Dan Ruth - Among the Collectors

Dan Ruth - Among the Collectors

Monday, December 10, 2012

Treasure Hunting in your Home

We all have one somewhere in the house - the illustrious "catch-all" that's supposed to store everything that we own. We all have at least one and we choose to walk by them in shame daily, because they are nothing but an embarrassing pyre of junk.  Among that bloated, ever-growing stash however, somewhere around the stockpile of pens that don't work, the old scotch tape containers, loose staples and paper clips, there could be potential treasure, so listen up.  I decided to "liquidate" four square feet of space in my little apartment, just to see what I could throw out with 2012 and what might just have potential for a quick end-of-year eBay sale.  Extra money in January?  Heck yeah.  I chose a small area in my kitchen, next to the stove.  The area was covered over by holiday ads, plastic to-go containers and on it sat two catch-alls.  Not one, but two glass containers, brimming with old tape, cords, some old lotto tickets, box cutters, sharpies and of course, a yack of pencils and pens, because as we all know, one can get pretty desperate for a pen, while in the kitchen cooking food.  (?)  Even though the setup was lacking sense, it was very clear that I had inherited my Mother's penchant for hoarding pens and the area was certainly not lacking in writing implements.

I dug in and immediately threw away several pencils (sans tips and erasers), two dry markers (I don't even own a dry board), some old, dried rubber bands and a impressive ball of lint.  I then began the "pen test" process, that had been instilled in me years ago, again by my pen-hoarding Mother.  This process I'm certain, is a universal but just in case, you need a piece of paper for scribbling.  Take every pen out and scribble.  Pen by pen, if there's no ink, throw it out.  Most of the pens were dried up and useless - there were Bic black pens, some advertising pen from a local politician, a click pen that was broken, etc.  As I was scribbling, I grabbed a very pretty pen that was matte black, with gold embellishments.  I was puzzled for a second.  It actually looked pretty high-end and I began to question why it was in this wallow of trash.  I set it aside.  I also set aside another pen that was from the now defunct "Cedar Tavern" which was a West Village institution and artist hang-out for decades.  Back in the 1950's, Cedar Tavern was the favorite haunt of Pollock, de Kooning and Rothko, just to name a few ghosts.  I set it aside.  I also found a small metal tape measure, a few pennies,  a small toy in a plastic bubble, a cord for an MP3 player and a baseball bat keychain from the "Sweetwater Tavern," Williamsburg, Brooklyn's first punk bar, now closed and reborn the "Sweetwater Tavern," Williamsburg, Brooklyn's first punk bar-turned high-end steak and fish restaurant.  I set it aside as well.

Soon I had the counter space cleared out and after a few minutes of research, I had a winning group.  Turns out that the black pen was a "Monteblanc - Meisterstruck" rollerball pen, signed "Germany" with a full serial number.  It's actually gold plate and in its current used condition, is valued at anywhere between $100 and $130.00.  The Cedar Tavern pen had considerable wear but I noticed that at present, there were no collectibles listed on eBay for the Cedar Tavern at all, so there was promise there and I guessed I could perhaps reel in $14 for the pen.  The tape measure turned out to be a "Little Pal" 3 Foot tape measure, vintage made in the USA.  These run anywhere from $10 to $25, and this one had some wear and I thought could go for $12-16.  The child's toy was a "Chicana Power" small plastic figurine, which I discovered was from a series called "Homies Series 8" and her name was Adelita.  She was another $10 item but remember that the more specifics you have, the easier the sale.  The penny was not in good shape and it was very recent (1983).  I'd grade the penny at Very Fine, because although it was dirty, there was very little wear to the coin.  What the penny had however, was an incredible die crack (gauge) right through Lincoln's head.  As an error coin, it could fetch $20-25 if it went to the right collector.

So by cleaning four square feet of my apartment, and because I did some research, I now had the potential to make some extra money for the new year.  Treasures in the kitchen: $160-200.  The cord and the two Lotto tickets: worthless.  Maybe it's time to go cleaning in your house.  Give yourself a good, old fashioned "drawer tour," you might be quite surprised.  Just because you don't find a sterling silver pillbox from the 19th century that used to belong to Queen Victoria's half cousin, thrice-removed, doesn't mean that there won't be some tiny treasure in the bottom of that wretched container.  Never forget the golden rule:  "If it looks cool, don't throw it away."  Do some research first before you pitch out your things but by all means pitch away.  I don't know about you but that's my idea of working from home.

