Did you know that a recent survey of 2,000 Americans found that 80% of people think that the perfect Christmas gift is a surprise? 79% of those surveyed also believe that giving gifts is more fun when the recipient isn’t expecting a gift.
Furthermore, the perfect gift was described as being meaningful, useful, and unique. Just a small portion – 8% of those surveyed, felt that the gift needed to be funny or expensive. Givers judge how well the gift was received by whether or not they receive a hug, whether the recipient is using the gift right away, or if the recipient is jumping up and down.
This holiday season, will your gifts be a surprise, or will you be shopping your recipient’s wish list?
Michael Walton has always enjoyed collecting, especially toys that make him feel nostalgic about his childhood. “I was never a sports guy – I just liked my cartoons and superheroes.” At one point Michael had a collection of GI Joe toys, but sadly this collection was stolen from his storage space. Today, this love of collecting and comics has led him to become the owner of one of the largest collections that focuses specifically on Batman automobilia.
It all started when Michael was walking through a grocery store and noticed a Batmobile in a bin of Hot Wheels toys. He was hooked from that moment on! Eight years later, at around 10,000 pieces, Michael’s collection is large and contains Batmobiles of all sizes, from half an inch to 36 inches long. While he has some items from the 60s and 70s, most of the collection is from the last decade – and much of it is from the 90s and later.
The items as not particularly rare, and many of them are still available online. Still, the collection has held its value well, and some items have even doubled in value. This is due to the fact that everything is kept in its original packaging. “Everything that I purchase has to be in the original package,” he shares. “The original packaging helps it keep its value!”
Michael’s favorite piece – and perhaps the most unique one – is a one-of-a-kind factory mistake: a five-pack of Hot Wheels Batmobiles, but every single car is made incorrectly. Michael describes this piece, which he found accidentally at Target, as “bizarre.”
Everything Michael owns is on display in his apartment. “For some reason, I chose to stay in an apartment and collect toys instead of buying a house!” he shares. The toys are displayed from his dining room to his bedroom. The entire apartment is decorated in Batmobiles!
Items are organized by which Batman series or movie they are from, as well as by their country of origin. “I’ve got toys from Japan, China, Israel, Greece, and more!” says Michael. Of his collection, Michael shares, “It’s been the funnest mistake of my life! My kids are grown now, and it’s fun to do something for myself, a hobby.”
Matt and Laurie have always been interested in fossils, but it was around 2015 that a desire to collect was sparked. “We lived in Tucson and had been attending the annual Tucson Gem, Mineral, and Fossil show,” explains Matt. “In 2015, we came across a femur bone from a t-rex – it was really cool!” They purchased the femur bone, and a collection was born!
Over time, the collection grew and broadened to include a variety of fossilized bones from different species and a variety of body parts. The couple is especially fascinated to see that despite there being many different animals, there are always similarities between them. “It’s neat to see similar bones from different animals and see the size differences,” shares Matt. “The other thing that is interesting for me is that the same types of bones in these dinosaurs from millions of years ago are the same type of bones in our body. There is still a lot of similarity in the types of bones and joints!”
When it comes to dinosaurs, there are three ages: the Cretaceous period, which took place about 145 to 66 million years ago; the Jurassic period, which took place between 200 to 145 million years ago; and the Triassic period, which took place 250 to 200 million years ago. The Cretaceous period is where most of Matt and Laurie’s fossils are from. “Movies show all the dinosaurs together, but that really wasn’t the case. [For example], a stegosaurus came nearly 80 million years before a t-rex.”
A favorite item in the collection is actually a group of items: a collection of bones from an apatosaurus – a long necked dinosaur that stood between 70 feet long and 20 feet tall. “We’ve got a large femur and a couple of large vertebrae from the spine. The size is what makes those impressive. The femur itself is almost 6 feet long!” Another notable item is a pair of unhatched hadrosaur eggs. “It’s unusual to find unhatched eggs,” shares Matt. “At some point, I will get them scanned to see if there’s anything inside of them.” It’s highly unlikely, but every so often an egg is found with embryonic bones inside. However, it’s most likely all rock.
