Collector's Ethics 102

My Personal Ethics of Collecting

Collecting is not, not, not a numbers game. All too often, quantity is confused with quality. It is most dismaying to be at a vintage radio swapmeet and hear some fellow trumpeting how many hundreds of sets he has stacked and rotting like cordwood in some damp basement, attic, or garage. If I am feeling especially brave, I might venture to ask, "Yes, but how many are actually restored and work to original specs?" This rarely fails to do two things: One, shut him up. Two, get me glared at in a most unfriendly fashion.

This is unfortunate, but I can live with the hostility.

My collection is small, about 22 pieces. But everything in it works according to original specs, and has been restored (not just repaired!) to it's original appearance. And I do all my own work: nothing has been farmed out to anyone. This meant that I had to learn the art of furniture finishing and something about cabinetry; Let me tell you, the first ten years are the hardest! (A strip of the cabinet with Fumbly's, a slop of MaxWax stain, a quick rubdown with Tung Oil and someone's old pajama bottoms for a grill cloth do not constitute a restoration.)

My belief is that we're supposed to be conserving these sets for the next generation, and those beyond that one. The sets, in that sense, don't even really belong to me; they're just in Trust. Mr. Box-Stacker may have 1000 radios piled up and rotting in his basement, but apart from swelling his ego, little benefit for the future has been ensured. The radios are traded from stacker to stacker, placed in another basement or damp garage, where they rot some more. The cycle is repeated endlessly, until the radios are reduced to their component atoms of wood, glass, metal and bakelite.

Some preservation ethic, huh?

Even if you only have one or two sets, always remember: One well-cared for and fully restored vintage set is better to have than 500 rotting in a shed.

These remarks, of course, do not apply to legitimate museums where the aim is to conserve as many sets as best as the curator can for historical purposes. Such environments are very different from Mr. Box-Stacker's! Still, one wishes that the examples in such places could all be fully restored, but due to monetary concerns, this just isn't always possible.

"Yeah, but aren't these radios worth a lot? You're probably in it for the money."

Yeah, right. Pardon me while I go roll in my money bin...[grin]

The great Japanese artist, Toshi Yoshida, once said that "Collecting should not be considered solely as a means to wealth. It need not be an expensive collection, either. A good collection reflects the collector's theme, sensibility, and taste."

I couldn't say it any better. What I can say, however, is that many collectors don't have any sensibility or taste, and substitute numbers instead...that's one type...another substitutes monetary worth for taste as well; he isn't interested in the history or the workings and engineering of the set. This is the guy that goes out and buys the most expensive sets imaginable to win friends and influence his uncle. This isn't a preservation ethic either.

In Short, Then...

Hey, it's fun! I mean it! OK, it's a lot of work; but anything worthwhile is worth effort, and a lot of it. And there's a special feeling you get, when, on the first night you finish the job, you reach over and turn the power switch on with an unsteady hand..and you hear..."..this is KOA, Denver...this is are tuned to the International Service of..."

Your life and closet space will never be the same!

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