song wavering over the still water. A chill in the air and the water feeling like warm tea to the touch; the joking about one of the crew having once stepped in a soft spot in the muskeg and plunging through to the putrid water below, up to his waste, while on portage. Some days the fish would bite and some days it was the mosquitoes, such is the angler’s world and we wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Then the years passed by, we all got busy with families and careers, some with wives and girl friends, etc. Some got side tracked with divorces when wives met girlfriends. It’s all in the timing you know. Now almost all of my boyhood friends are no longer with us, residing in a much hotter place down below us. In Florida! What were you thinking? Now I go to the supermarket and if I want fish to I pick from a vast array of different fish, both fresh and frozen. I never fail to reach my “quota” and I never provide a snack for those vampires of the insect world. I also don’t talk about the experience as it has become mundane. There is no bragging rights or accusations of exaggerating the length of a fish taken two years hence; and no defending that exaggeration - as we all know it was indeed much shorter than now claimed.
Eventually my mind did return to the topic at hand and I wondered if what has happened to my pursuit of that monster bass, pickerel (walleye), pike or lake trout has happened to my collecting. You don’t have to believe this but about four months ago I swore off eBay and any other on-line auction and started once again to attend miltaria and gun shows. To my amazement the thrill of the “hunt” has returned. The crowd has changed somewhat. The majority are a lot younger and the “old boys” with their gruff exteriors and ample girths have been replaced by...(now this is depressing)...me. The last show turned up a nice little flintlock pistol and I have reacquainted with some of the dealers who are still attending. There is a trade pending involving a Brown Bess and my surplus collectables which would never have happened on eBay.
This may not be the way to go for all collectors, especially the younger collector, trying to build a collection and especially if on a shoestring budget. I’m not bragging but I’ve built a good base collection and I no longer feel the need to add great qualities to the collection. So I am content to pay a bit more and collect fewer items of a bit higher quality. Many of these items are not available on the internet auctions and it is always best if you can handle collectables that are more expensive and rarer.
So for me, I am now collecting less and enjoying it more, a lot more.
Last Saturday one of the largest, if not the largest, outdoor antiques fairs was held near Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. It has been a few years since we were able to attend and most of the dealers have been the same for many years so it was like a family reunion with some that we’ve dealt with over the years.
One of the first things an antiques dealer will tell you is not to refinish antiques as their value is lost once you do this. You will hear this mantra chanted over and over especially when they are looking to purchase the furniture dear old Aunt Betsy left you. Of course you “cave in” and let the dealer take the refinished ruined junk off your hands for a pittance and letting you feel that they have done you a big favour. Well pilgrim you’ve just been shafted. A walk around any antiques fair will prove me out as you pass display after display of finished and what I would call over finished antique furniture. At the show you will hear these same dealers preaching that it is better to refinish the antique so that you can live with it and use it the way to was supposed to be used. Two definite schools of thought I will admit. However I recognized a couple of these fellows and they talk out of both sides of their faces more easily than could the Roman God Janus. Thinking of ancient Rome I am all for S.P.Q.R. in business, which in this case stands for “Small Profit Quick Return” however some seem to think “buy low sell high” is always an honourable act, no matter what bovine excrement they are required to spread in order to close a deal. Contrary to what I seem to be saying, most of the dealers are honest folk but you know what they say about a rotten apple in the barrel.
This is not really the theme of my article it was just an observation. The theme is all of the fakery that seems to be going on and sold by so-called reputable dealers under the excuse that they are not knowledgeable in this or that field when “called” on the authenticity of an item. This self same dealer will be waxing prophetic to a prospective client one second and then crying that they are as innocent as a new born lamp with the very next breath when trying to explain a fake being passed off as authentic. To be sure this is not the show to attend if you are looking for military collectables though there is always bit to choose from. The prices are usually well above market for medals, weapons etc. so this is a show to attend for other collectables. However, having said that, I found it interesting that so many dealers managed to be displaying fakes and replicas of mostly WWII German medals mixed in with some over prices genuine articles. It is almost as if they are pricing the authentic items in order to hold onto them and low balling the fakes. Low balling the price if it were genuine that is.
I looked at a pair of Figure Of Eight handcuffs that the dealer said he picked up in Georgia last week (it is always “last week” with these guys) and he’d let it go for $200.00. I was polite and passed on the cuffs, however, if I had wanted such a pair I could pick them up for around $35.00 on eBay from the same fellow who makes them...in Georgia. The quality was not really bad though nowhere near that of Hiatt but the poor quality key is always a dead giveaway. I will post mine to show the difference someday (he said in embarrassment) along with a genuine key and you will see a world of difference.
Another booth proudly offered a Police Helmet from the Metropolitan Police sporting a ball top for only $200.00. I think the other police collectors will support my claim that the Met has never used a ball top. Amazingly, though I suppose it should not have come as a surprise, the dealer claimed he had purchased it directly from the officer himself while on a trip to the UK. The officer must have really stood out among the rest of the police all wearing the familiar Metropolitan Cox Comb Style helmet. I wonder if his name was Benny Hill.