There are more than 40 pieces in this collection, and they are all displayed in the front room of Laurie and Matt’s home. Many of the larger bones have stands made for them, while the rest are on display on shelves. “We try to keep similar families of animals together in the display.”
At around $10,000, the t-rex femur is the most expensive fossil they have purchased to date. They have made purchases that have spanned from a couple hundred to several thousand dollars. The least expensive are the smaller vertebrae and arms or leg bones, which they purchase for around $200. Today, the value has soared. The collection is now worth well over $100,000.
This collection is quite special because of how rare it is to find a private collection of dinosaur fossils. “You rarely see a room full of dinosaur bones in someone’s house,” explains Matt. “You may occasionally come across an individual one here or there. They are not everywhere. [This collection] is unique! You’re looking at something that typically you would only see in a museum, and I get to hold them and touch them and look closely at them.”
Tom Spina is more than a collector of movie props: he is a restorer and a conservationist. You may not realize the amount of effort that goes into keeping movie props in excellent condition, but for Tom, this is his life’s work! His company, Tom Spina Designs, restores, conserves, and displays movie props in all their glory.
We had the opportunity to chat with Tom about his work – read on to learn more about the fascinating world of movie props!
COLLECTIBLES: Tell me a bit about your work restoring and displaying movie props. What is involved?
TOM SPINA: For me, movie props are the closest you can get to these films and actors. There has been a great buildup of recent interest in collecting original props and memorabilia related to films and TV shows. I have always found that to be the most interesting avenue of collecting! Nothing yet for me has matched the feeling of being around something that was used in a movie that you love.
The work that we do fits hand in hand with that growth in collecting. It is exciting for us as fans and as collectors ourselves to be around this stuff. It’s cool to take something that needs restoration or conservation, or that could be improved with a unique display, and give someone back something better than it was when it came to you, ready for future generations to enjoy.
C: Tell me a little bit about the world of prop collecting in general.
TOM: It’s a really exciting area of collecting – something that is just growing at the moment. In the last few years, there has been a lot of new blood in the hobby, a lot of people collecting, and a lot of amazing collections being generated.
It’s been cool over the past few years seeing these pieces be dug up. Things that you thought were lost forever are going to turn up now that people know there’s an interest! It very much is a hobby that takes on elements of archaeology. There is a lot of fun to be had in the research – to see something new turn up and be able to trace the history of it, or even to talk to the person who made it and learn about how they made it.
C: How did you become interested in movie props?
TOM: I think a lot of movie prop collectors grow up loving films and usually toys related to them. A lot of folks my age grew up watching Star Wars and having the toys. I, like many, was also fascinated by Don Post studios masks. Don Post is the creator of the modern rubber mask. As a kid, I would go into the magic shop and see these masks on the wall and dream about getting enough money on my paper route to buy some. A lot of what I personally collect is related to Star Wars or monsters. I love creature masks and everything that goes into creating creatures for movies. You can’t grasp all of the effort that went into making every character costume, creature, puppet, and prop in a movie.
In the mid-90s I started to realize there are really props out there from the movies, and they aren’t unattainable. I started to meet other collectors online, and that was a big change for me. The internet and online forums allow you to connect with other collectors and meet others who share the passion. Connecting with others made me realize that there are props to be found and it’s not unreasonable to think you might own something from your favorite movie someday. Screen-used stuff is really my ultimate goal, and that’s my direction in collecting.
C: What are the top three coolest movie props you’ve ever worked with?
TOM: I’m a huge fan of Jim Henson and his work. My first internship in the business was with the Henson company. Years later, we had the opportunity to work with the Museum of the Moving Image – an amazing museum in Queens, New York. They’ve got an absolutely incredible Jim Henson exhibit. We consulted on the pieces that were coming in, and we did a whole range of conservation on the pieces from that exhibit. There was Skeksis from the movie, The Dark Crystal. This particular Skeksis was the puppet that Jim Henson used in the film. It’s an amazingly intricate and detailed character. The costume is covered in macrame and beading. That is definitely a top piece!