Update: December 22, 2012.  Well, the earth is still here and we all still have stuff to sell and money to make, so life in the collectible world goes on!  Out of the small group of items that I found in my kitchen, I gave the bat keychain away as a gift to someone who was a regular at that bar back in the day.  I sold the "Monteblanc" pen for $117.00 and the "Error" penny sold for $15.00.  The other items will have to wait for the new year.  So my total for an hours work was $132.00.  Not bad at all!  Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!  See you in 2013!  Dan Ruth

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Remembering Don Sellers

I lost my Uncle today.  His was a life of riches, both in spirit, and in finery.  I remember only what I will cherish forever and my Uncle Don Sellers, for better or worse, had a lust for life and that’s what I will always remember.  He loved nice things and he loved to share them with those he loved.  Whether it was a fine California Cabernet, a perfectly prepared meal, or an S-1 GIA certified diamond, he knew beauty and he knew that beauty had value.  He was a self-made man with a love for all things beautiful – a fitting trait for a future Gemologist and appraiser.  I realize now, that I share in many of his traits.  In fact, I have his eyes.  I have my Uncle Don to thank for my appreciation of beauty, especially for that which has been created by artisans, master craftsmen and lovers of detail.   My “antique thing?”  That’s my Uncle Don.

I am grateful that a celebration brought our two families together again this past April - we were able to share in a great, positive experience together, with my Grandmother’s 100th birthday.  We all have my Mother to thank for that, but it was Don who pointed out that we as a family have always been rich, not always with material things but with love for each other.  If that sounds maudlin, let it be.  Our two families are still strong and together, and for that I am grateful.  I remember being made to feel welcome, always, in the Sellers home.  I remember images, too numerous to mention here, but loving memories of laughter, celebration and drunken insanity.  It was okay to be silly in the Seller home.  Don was an original “foodie.”  He loved to concoct amazing dinners and new cocktails.  He was a recipe-sharer with enough ideas for a spread, to feed all of Virginia Beach. 

Don’s infamous “Hot Damn” cocktail comes to mind, as does his “Monkey Madness” and “Peachy Keen.”  Don’s favorite word had to be “Damn.”  He would say it all the time.  If you asked him how his smoked chicken was going, you were certain to get a “God damn, it’s good.”  “God damn it.”  “Damn, that’s good stuff.”  “God damn it, that’s a beautiful ring.”  Yup.  I miss you already, Don.  Thank you for the gift of appreciation.  Thank you for introducing me to the world of gemstones, precious metals and antiques.   The jewelry and hallmark books you gave me are priceless and I will never part with them - they are part of you.  You knew that they were meant to be shared, so thank you.  Every time I pick up a loupe, I think of you.  You and I will always share that love of marks, hidden secrets, magic and the value of authenticity.  

You were a genuine article Don, authentic to the core.  Rest in peace and love, always.  Dan

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Fushimi ~ A Brooklyn Restaurant Review

Anyone who doesn't like this ridiculous restaurant for everything it is, obviously has never seen a Quinton Tarantino or old James Bond movie.  Granted, QT's movies are usually based on pop culture icons and James Bond is a cultural icon himself, but I digress.  Both would fit right at home here in this slick, overly polished, Spencer Gifts-like sushi trap.  The bar looks like a 1980's mall arcade.   You know the type, the arcade that always seemed to be right next to the double cinema center near the rear exit?  Exactly, Fushimi’s bar looks like that arcade.  The bar has big TV's, playing big sports games, but nobody is watching, because at least on the night I was there, the only people milling around the bar, where the young, pretty Asian Fushimi employees.  In the dim light, their meandering shadows and the eerie gentleman at the front host stand, seemed to have come straight out of "You Only Live Twice," but instead of the twanging guitars and horn section of Bond’s Theme, you get the frantic dance beats of Super Junior.

The dining room fits right along with the bar, but it’s way more fun!  There should be a bold sign outside the restaurant on Driggs Avenue that reads, “Dose before Dinner.”  The dining area is a psychedelic cocktail of a space, straight from some obscure hi-tech Tokyo disco.  It features huge murals of imperial geishas, hovering chrome bubbles, deep circular booths, shattered glass sculptures and wall dividers, all accentuated by lighting that must have been designed by an ex-employee, straight from Cirque du Soleil, via The Grand Prospect Hall.   Electric purples, trippy ice blues and piercing reds dominate the dining room interior with all the subtlety of Pulp Fiction.  In fact, if “Jack Rabbit Slims” had been a “Fushimi,” John and Uma would have sang Karaoke, eaten bad Chicken Teriyaki and it would have worked, except no one would have believed it was in Brooklyn.  

