Bonehead Moves

Fakes, damaged items, missed opportunities, I’ve made my share of mistakes over the years on the collecting trail. One, in particular, comes rushing back any time I see a gumball or candy machine, which happens often as I tend to be on the lookout for the things. I spotted a beautiful-looking Wrigley’s gum/Lifesavers 5-cent machine a few weeks ago, early in the morning at an outdoor show, a machine made by Shipman in the 1940s. The seller shocked me when he said he wanted just $30 for it. “How about 25?” I asked him, and he said yes. I got that thing back to my car in record time and tucked it safely under a blanket between the seats. Later examination confirmed my initial impression that it’s original and needs just a bit of TLC to put it back in working order; a bargain that made the whole show worthwhile.

But as I was looking over the Shipman, I suddenly thought, “Good work hot shot, but remember the Abbeys?” As if I could forget them. Years ago, a friend and I would get up early on Saturdays and hit as many tag sales (or yard sales as they call them here in the South) as we could before the money (or the coffee) ran out. One morning, we found ourselves stopping in at a junk shop that was stuffed full of, well, junk. Finding nothing of interest on the main floor, we headed down to the basement of the place. It was dank and dusty and pretty disorganized, so we started poking around the piles and stacks, hoping to score something good.

Near the center of the room, I saw two small gumball/peanut machines sitting on a living room side table. They appeared to be identical, although as I started examining them, I could see differences, especially in condition. One was in decent shape and appeared complete, while the other showed clear signs of heavy use over the years. They both were made by Abbey Manufacturing Company in Los Angeles, probably in the 1940s, and both were mounted on chrome trays that served to catch stray gumballs or peanuts.

My friend came over and said, “You should buy both of them, they’re great.” She was right, given my interest in vintage vending. I don’t recall what the price was, but it couldn’t have been much given the surroundings. So what did I do? I said, “Well, if I buy them, then I’d have one good one, but I’d also have one that’s a wreck and missing parts…I’ll pass.”

[Insert blank stare here.]

Was I having a stroke? Earth to Doug: These are ABBEY GUM MACHINES, and you can use one as a “donor” machine to complete the other and with a bit of work, you’ll have an amazing piece for your collection. Doug? Hello? Is anyone home?

I have no idea what I was thinking. My friend and I walked back upstairs and out the door and I’ve regretted it ever since. Those Abbeys pulled up a chair and sat down in my head and refused to leave no matter how nicely I asked.

Maybe I balanced the scales just a little with my Shipman score a few weeks ago.

Douglas R. Kelly is saving his pennies, just in case this cashless society thing actually happens.

Before Selfies

YorkTrailerphotoTake a look at the above photo. Likely taken in the mid-1930s, it shows people checking out travel trailers, which had recently gone from almost non-existent to red-hot, nearly overnight. Companies all over the United States began producing the things, and Americans were buying them—maybe these folks were among those new owners.

An historic image? Perhaps, if you define historic as anything that happened more than a year or two ago. It is at least an intriguing photo, especially for classic car collectors and fans of old travel trailers. But is it a type 1 or a type 2? Or is it a 2nd generation photo?

I didn’t know what these terms meant until just recently, when I got to talking about old photos with Matt Peedin, a friend who has developed a passion for the things. He showed me a photo he had recently purchased, taken in the early 1960s, of Martin Luther King, Jr. being arrested. Matt said that he was so struck by King’s expression and demeanor in the photo that he had to have it: Despite an aggressive-looking man (a police officer, I guess) yelling at him from just a few feet away, the civil rights leader looked calm and serene, the very model of grace under pressure.

Matt explained that the photo was a type 1, a designation used by authentication service PSA to indicate that a photo is a 1st generation photo, developed from the original negative, during the period (within approximately two years of when the picture was taken). Types 2 through 4 denote photos developed later and/or developed from a duplicate negative or wire transmission.

Because of their vintage and originality, collectors consider type 1s to be the most desirable and valuable of the four types.

Matt, who works as a realtor to support his habit, got started with old photos as a result of collecting autographs of ballplayers who are in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He found himself bidding in an online auction, on a photo of Detroit Tigers baseball legend Ty Cobb sliding into a base. He told me, “The bidding got really serious and went up past what I would pay, so I didn’t get that photo, but I was hooked. These things let you see the past in a cool way…what’s really fascinating, I think, is really old photography…19th century images. You can look at a person who’s been dead for many, many years, and wonder who they were and what their life was like.”