We also did work on Muftak, which is a furry creature from the Star Wars cantina, for some dear friends. That’s the scene that made me want to do what I do for a living. It’s my favorite scene in film, and it makes me want to collect. The original costume for that creature came through, and I was thrilled to work on that costume. It was a challenge because it was a mix of foam and latex elements. We had to really dig into our experience to make a great form to fit underneath this thing and support it. We did some cleaning and restoration as well. We used a surprisingly varied number of techniques for what looks like a simple character.
Another cool piece is from the film An American Werewolf in London. We got to restore the full, wearable final look of the werewolf, and it was just absolute movie history to be around! Rick Baker received an Oscar for the film and went on to win another six or seven after that. To handle something made by one of your idols – it’s a crazy responsibility and opportunity. I consider myself one of the luckiest kids alive!
C: Why is conservation/restoration such an important part of collecting props?
TOM: There’s a responsibility that comes with owning these pieces. These are history, and they are truly works of art by some of the greatest artists of our time. It’s very easy to assume that these pieces are always going to be as you remember them, but they are often made from natural materials with a lifespan. They age and change from being flexible to brittle. Thinking about conservation early and taking some basic precautionary steps can make a huge difference in the way a piece lasts for the future. That could be as simple as using muslin garment bags, thinking about the temperature and UV exposure, and using padded hangers. All of these little steps go a long way!
C: What is your favorite aspect of working in this business?
TOM: It has got to be the weirdos that this business attracts and getting to work around them! Also, just being around the stuff. All of us in the shop are fans of movies, television, puppetry, and art. To be here and have amazing costumes from amazing movies come through and to get to preserve them for the future is the coolest thing in the world. We get to play a small part in helping maintain the legacy of this art!
Did you know that comic books and graphic novels have become popular in the classroom? Believe it or not, these treasure troves of both written and visual storytelling have been proven to be a great aide for advanced learning – as well as an attractive option for those who aren’t as interested in reading.
The activity in the brain for a student who is processing a visual narrative is very similar to the activity when they are processing text. Add to this the ability to read the graphic novel analytically and you’ve got a great tool for learning! Graphic novels provide an opportunity to think deeply about storytelling and contribute to a student’s understanding of the world around them – as well as their ability to create their own stories.
Do you think that graphic novels are a great learning tool?
Jerry Simon’s collection of fantasy art got started when he was about 20 years old. He had started going to Comic Con and purchasing sketches from artists that he liked. Eventually, he started collecting pages from comic books. “I don’t have a particular nostalgia for a specific comic book – I just like all the characters!” he explains.
Over the years, this love of art blossomed into a collection, and eventually he began to focus on Magic the Gathering. “Magic was a big part of my childhood, and as a young kid I didn’t realize that there were thousands of traditional works being produced.” Today, the collection is about 80% Magic the Gathering, and the rest is general fantasy and comic book art.
Jerry realized he was a collector when he went to purchase a home and decided to reach out to an art dealer that he knew. He planned to sell some of his art to help finance his home. The dealer actually came to his house and sent a film crew to get footage of the collection. “That’s when I realized, ‘I’m a collector now!’” shares Jerry. “That moment was the moment where I realized the value of what I had.”
Jerry’s collection is special to him because with original artwork, everything is one of a kind. While he finds it difficult to name a favorite item from his collection, he mentions a piece called “Soul Burn” by Rob Alexander. This art is of a Magic the Gathering card of the same name. “I remember holding the card as a kid, and literally 20 years later I had the opportunity to buy it. This connected my back to my childhood in a tangible way. To have the original art is such a cool experience!”
Another memorable purchase was a piece by legendary comic artist Bernie Wrightson. “I would dream of owning a Bernie!” shares Jerry. He decided to drive to Baltimore to meet someone who was selling this piece for a high sum for Jerry. He was so nervous carrying that much money on him that after he made the purchase and left with his wife, the seller gave him a call. “You must be really nervous – you paid me more than you should have paid me!” The man was nice about it and returned the money, but Jerry remembers this story with a laugh. The man told him, “Right now, this is a lot to you. But as a collector, you’ll eventually spend way more and not even think about it.”