Back in the early 1970s there was a flood of Indian swords offered for a pittance; these were over cleaned for the most part but they were authentic. Just after this Tsunami of Tulwars another “after shock wave” hit with thousands of newly made copies being offered in every flea market stall from Chicoutimi to Bella Coola (you’ll have to look those up yourself).
Meanwhile back at the antiques fair.
A fellow was looking at a curved sword that had been ground down as if sharpened before every battle ever fought with sword. The handle was wooden and the knuckle guard was an open style basket and quite well done. To enhance this treasure someone (I wonder who) had recently painted it gloss black. This was obviously one of those replica Indian swords that had the design on the blade removed, over-ground to change the curve a bit and then painted black. The grip showed no wear which should have made the perspective buyer wonder how the blade had seen so much wear while the grip was pristine as was the hand guard. I suppose it could have been a one of those miracles preformed by the Giant Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. The dealer played right along and mused as to how many battles the sword had been in and just how many men it had killed. Easy answer...NONE! The customer started to dicker on the price which had started at $300.00 and I couldn’t take any more and walked away muttering “Caveat emptor”. If I was overheard I’m sure the dealer told the customer that was the name of the style of sword.
Most of the time I am pretty good at controlling my indignation and keeping my self-righteous rage in check. However I will admit that the reason I have not been to this show for a while is that I was banned from going for at least a year by my dear wife. We were at the show with some friends, formally from the UK. My friend Graham and I were looking at a drawer unit that I was interested in and I was seeing if the drawers were all in working order. The dealer said “It looks like we have a couple of yankers here” and I thought he said “s”. There was a bit of confusion as to whether I actually grabbed the fellow by the front of his shirt or not...just to make a point mind you. Graham, a quick thinking East Ender, was between us before anything else could happen, but I think I made my point. So now I keep my distance and regarding the over- priced fakes and I just think, “Are you kidding, no really are you kidding!”
Let’s hear from the rest of the membership regarding their collecting experiences over the summer.
When collecting medals that are not directly military in nature it would be easy to overlook the Ehrenkreuz der Deutschen Mutter or in English, Cross of Honour of the German Mother. I say this as it seems to me that anything associated with the Third Reich automatically conjures up military associations. This was a state decoration and civil order of merit awarded to mothers for exceptional merit to Germany.
This decoration was awarded from 1939 until 1945 in three classes, these classes being, bronze, silver and gold. All of the classes were awarded to mothers who exhibited exemplary motherhood and in the case of the bronze or 3rd Class award conceived four to five children. The silver or 2nd Class was awarded to mothers with six to seven children and the gold or 1st Class to mothers with eight or more children.
The award was introduced by decree in Berlin in 1938 by the then Chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler and awarded annually mainly on Mother’s Day as well as other national association’s annual events of celebrations.
The award of this decoration was highly regarded by the German Government and the mothers nominated for the award were thoroughly investigated to assure that they met the qualifications. A number of benefits were associated with the award including a small financial benefit and preferential treatment within public service such as medical, clothing, schooling and housing. Upon the death of the recipient the Mother’s Cross of Honour was, by statute, allowed to be inheritable by the bereaved family as a keepsake of remembrance.
The design of the cross is based on an elongated iron cross similar to the cross of the Teutonic Knights Order. The body of the cross is blue with a narrow white enamelled border. A sunburst with a roundel in its centre with the words, “DER DEUTSCHEN MUTTER”, English translation: OF THE GERMAN MOTHER around a black swastika is situated where the two parts of the cross intersect. The reverse features the date of introduction, “16 Dezember 1938” beneath which is a facsimile of the signature of the Chancellor, Adolf Hitler. I believe it is quite rare for any national leader to actually have their signature appear on the reverse of a medal of decoration. Not that this is an actual autograph per sae, however, it is a copy of his signature which I personally find interesting. From what I have read, from several sources, Adolf Hitler held his own mother in very high esteem. This, in my opinion, may have been a why his signature appears on the German Mother’s Cross. The award was worn around the neck on a thin blue and white ribbon. This was the only official manner of wear though a miniature example is known which was worn suspended from a blue and white bow made of the same ribbon as the neck ribbon. This was a semi-official approved version and a bow alone was also authorized for general everyday wear.
The decoration could be withdrawn at any time after being awarded if it was found that the recipient acted in a manner which conflicted to the criteria set out for the award. An example would be if the mother abandoned her children
At the end of World War Two and the fall of the Third Reich all medals and awards bearing the swastika became illegal to wear and so the Mutterehrenkreuz (Mother’s Cross of Honour) also became illegal and therefore was no longer worn.
It has been held that Hitler implemented this award only to encourage large families in order to fill the ranks of the German military. However, one should keep in mind that when this award was first introduced the world had just gone through a change in morals and a life style not in keeping with the family values of the past. The Roaring Twenties had just ended and a need to bring the thinking of the younger population back in line with the more traditional family values was needed. While this indeed had the additional “benefit” of providing a larger number of young men for military service I believe there were more reasons than purely providing cannon fodder.