PSA’s site, http://www.psacard.com/Services/PhotoProcess, lays out the various types of photos, along with an explanation of the photo authentication process. Matt also tells me that those interested in vintage sports photography should get to know the name Henry Yee (http://henryyeephotos.com/), who is a major player in the category. If you’re a fan of the game’s history, Yee’s early images of iconic ballplayers will knock you out.

This is an incredibly cool area of antiques and collectibles and I’m learning as I go. My picture of the travel trailers is probably not a type 1 (or 2 or 3, for that matter), but learning from Matt is hugely fun and I have to admit, I’m kind of getting hooked.

Douglas R. Kelly owns a 1961 Topps card of Detroit shortstop Coot Veal. Seriously.

Czech Out this Score

When our girls were young, our family lived for several years in Maryland, just outside of Washington, DC, and it was a hotbed of antique toy collecting. Seemed like there were more collectors in that Maryland/DC/Northern Virginia corridor than I’d seen anywhere else. However, one of my collecting friends, Ed, lived in South Carolina, and we visited whenever our travel schedules allowed.

I was preparing to head out to a business conference in West Virginia when Ed called and said he’d be coming through our neck of the woods the following day on the way to visiting family up north. He told me he had a few things for me to look at and apologized for the short notice, then asked if I’d like to get together. I had purchased a couple of old toy cars from Ed in the past and I knew he was a long-time collector of the good stuff, so I’d have said yes if he’d asked me to meet him at a biker bar in a tux and tails. I told him we’d expect him for dinner the following evening and then spent the next 24 hours wondering what it was he thought I should see.

He arrived carrying a cloth-covered tray of some kind, and I wondered if he had brought us dinner. After hellos and handshakes, we sat and got caught up with one another as that covered tray sat on our coffee table. After dinner, we returned to the living room, where Ed told me he was selling off his collection and wondered if I’d be interested in some of the pieces.

He pulled the towel off the tray as I tried to avoid hyperventilating. He said, “I generally stuck to the European and British manufacturers when I started doing this back in the late ‘50s, so that’s a lot of what’s here.” In other words, right in my wheelhouse. The toy and model cars in the tray ranged from early post-war Dinkys to models made in Israel to mint boxed Japanese treasures. Ed had bought and/or been given the toys as a young guy and he had kept them in exceptional condition ever since.

Over in the corner of the tray, encased in bubble wrap, was a blue Belgian die cast metal piece that I had never seen before. We unwrapped it, and I could see it was modeled on a late 1940s CheGasqui3vrolet sedan, but I couldn’t place the manufacturer. The tin baseplate had a capital “G” in a circle, along with the words “MADE IN BELGIUM,” and after a couple of minutes, I made the connection. This was a Gasqui (or Gasquy, as it was sometimes spelled), an obscure and now very rare brand made during the late 1940s to early 1950s. The model was in excellent condition, and the accounting side of my brain started wondering whether I could get along with just one kidney.

“There’s another one in there, too,” said my tormentor as he dug out a second bubblewrapped lump and placed it in front of me. I think I actually gasped when I saw what it was, as I had heard of this model but had never actually seen one in the flesh. It was a Tatra 600, also called the Tatraplan, based on the legendary (and innovative) Czechoslovakian car of the late 1940s. Like the full-size Czech icon, this one had the centrally-mounted rear fin and the distinctive art deco design, and it was in superb original condition.Gasqui1

Now I was sure I was dreaming, so I asked Ed why he was selling these exceptional rarities. He told me that he couldn’t keep them forever, and he thought it was time for someone else to enjoy them.

Ed was a friend, so I told him that the Gasquis were worth far more than what I could pay for them. He said “That’s not really important to me…I just want these to go to a good home, to someone who can appreciate them and their history.” I told him that I thought they were wonderful pieces and that I would love to have them in my display cabinet, but that he could sell them at auction for a whole lot more than what I could pay.

He said, “Nah, that’s not for me. What do you think, how about $75 for the pair?” I could see that he wanted me to have them, and after asking him if he was sure this was what he wanted, I told him I’d be thrilled to do the deal.

In the years since, I’ve seen several worn (and repainted) examples of the Chevrolet go for $125 to $200, but the Tatra takes the cake. They rarely turn up for sale, but when they do, examples in this condition bring anywhere from $700 to $1,000. A great score for me, no question; but seeing them in my cabinet reminds me that I’m grateful that Ed entrusted to me these little pieces of history.

Douglas R. Kelly recently began collecting buttonholes.