The man turned out to be right, Jerry confirms. “When I was starting out, $10 and $20 was a lot to me. I’ve spent way more than that in the last month!” He is constantly buying, selling, and trading artwork. In fact, so much art has passed through his hands that he has a dealer policy with Collectibles Insurance Services, rather than a standard policy. He’s only made one claim since he got the dealer’s policy, and “It took me two seconds to make the claim. They refunded me the entire amount. It was super easy!”
Jerry also shares that as he has gotten deeper into the hobby, he has found a strong connection with other collectors. “As you become a seasoned collector, you expand your searches, and you track auction houses and have a network of collectors. It’s a community!” In fact, many of his best friends are fellow collectors, and some of his collection is stored at friend’s houses, which he notes is a little unusual. His own home is full of art. “I have art on the walls, art on the floor, art in cubbies, art in file cabinets, and art in my office.”
Did you know that 60% of Americans believe it is socially acceptable to start celebrating Halloween before October? Now that October is upon us, there is no doubt that the spooky season has officially begun!
How will you be celebrating Halloween this year? Here are some Halloween collectibles that you may want to check out if you are a fan of the holiday!
Annual Pokémon Halloween Collection
This collection of plush toys and Halloween-themed trading card packs was released in September! It even includes some amazing jack-o-lantern inspired ceramic pumpkins featuring Pikachu and Gengar.
Dubbed “Trick or Trade BOOster Bundles”, this Pokemon Trading Card game features characters such as Zubat, Gengar, Pumpkaboo, Mimikyu and Polteageist. Each card will be stamped with a Pikachu jack-o-lantern!
Dennis’ collection of Native American artefacts started around 50 years ago, when he opened a restaurant called the Wagon Wheel. The inside and outside of the building was made of logs. One day in 1974, a regular customer walked in bearing a large frame filled with arrowheads, with old calendars as the background. He told Dennis, “You need this, and you should hang it on the wall.” He wanted $50 for it. Dennis didn’t have $50 at the time, but the customer allowed him to pay as he was able, so Dennis accepted the frame and hung it in the restaurant.
Over the years, other customers began to bring things in – both frames and individual arrow heads. They would often accept a trade of a drink or dessert in exchange for the arrowheads. Over time, this collection grew and developed. Today, Dennis is interested in collecting Native American artefacts of all shapes and sizes. His focus is on interesting items that were made by hand. “That’s what I really enjoyed – the things made by hand that took so much time – when time was available and not of the essence,” shares Dennis.
Dennis’ collection mainly comes from the 1860s through 1920 – a time period that many don’t think of when it comes to Native Americans. There was almost a 200-year gap between those Native Americans on the east coast and those who lived in the west. “The clothing that was worn changed considerably from the east coast to the west coast and the items were considerably different.” Dennis’s collection contains many items that were early reservation items from the East coast.
Many items were sold at roadside stands and on the reservations to people as they traveled from the east coast to the west coast by train. It’s hard to find items before the 1850s, and those items are very expensive and difficult to find. Despite this, the earliest pieces in the collection can be dated back to 900 to 1000 BC. “That is because the stone artefacts go way back. The earliest in my collection would be some arrow points that are identified as clovis – clovis is a type of point identified by the way that the point is chipped.”
Dennis’ wife seemed to have the revelation that he was a collector before he had it! “It was taking up the wall space in the house. It was becoming filled with various artefacts, and my interest was the hunt and the find. I think she recognized I was a collector before I did!” Of his burgeoning collection of nearly 1,110 items, Dennis doesn’t have a favorite piece. “[I like] all of them! They don’t compete with one another because they are so different.”
On interesting item that Dennis mentions is a bonnet case – also called a parfleche. It was made from the hide of a buffalo, and it was painted. It has leather drops that are 4.5” long. “It’s from the plains area,” he shares. “The Indian headdresses back then were often 2-3 feathers that stood straight up. When they moved locations, they would put them in the bonnet case rolled up to protect them.”
