Another Man’s Treasure

17 Dec

Rusted spice tins. Torn postcards. Decorative lamps. Bin after bin of mismatched buttons.

As my friend and I strolled the never-ending aisles of the Alameda Point Antiques Fair, I started to wonder where the line falls between “old but worthless” and “old but meaningful.” We saw beautifully restored furniture, dazzling period jewelry and fascinating art. But we also saw a lot of things that just looked… well… old.

I had the same thought a few days later as I browsed the collection at an antique map store. Sure, there were cool maps and rare documents in there. But I was surprised to also find a very robust collection of those tourist maps you get from the hotel front desk. You know, the kind that tears off a pad and only lists every 5th street name, so that you’re never fully sure where you ended up once you stray off the main-street path. What were these dime-a-dozen maps doing in an antique store?

If I wanted to buy a souvenir bracelet 80 years after it was sold - does that mean someone will want to buy my childhood keychains someday?

Cool, right?

We hear stories of appraised antiques fetching millions at specialty auctions. And we’ve all seen important documents under lock-and-key. But for all the things that don’t get assessed by an Antiques Roadshow committee, how do you know if it’s worth anything?

Perhaps the meaning is in the eyes of the beholder. Back at the Alameda Fair that day, I geeked out when I found this souvenir bracelet from the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition. I spotted it, squealed, and exclaimed to my friend that I absolutely had to buy it. I am probably the only person you know who would get so excited about a World’s Fair souvenir. Maybe someone else that day got excited about a rusty spice tin, or a broken appliance, or a box of mismatched buttons. We find meaning where we feel it, tied to what we care about.

And that makes me wonder: which of my belongings and mementos could someday prove “meaningful” to a stranger? Should I save all my tear-off hotel maps and restaurant menus? Should I hold onto my Quaker Oats canisters in case one day, somehow, they become collectibles? Should I keep my childhood souvenir keychain collection well into adulthood?

I can’t advocate hoarding in the hopes that someday someone pays you a pretty penny for your belongings. But I love to imagine that years from now, someone wandering an antique fair will stumble upon a postcard I wrote or a souvenir I bought, squeal, and insist they just have to have it.


One Response to “Another Man’s Treasure”


  1. The Life of a Coffee Table | Culture Cookies - March 9, 2015

    […] I wrote in a recent post about antique fairs, I think that objects gain their value from the realms of emotion, experience and memory. I do a […]


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