hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

February 5, 2013

When collecting becomes a necessary evil

Tom Vartabedian
The Haverhill Gazette

---- — I happen to be a born collector.

Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve collected everything from stamps and coins to swizzle sticks, baseball cards, comic books, records, cameras, even junk.

You know what they say. Someone else’s trash becomes another person’s treasure. Do I really need two thousand 45 RPM records? Got them all stored away in my basement, never to be heard again.

So why don’t I dump them all? Too sentimental! I cannot seem to part with nostalgia. At one time, I would stack my platters on a turntable and enjoy a genuine record hop. An oldies-but-goodies night, that’s what we called it.

We had a jukebox in my dad’s coffee shop and a technician came every two weeks to change the records. Out came six and in went their replacements. It was truly the golden age of the 1950s.

“Say, Bub,” I asked one day. “What happens to those records you remove?”

“You want them? Be my guest.”

Do the math. Twelve records a month for 15 years, not counting what I bought.

The sounds of Elvis, the Platters and Buddy Holly would rave on as we trimmed the lights fantastic each Saturday night with company. Who needed a transistor radio?

Who would want these now? EBay? Forget it. For what I might get online for these treasures, I’d rather preserve them for an eternity and let others worry about the inheritance once I’m gone.

What I wouldn’t give to have one of those jukeboxes in my home or any of the memorabilia in that eatery after it was sold, including the Coca-Cola buttons, neon signs and pinball machines.

Try to find a Wurlitzer now and be prepared to shell out $8,500 for that nickelodeon.

The same could be said for all the cameras I’ve stored up over my career from early newspaper days to weddings and family celebrations. Included in the lot is the first one my mother gave me as a high school gift before taking a trip to Vienna.

The shots I took with that Kodak Optima became everlasting keepsakes in my photo album. Only once did I entertain a thought of parting company. It looked me in the eye with its lens and said, “Is this the thanks I’m getting for the joy I provided you?”

I wound up giving it a permanent home in my inner sanctum, along with the Yashica cameras and Mamiyas that enhanced my arsenal. The Hasselblad still holds court over the kingdom and rightfully so, having shot countless weddings without fail and bringing happiness to many couples.

Yes, I’ve gone digital like the rest of society and these cameras are all enjoying their hallowed ground in my basement with their record companions. I have a photographer friend in a similar predicament. He took all his old cameras down to the friendly camera outlet and parted company with his treasures for the paltry sum of $50. Talk to him now and he laments over his stupidity.

I’d rather leave them at the door of a homeless shelter. You can still buy film and let them enjoy the benefit of these good cameras.

I’ve been collecting stamps and coins since childhood. Included in my collection are all the United States commemoratives in mint condition. I’ve kept them all updated, too, right to the present. I have a problem, however.

With three children and two collections, to whom do I bequest this inheritance? I could draw lots. Or I could pass them along to my sons and give our daughter my wife’s jewelry. Now there’s a thought.

Would they maintain the tradition in the here and now? I rather doubt it. So I’ve maintained some semblance of order to both these hobbies and gotten my entertainment to boot.

My mom was a terrific housekeeper. She hated chaos and disorder. Anything that didn’t belong got thrown out with the trash. That included my comic books, an entire set of Classics Illustrated and — gulp! — my baseball card collection with Mickey Mantle’s rookie card that could draw a bundle in today’s market.

No doubt, if I had all these collectibles now, I would probably own an estate in the Caribbean and be living on Easy Street.

The same could be said for other pursuits, including some early National Geographics, Saturday Evening Post covers featuring Norman Rockwell illustrations, and old toys.

And what of my photo collection? My slides that have grown and multiplied? My cassette tapes? Not that they’re crowding me out of house and home. Even after I had turned to computers, three electric typewriters stood vigil in my attic until I finally said goodbye.

If only my legacy could become my heirlooms.

Photographer and writer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.