Another special item in the collection is a set of two beaded bags, which Dennis found a few years ago at a consignment store. “I really thought they would be nice to add to the collection. I was pretty sure one was from the Ute tribe and the other was Apache, so I took those for further identification.” He went to a museum, and they identified the first bag as Ute, but they didn’t think the other was Apache. They referred him to someone else, who reached the exact some conclusion; they couldn’t identify the second bag, except to say that it wasn’t Apache. They referred him to a third person who at last identified the bags as Ute and Apache. This boosted Dennis confidence – he has spent a lot of time over the years studying American Indians, and he felt gratified that his initial instinct about the bag was correct. What’s more is that the bag was actually a bag that contained ceremonial face paint – and the red paint was still inside!
One thing that Dennis doesn’t collect is anything that could have come from ceremonial grounds. “I avoid ceremonial items out of respect to where they should belong. I have a profound respect for things that were part of their religious ceremonies surrounding death and birth.”
The entire collection is on display in the house. “It’s in every single room!” It is housed in cabinets that were an estate sale find. “The collection displays well, but it’s not crowded. You can move around without a fear of breaking something.” The wall and floor space of the home are pretty much taken up by the collection. Fortunately, Dennis’ wife Vicki has been okay with that because they have two homes. The agreement is that she decorates one and Dennis has free reign over the other.
Of his entire collecting journey, Dennis comments that, “The hunt has been the most fun part – the most rewarding part. It’s also about the little stories that go with each and every piece. I’ve had fun finding items that come from all parts of the country.”
Nancy Jackson started collecting sterling silver about 18 years ago. She and her husband, an avid coin collector, went to a lot of flea markets together. “We happened to come across a stand of tarnished sterling bowls, so I bought one for $10 and I showed my husband.” He told her that it was a great buy, so she bought a few more bowls, and a collection was born.
At antique shows and flea markets, Nancy would spot new items for her collection. At the time, silver was very low in price and easy to purchase, but the value has since increased. “Most of my pieces have probably gone up at least three or four times what I originally paid for them,” she shares.
When she purchases a tarnished piece, Nancy will clean it and polish it up. “I actually like to clean silver!” she says. “You have to learn how to do it, but it’s not hard once you get the method down.”
Of her collection, Nancy has several favorite pieces. “One piece that I like quite a bit – I call it the bird bowl. It’s a fairly large bowl with birds and flowers, and it’s a very pretty bowl,” she explains. Also among her favorites is a Whiting Lily Flatware set. She also prefers silver pieces by the maker Kirk and Son. “A lot of their stuff is flowery and quite detailed.”
The most valuable items in her collection are two tea sets. One is called Old English by Poole and the other is made by Graff, Washburn, and Dunn. She also has quite a few pieces of Tiffany silver.
Overall, Nancy has 21 cabinets filled with silver and alphabetized from A to S. The cabinets are in all the rooms of her house, including the bathroom and the bedroom. Says Nancy, “I like to look at shiny things and I have plenty of them to look at. It’s rather unique because my house looks like an antique shop!”
Nancy has another collection besides her silver – she inherited a Hummel collection from her mother and grandmother. “I’m one of those people that likes to collect things!”
Tim and Jamie Saloff both share a passion for collecting that is heavily influenced by the older generation, as Tim was partially raised by his grandparents, and Jamie’s older parents declared she was a ‘do it yourself grandchild.’ “Before we were married, we started collecting some things,” shares Jamie. “My cousins taught us some basics about 20th century antiques. They had gone overboard with collecting, filling their home with amazing things. We were hooked!”
Although the Saloffs had been collecting for a while, when Tim picked up a carved, April Green art deco lamp with a “Cowan Pottery” sticker on the bottom, he wanted to know more. Shares Tim, “I went to the public library and found a reference about a fellow collector from Cleveland who had collected Cowan. Upon his death, he donated hundreds of pieces of the pottery to the Rocky River Library system. As it happened, the library’s curator was giving a talk the next morning, so I drove over. After his talk, the curator recognized my interest and took me into their meeting rooms in the bowels of the library building. Every closet was filled floor to ceiling with Cowan Pottery, and he just kept opening door after door after door. I was bugging out because of all the great pieces!”