One of the reasons for my statement is that Germany has not been the only country to implement an award to honour mothers who raised several children in an appropriate manner. In 1920 France implemented the Médaille de la Famille française (Medal of the French Family). Another example would be the Order of Maternal Glory and Mother Heroine of the Soviet Union from the same era.
A very striking display can be made with these awards and their neck
ribbons. Considering they may still be purchased at a reasonable price one can purchase an extra to display the reverse bearing the signature of Adolf Hitler.
In my next installment of this series, “Collecting the Periphery Part 4” I will get back to British Empire medals. It is my intention to feature photos of the medals from this series that I have in my collection, in the regular sections of the forum.
Have you ever started a project only to realize that perhaps to do it justice you probably shouldn’t have started it in the first place?
This is not exactly what has happened to my plan to discuss collecting medals outside of the usual parameters of military and Mervin has pointed out, and rightly so, that this was a huge undertaking. The vast array of non-military medals is daunting to say the least. Therefore this will not be a treatise or my opus magnum on the subject but just an overview and perhaps it will serve to get people thinking about alternative medal collecting and study.
In the first installment we discussed the Red Cross and similar organizations which included the Western Hemisphere as well as Japan, I neglected to mention the German Red Cross Medals and I regret doing so now, but it’s a little too late at this stage. To continue on along the lines of those who care for others, in particular the nursing profession, the first one that comes to mind is the Voluntary Medical Service Medal, instituted in 1932 and awarded for 15 years of service, with a bar for each additional 5 years of service. This is a medal I have as yet to add to my collection though I intend to do so some day. The obverse features a veiled bust of a woman holding an oil lamp. This, I have read, is a stylized representation of Florence Nightingale. The reverse features the crosses of Geneva and St. Andrew. To my knowledge these were always issued unnamed. The ribbon is red with yellow and white stripes.
I have, in my collection, a medal in the form of a Maltese cross named to M. Mc Leavy, with distinction, for proficiency in mental nursing, from the Royal Medico-Psychological Association. It is a bronze cross which hangs from a dark blue ribbon. We know this medal dates after 1926 as that was when it received its Royal Charter and before 1971 when a Supplemental Charter accorded the Association the status of the “Royal College of Psychiatrist”. As many of the medals we have, and will, discuss during the length of this series many of the so-called periphery specimens are tied closely with the military or as in the above example as result from armed conflict.
Another medal from my own collection is the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service Long Service Medal instituted in 1961 and issued unnamed. This was issued for 15 years of service with a bar for an additional 15 years of service. This round medal is of cupro-nickel with the interlocking initials VWS within an ivy wreath. The medal in my collection predates 1966 when the WVS acquired the Royal title of WRVS. The reverse has three flowering plants and around the outside circumference is inscribed “Service Beyond Self”. The ribbon is dark green with twin white stripes towards the end and broad red edges. The medal is issued in a dark green fitted box with “Women’s Voluntary Service Medal” in gold impressed on the top of the box lid. I like to collect my medals in their fitted boxes when possible and these can be picked up later if you happen along a medal on its own without a box. I will discuss finding boxes for your medals in Part 3 along with a few a caveat or two to help you along.
The last group of medals I will touch on in this installment are the life saving medals. The United Kingdom, like Japan is surrounded by water and of course this leads to the need to rescue unfortunate souls from its grip. The need for rescue from any body of water is arguably greater than most incidents on dry land, including fire rescue. I say this not to belittle the efforts of the Fire Suppression Services and I myself have served in my younger days with a fire department. I have also served in a small municipality on the shores of Lake Erie (one of the Great Lakes) and we used to average four to five deaths among the summer tourists due to drowning every year. During my five years with the fire department we never lost a soul, or needed to save one for that matter.
The number of different medals for life saving in the UK is quite varied. One of my favourite in this genre, though not a life saving medal but a swimming proficiency medal, is the Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society’s Swimming Medal. It was instituted in 1885 and is very ornate. I’ll quote the description from the Medals Yearbook, “ This extremely ornate medal has a twin dolphin suspender and a free form. (Obverse) a wreath surmounted by crossed oars and a trident, with a lifebelt at the centre enclosing the Liver Bird emblem on a shield; (reverse) plain, engraved with the recipient’s name and details. The medal comes in silver or bronze and the ribbon has five equal bars, three blue and two white. This is one medal I would love to have in the collection some day, however, as they say, so many medals so little time.
Japan too had life saving medals and badges. In my collection reside two of the Imperial Sea Disaster Rescue Association badges. The activities of the Russian Lifeboat Association were observed by Count Kiyotaka Kuroda while he was touring Europe in 1888. This led to the founding of an organization in 1889 which became the Greater Imperial Sea Disaster Rescue Association, which later dropped the word “Greater”. The two badges in my collection are the Full Member’s Badge and the Honorary Member’s Badge. These are both basically the same design, being a frontal view of a lifeboat within a life saving ring with an anchor behind the badge. The Full Member’s badge is silver with a red field within the life saving ring which the Honorary Member’s badge is gold and a blue field within the life saving ring. These both come in fitted boxes. There are three classes of Merit Medals. They feature a shipwreck scene surrounded by a life saving ring. The third class is entirely silver, the second class features the suspender and life saving ring in gilt with the centre in silver and the first class is entirely in gilt. These are all suspended from a light blue ribbon with yellow stripes.
