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Guest Column... in Collections...

June 1, 2014

Susan Coons
It all started out so innocently. I had returned to Olvera Street, the oldest street in Los Angeles, lined with stalls offering Mexican shirts, dresses, skirts jackets, sarapes, candles, foods, spices, huaraches (Mexican sandals), pillows, statues, Ferdinand the Bull in every color and size, and so much more! After having lived away from California for seven years I was excited to return to my old stompin' grounds, visiting my favorite places. I purchased two cups and saucers as mementos of this occasion.

That was the beginning of my Mexican dinnerware collection. And kinda the beginning of my cup collection.

Ah, the cup collection! That's massive. I probably have collected about 65 or 70 cups over the past 40 years: Dorset Theatre Festival, GNAT-TV, CAT-TV, a couple from the Saratoga Racetrack, Troy Record, Pennysaver Press (back when it really was the Pennysaver), Chateau Frontenac (where we spent our 25th anniversary), Albany 300th anniversary, Roosevelt, Salem (the cup is all black with only the word “Salem” in a ghostly kind of handwriting so you know its

Salem, MA.), Lake Placid, Red Dot Communications, and more and more and more. I have a ceramic beer mug from Yosemite National Park. I count that among my cups.

I began collecting drinking glasses when I was in my 20s. Actually my husband started that. He planned dinner parties and hospitality suites at the Waldorf Astoria for trucking and trailer manufacturing conventions. This was in the 1960s and when he met William Baron Hilton. Hilton told him that if there were a few glasses left over from the events to take them home with him. And he did. They're packed up in the attic. The Waldorf is special to us first, because of his friendship with Baron Hilton, and second, because we have stayed there many times including our honeymoon in 1967.

After moving to Hoosick Falls and while I was cruising tag sales I happened upon a couple of old salt dishes. They reminded me of Sunday dinners long ago when family and friends sat at a beautifully arranged table, said grace and engaged in gentle conversation as they ate. I still pick up little salt dishes when I find them.

A lot of folks used to collect matchbooks. It was popular in the 1970s to put them in a very large brandy snifter. We started collecting matchbooks and ashtrays around 1962. Our apartment in Edgerton, Wisconsin, had a long kitchen and hallway separated by a wall of three opaque glass panels. I threaded the matchbooks together and strung them together top to bottom all the way down the hall. I would guess there were a few hundred. And neither one of us smoked! One ashtray is from the Gaslight Club in Old Town Chicago. Another from The Chronicle in Pasadena. The rest are from Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Milwaukee, Madison, Atlanta, the 20th Century Limited Railway, and more. Today you have to ask for matches and with the ban on smoking, there are no more ashtrays set out to steal!

I never think of myself as a pack rat but I'm beginning to question that! I've been cleaning out my house, one room at a time, and it's very discouraging. Is this what curio cabinets were for? What am I do do? I'll probably have to sell the collections. But they only mean something to me. Who would want an ashtray from the 1960s that says “Gaslight Club, Chicago” or a dozen old Waldorf-Astoria glasses? Who would want a cup that says Chateau Frontenac?

Well, at least I'm not guilty of collecting rubber bands, twisters, emery boards and free samples!

Author: Susan J. Coons

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