From there, a love of collecting grew. Over time, the couple migrated to better and better designer pieces. When their sons were young, they would go out on the weekends to visit antique shops, flea markets, and antique shows to add to their burgeoning collection. The boys took an interest as well. “Gradually, our collection became more like my cousins’,” shares Jamie.
The collection may have grown from Cowan Pottery, but it quickly expanded to many other 20th century items. “We have a very eclectic and very diverse collection!” shares Tim. It’s hard to choose favorites, but Jamie mentions an art deco ‘Petipoint’ iron, designed by Clifford Brooks Stevens for the Waverly Corp. The iron has Machine Age fins on it like wings. “It looks like it could take off!” She also adores a small blue Westclox ‘Stellar’ clock. The star and moon hands circle the Earth on a deep blue, star-filled background. Tim loves his Catalin radios, which have beautiful marbleized cases that tend to glow when lit up. “I love putting them on the bookshelf and displaying them!”
Tim loves the Cowan Pottery, which includes their production pieces, but they were known for their figural nude flower frogs and many artist designer pieces, which were offered only in limited editions. He notes that after Cowan closed its doors due to the Great Depression, many of their artists and designers went on to become famous in their own right, creating some of their best works. Some of his favorites are pieces by those artists. One of them is a head that was displayed at the 1939 World Fair by Edris Eckhardt entitled ‘Sea.’ “Waves of water from which starfish and fish leap out, is her hair. Her skin is the sand,” shares Tim. “It’s just an awesome design!”
What’s unique about this collection is that everything is on display in their home. Even when their sons were young and lived at home, only two or three pieces have ever been broken over the years. Jamie and Tim’s philosophy of putting everything on display stemmed from a sad incident with a dear friend’s collection. This friend had her entire collection packed away in boxes, only to discover one day that the boxes were empty – her son had sold the collection for drug money. “It was just horrible!” shares Tim. “We decided then and there that we were going to display our stuff and enjoy it.”
Tim and Jamie have very high standards for quality when it comes to collecting. “We’ve seen people buy damaged items,” shares Tim, “and you always have to compromise if you want to trade or sell it later. If we desire an item, we look until we find one in great shape.” They also believe it’s very important that anyone selling online learns to properly pack the pieces to help them survive shipping. “It’s heartbreaking when a piece survived 100-120 years, and it arrives in a thousand pieces after 3-4 days of transit!” shares Tim. “This happens far too often. This is avoidable with care and understanding.”
They believe in the importance of knowledge when it comes to collecting. Shares Jamie, “Knowledge is key! So often I see individuals who throw out or give away valuable items. For example, they don’t know something like a Bakelite [plastic] bracelet might be worth more than grandma’s favorite necklace. I recommend finding a reputable appraiser before tossing vintage items.” Shares Tim, “The research is what I love! Invest in books, print or online. I probably have 750 research books I’ve bought over the years and read cover to cover and refer to often. Learn about what you are buying. There’s a myriad of material online now that didn’t exist when we began collecting. You can now do so within your own level of comfort.
Tim tries to look at the collection as an investment. “I have always tried to pay less than half of the market value when I collect. If they go up in value, then great, but if they go down, then I’m still ahead.” Over the course of 40 years, Tim has typically succeeded in his goal of paying less than half the value. “I once paid $1 for a piece of TECO Pottery – even though at the time I didn’t know it had value, I just liked it. Today it’s worth $2,000! Everyone wants that kind of find, but they don’t come around often. I bought my first rare, red Catalin radio for $12. Only later did I learn of its value.”
This collection of 3569 carefully catalogued pieces has afforded Jamie and Tim many opportunities, including compiling a book entitled, The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Cowan Pottery, speaking at events,and writing price guide sections for a variety of sources. Jamie realized how incredible their personal collection was on a trip to a London museum. “They had items on display that we had on our book shelves,” Jamie explains. “I realized that we had some really good items!”
Tim says “Above all, enjoy collecting! It doesn’t matter what you have available to spend; it’s about the search and journey along the way. We started when we didn’t have much money, but it was fun and a family affair. Educate yourself on what you like, buy things that bring you joy, and you’ll never go wrong!”