In the next installment, Collecting the Periphery Part 3, I will touch on some of the different service awards such as the British Imperial Service Medals as an example.
Wikipedia: Royal College of Psychiatrist In the Name of a Living God, Paul L. Murphy & Steven L. Ackley Medal Yearbook 2004, Token Publishing Reference to specimens – Author’s collection
Most of what we see here on the GMIC and on other military focused forums is mainstream and by that I am referring to the collecting of medals. Medals for campaigns, long service, good conduct and “been there and got the T shirt” fill online auction pages and the catalogues of dealers around the world. Interestingly there are many areas of civilian medals that seem to have gone unnoticed by the collecting world in general.
Police medals and equipment will not be included in this essay simply because I would like to concentrate on medals not dealing with keeping the peace which would, of course, include both the military and police.
The first of these non-military or police medals that comes to mind is the multitude of Red Cross medals that are available to the collector. The Red Cross, founded by Henry Dunant in 1863 in Geneva Switzerland, has been on hand to give care and comfort in all the wars since its founding as well as providing relief during times of natural disasters and carrying out first aid training to the civilian population. The collecting of Red Cross memorabilia is perhaps not as far from main-stream as I would like to take today’s discussion. I say this as not only is the Red Cross, Red Crescent, St. John’s Ambulance among others, on hand during armed conflicts but, in the case of the Red Cross, there were WWII medals, the British War Medal and Victory medals named to members of the Red Cross. An example of this from my own collection is the BWM and Victory pair named to, J. (Jeanie) Low, B.R.C.S. and a group which in includes a St. John Ambulance Brigade Medal named to Special Constable Sgt. W. (William) C. Holley, Hants (Hampshire County) S.J.A.B. 1953. Sgt. Holley served with the S.J.A.B. from 1940 to 1961. His group also includes the British Defence Medal and Special Constabulary Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. Another example from my collection is a Red Cross Medal for Proficiency in Anti-gas Training named to 6938 C. Barclay who served with the Red Cross from 1938 to 1968. There is little doubt that the anti-gas training was connected with the Second World War threat of gas attack from Germany.
Perhaps one of the best examples of the close ties between the military and the Red Cross may be found in the study of post Shogunate (1868 onward) Japanese Medals. The following is a quote from “In the Name of a Living God” by Paul L. Murphy and Steven L. Ackley. If you don’t have this book and have any interest in non-government badges and medals of Imperial Japan I highly recommend you purchase one. You WILL NOT regret it.
“The forerunner of the Japanese Red Cross Society was the Hakuaisha (Philanthropic Society) which was founded in 1877 by Count Tsunetami Sano to help those who were wounded in the Satsuma Rebellion earlier that year. Japan signed the Geneva Convention in 1886 and in the following year the Hakuaisha changed its name to the Japanese Red Cross Society (Nippon Sekijujisha). It was recognized as such by the International Committee of the Red Cross on September 2, 1887. The society is under the patronage of the Imperial family and the symbol of the society is taken from the hair pin of the Meiji Empress that featured a Pawlonia, bamboo and ho-o bird. This design and/or the Geneva cross features on all of the badges and medals of the society”.
Membership in the Nippon Sekijujisha was very common among military personnel so much so that many photos and medal groups may be found with the Red Cross Society’s medal included. In my own collection I have a photo of a soldier wearing the 1894-1895 War Medal (Sino-Japanese War) alongside the Nippon Sekijujisha Men’s Life Membership Medal. Another example, again from my own collection, is a four place ribbon bar with the Order of the Rising Sun (Kyuokujitsusho), Manchurian Incident (1931-1934), China Incident (1937 – 1945) along with the ever present Red Cross Medal ribbon. While doing research for this article I saw a group of Japanese medals and the description was of all of the military medals followed by “...and the Red Cross medal, of course”, demonstrating just how common it is to find the Red Cross Medal associated with the Japanese Military. I apologize that I cannot give proper credit for the quote above as I did not write down the source and my memory fails me on this point. If it was one of our fellow GMIC members please accept my sincere apologies.
Please watch for Collecting the Periphery Part 2 coming soon where we will travel further afield away from mainstream collecting.
Sources: Wikipedia – International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement Orders and Medals of Japan and Associate States – James W. Peterson In the Name of a Living God – Paul L. Murphy & Steven L. Ackley Reference to specimens – Author’s collection
Option A or Option B What you are about to read you may find disturbing or even offensive. If you do then you need to grow up. The permanency of life is an illusion and you cannot afford to delude yourself to thinking you are immortal. Therefore, if you have elected to read on, you have been duly warned and I will make no apologies if you find your delicate feelings have been hurt.