So take all of that and add the fact that this is actually a white tablecloth restaurant.  Fushimi has nice silverware, monogrammed menus, an extensive wine list and huge menu.   The server was very nice and I’m sorry, but the last time I was handed a piping-hot towel to clean my hands before eating was on Singapore Air, on my way to Amsterdam.  My Chicken Teriyaki was boring and not very good, but I suppose that’s what I get for ordering so pedestrian in a sushi restaurant.  Since I spent the entire meal taking in the extensive décor, I came to the conclusion that Fushimi is what it is: a mediocre chain restaurant out of Bay Ridge with a trippy design, except it’s in Williamsburg.  We locals have already lost the war.  We have a bowling alley that belongs in Time Square, a Hotel and luxury high-rises.  Just accept the fact that we now have a Japanese restaurant where you have to make your way through a Logan’s Run portal, packed with giggling college students taking photos, just to use the John.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Return of the Brooklyn Flea

Kent Avenue is back, buzzing and kicking Williamsburg’s Northside into a Spring frenzy. With both Smorgasburg on Saturdays and Sunday’s Brooklyn Flea both thriving on the East River, there’s once again plenty to do on the weekends. In the past, the Brooklyn Flea (Williamsburg wing) left a lot to be desired. With a huge emphasis placed on locally prepared food and less on antiques, collectibles and cool stuff, the Brooklyn Flea of the past, seemed more of a distraction and a bombardment of ideas, rather than an all-out flea market. This year it seems that with better planning, better space and better vendors, the Brooklyn Flea for the most part, is improving and worth a rummage. First off, the market is easier to navigate. It doesn’t seem quite so crowded with people walking and devouring pork sandwiches and fried dough.

Located directly in the center of the market, there’s now a much-needed seating area, filled with picnic tables for foragers and those in need of a bit of respite. For those who don’t want to sit in the hot sun, there’s always the outer shaded grassy area, next to the Brooklyn Edge’s promenade. Silly yes, and whether you like it or not, Billburg does have a promenade now. Stretching from North 6th Street, to North 4th, it includes, benches, grassy areas, the East River Water Taxi, and there’s even a pier now, just in case you want to catch your own fish, straight out of the East River (barf).

There seems to be more actual antique & collectible folks at the flea this year. The arts & crafts vendors of the past are still there, but now at least, these creative vendors have really stepped up their game. Some of the booths I saw on Sunday were not only cool, but clever as well.

First off, even though LP vinyl is making a comeback and people are returning to listening to records at home and in clubs, that doesn’t answer the problematic question of what to do with the piles of all the crap records you don’t want anymore or the LPs that have been damaged, etc. Well, “WRecords by Monkey” simply makes cool stuff out of them. They transform the unwanted LPs into jewelry, iphone protective cases, wallets and other utilitarian items. Cool and practical, this awesome idea really caught my attention, so best of luck to them.

Also clever and practical were the handmade Victorian-style scented pendants that were on sale by the crafts people at “Treehouse Brooklyn.” These simple porcelain decorated pendants act in the exact fashion as old Victorian snuff bottles, sachets or tussie-mussies. Think about it. New York, especially in summer, is not the most pleasant-smelling city in the world. This we all know.
In ages past, Victorian ladies were quick to clutch onto a scented sachet and fling in directly under their nose to protect their delicate nostrils from the horrid odors of rotting streets and beggars, now you too can put your favorite scented oil or fragrance on a small cotton ball, place it inside one of these Victorian pendants, and it’s off to Fresh Kills or Time Square with ya.

One thing rang true on Sunday at the Brooklyn Flea, and it couldn’t have made me happier. It would seem that we are in a true early 20th century revival. Along with the Victorian scented pendants, there were some incredible floor and table lamps on display, some made from solid brass and agate. The ones I saw were actually marked Akro Agate Company and positively screamed Deco. There were also some nice acid etched glass lamp globes to go with them, also from the early 20th.

