The Collector and COVID-19
By Sandy Lechtick
I've seldom met a sick collector who collects. Perhaps a caretaker, perhaps an absentee-landlord but certainly not an active acquirer of cool stuff. Without health, forget it.
Last year I was schmoozing with Richard Ruetlinger at the terrific AMICA Convention in South Dakota while sitting on the porch of the ranch house as we waited for the always late bus. While the light inside him was dimming, he still had a special passion for lively music- especially ragtime and shared his passion and camaraderie with fellow collectors, experiencing one more AMICA adventure. While he knew his body was giving way and this was probably his last rodeo, he was doing something he loved.
The catastrophic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and so much loss of life certainly does not trigger buy-impulse and acquisition of new machines or adding more “stuff” to one’s collection. While the deadly COVID-19 has upended our way of life and turned everything upside down, it is hard to squelch the collector’s DNA. With thousands and thousands of people testing positive, getting sick or dying. Bottom-linereality has a way of flushing priorities- like staying safe, healthy, and watching over one's loved ones.
Yet, the two are not mutually exclusive and one can pursue safety through effective social and physical distancing, wearing masks and cleaning hands several times a day. Certainly the economic impact on many people’s livelihood and families has created financial hardship, diminishingdiscretionary collection-building activities. On the other hand, baby boomers- especially those retired are generally the most active collectors with a nest egg and not forced to work to make mortgage payments or put food on the table. Money for kids or grandkids college tuition is another story.
With all the catastrophic personal and financial impact and constant negative media attention, finding enjoyable pastimes is a challenge. Since collecting has been such an important part of our lives- the people we’ve met, the friendships we’ve developed, the experiences we’ve shared, the trips we’ve taken together and the cool things we’ve acquired. It seems that there is no reason to abandon such an important part of our lives- assuming we keep our health. For me, collecting has been one leg of a four-legged stool- and if I chopped one leg off, would surely lose my balance- even if I am an ex-gymnast.
In counterintuitive logical analysis, today is an ideal time to strengthen that leg of the stool- a pillar that has brought so much joy for so many years. Most of us have been stuck with the realization that we have time on our hands. The question, what to do with it? Depression, a condition called “acute cabin-feveritis”, anxiety, sheer boredom, discomfort, sadness, anger and depression are but a few emotions felt by manyin today’s COVID-19 world. Perhaps there are some who enjoy this slower way of life. This type-A author is not one of them.
For instance, my whole 2020 calendar came to a screeching halt, curtailing all the fun activities, most with my wife and couple of close friends. For instance I was really looking forward to a trip to Bordeaux, France in June to play in the International Sr. (40 years and older) Table Tennis Championships and then spend a couple weeks frolicking through Europe, visiting cool collections and hot spots. We were looking forward to visiting AMICA collector Mike Choate in Dana Point in March. There was the week we planned to spend in No. Carolina visiting landmarks and attending the Annual Coin-Op Collectors Association Convention in Nov. Then of course we were looking forward to spending a week in San Francisco in Oct. and attending the AMICA and MBSI Convention. And for the last 18 years I never missed the twice-a-year Chicagoland Antique Coin-op, Jukebox and Slot Machine Shows and was all ready to hook up with friends. And of course, there were canceled auctions, other table tennis championships, a trip up the coast with our bikes hitched on the car- ready to spend another weekend at San Simeon Hearst Castle.
All vaporized. Gone with the wind. While the health angle is at the top of all our lists, one cannot get a little depressed when some of the things that added enjoyment, friendship and meaning goes poof. How many of our passions incorporate so much- traveling to new and distant places; seeing, hearing and learning about cool musical automatic instruments; meeting and getting to know fun people, experience new adventures? And what did I leave out?
But life goes on and from the collector vantage point, now what?
Well, for a start, keep in mind that pretty much everyone is in the same boat- and as miserable as you. So, reach out, touch someone- figuratively. Everyone likes to hear from their friends. Everyone likes to be remembered. Nothing wrong with seeing how they and their family are doing. Who have you been meaning to call this year but keep forgetting- you know, out of sight, out of mind? Catch up on the latest gossip. Find out who just bought that super great orchestrion. Who’s been thinning out lately? I for one like to compare notes, and get a sense of their take on the economy, the recession, when they think things will open up, how their part of the country is handling the whole health issue vs. getting back to “normal”. Quite frankly, I’m not sure anyone really knows what the new normal is- or when things will get back to the way they were three months ago. I think we have quite a while to go. And I put zero stock in what a certain person says – who will remain nameless for sake of politics.
Time to “refresh” your collection?