Jim [not his real name] was 6 foot 2 inches tall, a big guy but not such as you would say was overweight at all. Age had left him, as it does most of us, a little soft in the midsection. This was just about all that was soft about Jim. He had the weathered look of someone who had worked hard out in the elements; a grizzled beard peppered with gray and a gruff personality pretty well summed up what Jim looked like. To most of the office staff he was a scary fellow best avoided and this had not changed since he became Zone Officer and was now stationed in head office. Others, like me, who have been seasoned by years of working in the field recognized a kindred spirit and fully appreciated his dark sense of humour.
Jim had been with the Authority for 31 years and had become part of the corporate landscape. Late in 2011, after feeling unwell for a period of time, he made a rare appointment with his doctor. At 59 years of age he was told, after a battery of tests that he had prostate cancer, and worse it had spread to his bones and was now throughout his body. Jim knew his chances were extremely slim to none, with “none” being the odds on favour. He also knew what lay ahead of him with the proposed radiation and chemotherapy followed by what would most likely be a long agonizing death filled with unimaginable pain and suffering, held at bay for a while with massive amounts of drugs. In the end he knew he would be in a vegetative state out of touched with the world and loved ones only to finally die in a haze of confusion and pain. He was aware that his family and friends would be put through their own form of suffering as he slowly wasted away. It was time for Jim to weight his options. Option A: To go through the torture and suffering ahead knowing full well that death awaited him in the end, or Option B. Early this week Jim made his choice and took his own life.
I cannot judge Jim’s choice of Option B, even though I have fought and won two battles against cancer, as I have never stood at the threshold of the great unknown and had to make that fateful decision. I only wish he had chosen to have had a simple prostate examination a few years ago. If he had I would not likely be writing this missive today.
Rest in Peace old buddy.
Now, my friend, it is your time to make a decision. If you have not already done so, make an appointment with your doctor and set up a prostate exam. Otherwise you may have to make the choice of, Option A or....Option B. Respectfully Brian
The Perfect “Sick Day” Don’t you really dislike those dedicated types who will come to work sick? After all, who needs to pick up whatever “bug” they have just because they lack the common decency to stay home. Well, I am one of those miserable sods. In all fairness, this time of the year, I have almost no human contact as my days are spent outside “in the field” (as we say). So unless I pass this cold on to a raccoon or deer no one suffers but me.
Friday morning rolled around and I take the afternoon off on that day in lieu of payment for being on call 24/7, 365 days a year. So a cold was not about to keep me home for the morning, the night before we had experienced an ice storm and the roads were a sheet of ice. Still this didn’t deter my intentions to go to work. My wife hates riding in a vehicle when I am driving on weekends, when I am not at work of course. She says that I am not as good a driver as I think I am. I always agree with her but come back with my theory that I may not be the most skilful driver on the road but I have a great deal of luck, I follow this up with a quote from Star Wars, “Trust in the Force, Luke”. She is never impressed, as we careen our way down the highway. Here’s my reasoning. I’d rather be a lucky driver than a skilful one. Why? You never say, “Lucky bastard, he was killed on the highway”. You might say, ‘I can’t believe old Fred was killed in an accident, he was such a good driver”. I rest my case.
It was at this time the radio announced that there were several severe accidents on the highways between here and the office. While I think I am Lady Luck’s favourite child there are times when you get the feeling she may have gone to the shopping mall leaving you on your own. Even though this was the first time in five years that I didn’t go to work I was not particularly disappointed as I had a whole day to play in the shop (Truncheon Competition project) and surfing the net, especially here on GMIC. I had intended to contact one of our members on Skype but this cold causes me to go into coughing fits whenever I try to talk for any length of time. It’s Sunday morning and my dear wife says she is still enjoying the peace and quiet. Women can be so cruel. After half a dozen coffees and with the new abilities to be able to thread a sewing machine while it is running, thanks to the infusion of copious amounts of caffeine, I headed to the work shop and the truncheon project and the start of the perfect sick day. Please include cash in any “get well” cards. Ha ha
2011 Wound Down and So Did I It seemed that as the year wound down I did as well and I am more than a little happy that a brand new year will start in less than a week. One might ask why the turning of a page on a calendar would make any difference. Good question and the answer is that most of the things that ate up my time are on a cycle concerning my “day job”. The other reasons varied from health to having more ambition than energy.
My duties at the Conservation Authority are concentrated around looking after the rental properties which range from farm land to rental dwellings and cottage lots surrounding two lakes. This sets the number of tenants at around the 1,000 mark. Looking after the problems of the tenants and issues connected with these tenancies takes up a great deal of time and I am the only one out “in the field” to carry out what must be done. The Director of our section, a young fellow and all around great guy, was blindsided just after he accepted his position. In typical government fashion they have decided to cut back on costs by not replacing those who leave and he inherited two extra divisions. Of course this downloaded more work on the little people (of which I am a member). The stress on him was too great and now he has accepted a position with another government body.
The new “victim” will be hired in the early months of 2012. In preparation for retirement, in two to three years, I decided to start running my cabinet shop as I did years ago with profitable intentions. A rare thing happened. Usually my good intentions end up producing little. This time the workload kept me going steady until the week before Christmas. Needless to say I am going to cut back on the work I take in. I like the extra cash and my collection likes it even more. To be completely honest, with a full-time position and a sideline business, that took on a life of its own, I managed to add a good deal of material to the collection but most items were unpacked when they arrived, and after an inspection, were simply filed away in drawers.
Also, in preparation for retirement, I decided that I wanted a larger room for my collection that was something more than simply a warehouse so I started the renovation of three rooms. This involved renovating one for a study, one a storage room and the other a work room. The study is for my collection and a place to go and read what the family refers to as my boring manuscripts. I wanted all of the furniture to match so I built all new cabinets to store the collection. I’ll feature the new study on the main section of the forum early in 2012. The storage room, as well as serving as a pantry, holds my geological collection which is in several steel cabinets comprising of rows of drawers. The work room is to carry on with such activities as stained glass, finishing small cabinets and a photographic area with proper lighting. I am still putting the finishing touches on the storage and work rooms.
One of the events of 2011 that didn’t take as much time as energy was my victory in the second battle with cancer. I hold no unrealistic expectations of actually winning the war against my old foe as it has stalked the members of my family for generations. It certainly gives me more respect for a massive heart attack in a few years. I would consider that to be golden bullet compared with the loss of the war to the big “C”. One must always look to the bright side and hope for the best. He he.
So that was my 2011 in a “nut shell”. I doubt that 2012 will bring any more spare time but with cutting back in the shop it should leave me with time to spend on the GMIC, which is my home away from home. One should always remember that, like money, time is something that you will seldom find, if you need more you have to make it.
Thanks to all who have suffered through this and other blogs I’ve penned, I will do my best to bore you throughout next year. I apologize if now I’ve made you hesitant to turn that next page on the calendar. HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Ghost of Collecting Past – A Christmas Carol?
In case you were expecting a story based on a Dickensian Novel I fear that I must disappoint you straight away. This becomes self-evident within the first sentence, yet somehow I was not dissuaded.
The alarm clock/radio went off well before dawn as usual but today my ears were assaulted by a Christmas carol butchered by one of the new generation of so-called talented artists. Silent Night was never meant to be converted and offered up in Rap format. Silent Night, as someone should point out to this Neanderthal, is about the birth of the Messiah and has nothing to do with the crucifixion, by the way the song was presented this morning could only lead one to surmise this was the intent. There are few today capable of offering up the great Christmas songs of the past in the manner of Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley and numerous others. The only group to successfully make it in the Christmas song market since the King was also the only group to best the British Invasion group known as the Beatles leaving them as a distant second best. This group (I know you have guessed it) was the Chipmunks. Like so many super stars their “candle burned out long before the legend ever did”, I’ll bet you never knew that Sir Elton John actually wrote the song about the passing of the Chipmunks. My research into this point may be a sketchy, my kingdom for a citation! As a short history, Theodore was the first to pass away due to heart failure brought on, it is speculated, by morbid obesity. Theodore was next and it is rumoured he took his own life after a long battle with mental illness and neurosis. Alvin lived to the ripe old age of four then went to join his fellow performers in whatever place is reserved for musicians. Lucky for the public that chipmunks are easy to train, much like the actors portraying James Bond over the years, (where, oh where have ye gone Sean, we need you so badly), and several new crops of rodents have been raised to star in movies and television specials over the past number of years. So now that the Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late) is firmly planted in your subconscious I’ll get to the point of this submission.
While pondering Christmas past I thought about something that comes up from time to time on the forum and often when fellow collectors congregate. Was it better to collect in the past than it is today?
Not having all of the data at my fingertips I decided to take an example from two different categories, one, a collectable and the other, a week’s grocery bill. In 1962 you could purchase a Japanese NCO sword (WWII) for $34.00. A week’s groceries during the same time period, for a family of four, would set you back around $18.00. Considering the shipping cost of the sword we’ll say the sword cost the equivalent of two weeks groceries. Today it would run you about $120.00 for a week’s groceries and the sword would take a slice out of your bank account to the tune of $450.00 to $500.00. If the same today held true as it did in 1962 the sword should be priced at $240.00. In my opinion a WWII Japanese NCO sword is only worth $240.00, however, you can bet your great aunt’s moustache that if and when I sell my Japanese sword collection it will be at or near market value and who could blame me.
Collecting needs to be financed out of one’s disposable cash and not, of course, from the household account. This being the case and if you figure in all that we “just have to have” in today’s world and all that our children just “can’t live without” then true disposable cash becomes as rare as a duck that can walk backwards (no they really can’t).
Before I started writing I had already made up my mind that this little exercise would produce results that would encourage today’s young collectors. Instead it has resulted in me wondering why I continue to collect.