Now is a good time to look objectively and evaluate your own collection and perhaps “enhancing” it’s beauty, change the look. What would really add an exclamation point to your vision- the machines, the advertising pieces, automatons, music box collection, phonographs or…..? What is redundant? What has become boring? What has outlived its time- and should be moved to pasture? Since sometimes less is more, what clutter needs to go? I do think a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and for one am getting rid of the collecting mistakes I made in my earlier more impetuous days buying newer “restaurant” coin-op- machines that were mass produced. Back then it was quantity- not quality, when I was essentially filling space. Since space is so precious, now I try to use that real estate for better examples of that which dovetail with my higher grade pieces.
While I’ve added a few Baranger Motions to the collection in the last few months, (my current passion), during this down time, I’ve been moving machines from one area to another. In the automaton and advertising window display area, I simply changed the order of some Barangers and created a new look in the arcade part of the house, I moved a few arcade machines to new locations. I thought, “Why don't I move that KT Special from an area not getting much action to another"? And then I moved that mini 4 piece automaton musical quartet from another to the top of the KT- with the right light at the right angle enhancing the look- and action. It actually sounds better and is a more “strategic” part of the arcade action. Even moving pictures from one area to another creates a different look. It’s amazing that you can “refresh” a collection by simply moving things around and giving the place a new look. Wives do it all the time with furniture, now it’s our turn!
The internet and search engines like google are utterly fantastic for doing research. One can learn so much about just about everything, everyone, historical events, where and when they started etc. I found it intriguing learning more about some important historical figures to the world of music- guys like Rudolf Wurlitzer- his beginnings, how he started his company- its rise and fall. One can learn about the many enormously wealthy Americans- guys like J.P. Getty and William Randolf Hearst who built fabulous collections and established their place in history. Mr. Hearst for instance, his media empire, his impact on the Nation, the fabulous Hearst Castle- along with his mistress Marion Davies and other estates like his “Beach House” in Santa Monica (where I was a member when it became the “Sand & Sea Club”, are fascinating tales. Jasper San Felipo was another incredibly interesting success story and built such an awesome eclectic environment. Learning about his beginnings- what he accomplished, how his collection expansion dovetailed with his peanut business success, his expert use of pickers, the important contribution of experts like Marty Persky is a fascinating read! Even articles, books and magazine pieces are often loaded up with a bibliography of source material- and they offer additional areas of discovery. UTUBE also offers some incredible videos. And then there are various television shows on pickers, collectors, musical instruments and musicians etc. In short, there is at your fingertips an amazing amount of information that could keep you busy for days- in fact years!
Add to the collection
Since I like that word “counter-intuitive” so much, I’ll use it again. Now is a good counter-intuitive time to selectively add to your collection. Many instruments have lost some value. Supply and demand basic economics are alive and well. There are some great deals out there. If you are not looking at instruments as an investment, but pleasure to add to your environment, now is a good time. Since you cannot take it with you, and since your kids or grandkids don't like the stuff anyway, why not?
As example, I personally do not have much space to add coin-op machines to my already 2000 square foot arcade as well as some areas of the house. However, if something great pops up, and the price is not crazy, I will seriously consider the proposition. If I buy something, one of my machines goes out. Plain and simple. Dust-building clutter is a sure way of getting a divorce- or making it tough to move around. I either sell to a fellow collector or eventually put it in an auction along with some other machines that got “upgrade-displaced” and are now sitting idly in storage at the house. The big exception is my mechanical window displays, Baranger and automaton room. Not a ton of extra space, but certainly enough to buy another 5 or 6 Baranger Motions.
Therefore, if you think you go around this earthly existence but once, why not pursue your passion, rather than squelch that special DNA that sets you apart?
Since I’ve been a borderline fitness fanatic most of my life, it’s easier for me to say, “Stay in shape”. If one has not done much in the exercise arena most of their life, it’s hard to start, but not impossible. It’s never too late. There is a direct correlation between physical and mental fitness- and the endorphin spike add coffee is positive.. Taking walks, bike-riding, using a stationary bike in ones house, swimming are all great exercise. Electric bicycles are game changers. When I go biking with my wife, she can finally keep up with me, and cranking up the computer setting adds a lot of power climbing a hill. Sumi even has a throttle on her e-bike and uses when her legs get tired.
In short, this pandemic is a terrible situation- and in some places will get worse. Be careful, be safe, social distance, wash your hands and focus some time on family, friends and your collection.
Sandy Lechtick is an active California collector of 1900-1950’s coin-op penny arcade, Baranger Motions, mechanical advertising window displays and automation music. He can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org