True it is a supply and demand equation as the demand for collectables is growing and the supply is finite. Please, let’s not bring the Chinese counterfeiting of the Japanese NCO sword into this as I am speaking now of any and all real collectables. It is also easier for the older collectors who have their homes paid for and their families grown up and (booted) out on their own. We now have that disposable income but who wants to spend a great deal more than an item is worth just to possess it? Oh, wait, I think I’ve just stumbled onto the definition of “collector.”
Parenting tip: When your kids leave home fill their room with anything, a new office, television/entertainment room, a study, anything...just fill it! I even considered concrete for a while, but I decided on a new study instead, but that’s for another blog offering. Now I really must find that bottle of brandy and drink until I can no longer hear,...Alvin wants a hula hoop... ALVIN!!!! Get out of my head!
We hear a lot about provenance here on the forum and more so on television in conjunction with antiques shows. Provenance, being the history of an object proving its authenticity, its pedigree so-to speak. So often we see photos alongside medals that we are told belonged to the subject in the photo but is “because I say so” really provenance? It would, of course, be impolite to suggest that a fellow member who was claiming, in this case the photo and medals belonged together, was taking a good deal of liberty in assuming that we should simply take his or her word as gospel.
Of course when a photo and a group of medals have been in that person’s family and handed down from generation to generation it would seem to imply authenticity. However, I have in my collection a couple of very clear photographs of military men to which I have added the corresponding group. If these were to be passed down for a couple of generations the authenticity of the photos and the medals would not change. That is to say, the passage of time is not necessarily an indication of provenance just because they had always remained within one family. Most certainly if the soldier in the photo were wearing those very medals and especially if there were some corresponding damage to the medals reflected in the photo we would assuredly be “sold”.
Speaking of being “sold”, the whole issue of provenance becomes rather critical if one were about to slap down a good deal of gold doubloons on the barrel head in order to procure a highly desirable group of medals. This makes “because I say so” provenance worth about half of what a share of Nortel presently brings. So, keep this in mind as I finally get around to the real story of this episode of News from the Home Office.
My wife and I were returning from a trip to Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada and a visit to the Billy Bishop Museum which is situated there in his home town. We had taken one of the many secondary roads south which winds through scenic farm lands and stunning vistas. We came upon a sign advertising a flea market ahead. The market was in what at first looked to be a farmer’s field and comprised of fifty of sixty vendors. When we pull into the grassed parking area we could see that this was in fact a rural municipality’s sports field with a picnic pavilion and refreshment stand which was open. In case you are not familiar with what a picnic pavilion is, think of a barn with no sides, just a roof and a concrete pad as a floor. The refreshment stand is self explanatory and I am sure we have all seen them and even purchased their questionable food that makes one both wonder where the health inspector was when they opened for business and if we do eat the food will be discover whether the old saying “that which does not kill us makes us stronger” with be proven true later in the day. After inhaling a couple of hot dogs, speaking of tempting the fates of intestinal disorder, and a half warm Pepsi we toured the vendors’ tables. There is not usually much to be had at these sorts of fairs, sometimes a few small badges or military buttons. Most of the dealers had no interest in such matters and probably wondered if the buttons marked “US” had a corresponding button worn by the enemy stamped “THEM”. Sorry, bad joke, consider it punishment for having read this far. One of the dealers was an elderly lady with an array of the usual two dozen salt and pepper shakers, most of which had suffered the loss of their soul mates and were now facing the world alone, as well as old glass ware that had seen better days and were probably salvaged from someone’s trash. However among the coffee cups sporting semi-humorous pictures and captions and chipped tea cups I spotted a framed document. The glass was grungy from years of neglect but the document was in good shape. It was for the 1937 Coronation of George VI and had been presented to The Reverend Canon W.M.H. Quartermaine and would have been awarded along with the Coronation Medal. What a great little find, and the only one of the day. The lady didn’t want a lot for it as she had no interest in it and informed me that she had purchased it along with several other framed pictures and dishware at an estate sale she had attended earlier that summer.
She then said that she had something else that she wanted me to have to go with the document. Upon producing a battered sugar bowl with lid I was sure this gray haired old sweetheart was about to con me into purchasing the very sugar bowl used to store disembodied spirits by Prime Minister Mackenzie King (look it up). She removed the lid and tipped the bowl and out slid the medal itself. It was still in very good condition along with the ribbon and a pin which was used to affix it to the good Reverend’s jacket. Apparently the medal had been packed in the sugar bowl in some news paper and she had discovered it when she had remover the paper. There was no sales pitch she simply wanted me to have the medal and to show me where it had been stored.
Now in my collection reside the document and the very medal worn by The Reverend Canon W.M.H. Quartermaine. As to the provenance, of course it is genuine. Upon what do I base this opinion concerning the provenance? Well...it’s...”because I say so”.
I was born in a place in the Northern part of Ontario that no longer exists as a name place, Fort William. No, it was not razed to the ground during the French and Indian Wars, I'm not THAT old. Fort William was amalgamated with its sister city, Port Athur, to become the City of Thunder Bay.You will find this city on the map at the north western tip of Lake Superior. I grew up in a small town in south western Ontario and presently live in an even small in Central Ontario. I would not mind one more move in my life possibly closer to Ottawa as the terrain is more like that of my birth place, which I am told looks much like the Scottish Highlands, please do not imagine me in a kilt. However, I fear the next move I shall make will only put me six feet closer to sea level.
The small town I grew up in underwent an urban renewal movement a number of years ago spurred on, I believe, by the threat of a large shopping mall being proposed just beyond the outskirts (you're still thinking kilts aren't you) of the county line. We've seen downtown cores of both cities and towns become ghost towns in the past because of the allure of these mammoth shopping Mecca's so the threat was not unfounded.
The first building to fall under the blade of the bulldozer was the town's library. This demolition had been contested because, as the conservationists argued, this was a Carnegie Museum. The protest was withdrawn when it was pointed out that Carnegie was not an architectural style but had been a fund set up by the Carnegie Foundation for the construction of libraries throughout the United States and Canada. In fact the architecture of the whole town is what is known as Ontario Vernacular, a polite way to say, "hodge podge". The new library turned out to be a very nice modern facility that was well designed to serve the community now and well into the future.
The next building, and right across the street, that was slated for the wrecking ball was the town hall and its surrounding neighbourhoods in order to make way for a new downtown shopping mall with the municipal offices on the second floor. The old town hall was truly Ontario Vernacular in the strictest sense. A conglomeration of additions built on through the years, the quality of which depended upon the economy of the times. It sported the letters TH within a rectangle which were constructed of white bricks set into the red brick of the original building. TH, of course, stood for Town Hall; oh God, shoot me now, it all looked quite amateurish and...well..."vernacular".
In the front of the town hall sat the cenotaph, which is the focus of this report, and you thought I would NEVER get to the point. The cenotaph was not the spectacular structures seen in many cities. It was rather plain, a basic obelisk with the dates and names of the wars for which this monument represented as well as for those from the community who had served and those who had fallen in those wars. It lacked any such embellishments as seen in large cities. There were no statues of unimaginative inspiration such as those copying Michelangelo's Pietà (1498 - 1499) so common in these monuments, nor even polished marble. Just a plain pale gray obelisk.
The proposed plan was to remove the cenotaph and relocate it to a designated park well outside of the downtown core, there to be the focus of the Remembrance Day ceremonies and, no doubt, the hand of every vandal and half-witted would-be graffiti artist with a can of spray paint for miles around.
This is the gensis of the protest that started over the relocation of the cenotaph. It started with a petition bearing the names of a few WWI and WWII veterans then more people came forward, then more and more. Doctors, lawyers, grocers, labourers, men women and school children put their pens to paper in support. What had started as a modest effort engulfed the whole community and the outlying areas for miles around. The protest had begun. Unlike today, no one pitched their tents on municipal property, no cars were overturned or put to the torch. It was not necessary to call out the constabulary in their riot gear, which in those days amounted to a bull horn used to advise people to remain calm and orderly. The very thoughts of that, in those days, would have been...what can I say...unthinkable. No it was quiet and dignified and an attribute to the vetrans who fought so that we might petition government without feeling the need to resort to senseless violence.
The night of the council meeting held to discuss the fate of the cenotaph arrived and the council chambers had never seen such a turn out. Someone jokingly remarked that the last time there were so many people at a council meeting was the time they tried to pass a By-law to licence cats. However, the story of that horrendous protest is for another time. The gray haired old ladies (God bless them all) of the , now infamous, Cat Crusades were joined by citizens of all ages and from all walks of life. They filled the council chambers, the hallway and out onto the steps of the town hall and even into the street itself.
Two years later when the confusion that seems to rein supreme over large building projects and the dust of construction had settled, there in front of the new modern downtown mall stood a simple , unadorned, plain light gray obelisk. The same obelisk that had served to remind us of the scarifice our community's sons and daughters had made so that we might live in peace and have a say in how our government was run. I think those who gave their all would have been proud to have known that their sacrifice assured that the voice of the people can and will be heard without the neet to resort to violence.
So tomorrow, the eleventh day of the eleventh month, if you can't join me at a cenotaph please turn off your cell phones, minimize the computer screen and take two minutes to reflect in silence on what others have done and given up for you as will, I know, the people in that small town.
This morning I attempted to launch my blog "News From the Home Office" and somehow after a good deal of work I hit the entry function and it was lost. This ticked me off to no end and I must say I took it out on a couple of my good friends and some bidders on eBay. I still have my friends and two new items for my collection, too bad I was angry as they really cost me, but so be it, let the low bidders hang their heads in shame.
The title I have chosen works on a couple of levels, I hope. First the blog is sent from my office at home and the Home Office in the UK deals with diplomacy, espionage and police matters, all of which interests me.
I will attempt to keep the entries topical but be warned that, unlike the regular posts, this area may see a lot of opinon and conjecture.
So, lets see if I have this figured out or will I have to beat someone else up on an interenet auction this evening?