“Invisible Gallery” touched on some true Victorian and TOC notions with their macabre, eerie and preternatural offerings, including what seemed to be an authentic human skull (I don't think it was for sale), some vintage Gypsy Witch fortune telling cards, some Velva-devil paintings depicting a red devil with playing cards and an old spirit board (Hasko Mystic Tray actually, not a Parker Brothers Ouiji board). All of “Invisible Gallery’s” items, including their huge vintage movie posters, brimmed with authenticity. 

One of the finest booth display, easily belonged to “Hunters & Gatherers.” This inviting booth was loaded with magnificent brass and hand-forged metal fixtures, vintage spittoons, candleholders, bookends, all with a clear emphasis on “brass.”

Along with the metal finery, it was impossible not to notice the plethora of nautical themes and creatures. This superb booth was over-flowing with taxidermy alligator heads, seashells, tortoise shells and coral. One can only assume that the alligators were either procured legally, fished out from the East River by hand or perhaps out of a New York City sewer. Regardless, the browsing at “Hunters & Gatherers” was just as good if not better than any shop on Bedford Avenue, so well done there.

So a good time was had at the Brooklyn Flea in Sunday. The items were better, they have an ATM now and there’s a pleasant vibe. Still I have yet to purchase anything at the Brooklyn Flea apart from last year’s rare vendor who actually was selling coins. If the Brooklyn Flea gets more clever vendors, and more legit vendors with vintage items such as antique glass, artwork, coins, memorabilia and primitives, Williamsburg will finally have a flea market to flock to. Sure, we love the tee shirts and the furniture, but they better get on it, because rumor has it that there’s a great big pool opening off of McCarren Park this Summer, and that’s sure to pull some folks, myself included, to Greenpoint.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Aging Gracefully – Ruth Geyer: a Century of Life

The little girl in the front row holding the teddy bear has a birthday today. Today is the birthday of my Grandmother Ruth Geyer (Mum), as she was born today, April 9, 1912, making her a century old. My Grandmother was born the day Titanic left Queenstown, Ireland, on it’s maiden voyage to America. 100 years is an incredibly long time to have lived that’s for certain, but it’s another thing all together for someone else to conceive that length of time on the earth. Good thing that history can set that straight, right away. The Titanic’s maiden voyage splashed across the front pages just five days after Mum’s birth, there was a world-wide ban on Opium, the Girl Scouts of America was born and William Howard Taft was President. Mum was born in Bedford County Pennsylvania, only 7 years after the first movie theatre in the country opened in Pittsburgh, the major city, located an hour and a half away.

My Grandmother is a survivor. Being of sturdy German blood, her resilience was first tested with the terrible and sudden death of both of her parents to the Spanish Flu in 1918, which orphaned her at a very early age. Mum stayed and grew up in Bedford County, until she married Orville Sellers (Pap) and moved to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where Pap owned the Conemaugh Brewery, among his many business ventures. Pap was also a land investor and was often travelling, while Mum worked as a practical nurse. Then came my Uncle Don Sellers and my Mom, Leta. I spent a great deal of time with Mum when I was a kid. She always had a “Barrel Full of Monkeys” for us
to play with and as I got older, of 
course I had the joy of cutting her grass. Thanks, Grandma! She continues to make me laugh, she is and always will be a lover of children and animals; memories abound with her bevy of dachshunds, poodles and white long-haired cats. She was an avid auction-goer too, one hell of a pinochle player, her pork roast was the best and she also used to slip us “sundaes” with vanilla ice cream, topped with green Crème de’ Menthe. The photo above was taken at Thanksgiving many years ago. My Sister Susan had expressed an interest in learning how to make candy. Mum's response was, "Leta, get out the marble slabs." Three generations are present in the this photo: my Sister, Mother and Mum.

Mum is ornery. She is an observer of life. Even the nurses at her retirement community call her “The Queen.” She seems to reign over all at Churchman’s Village, as she sits and observes. She is convinced that everyone there at Churchman’s Village is related to her. Everyone that works there is a Shaffer. She will sit there and point to all the “Shaffers” in the room. Once, my Mother and I were with Mum in the cafeteria when she spotted a rather large African American family of about 14 people. She turned to my Mom, and with a subtle aside, commented, “they’re all Shaffers.” To be there is just hysterical. I visit her as often as I can, she’s in good hands. How can she not be, they’re all Shaffers. I speak of her in past tense, only to point out that the memories are still strong. She’s 100 years young in my book. I assure you that the bartender from Brooklyn will be sneaking into Churchman’s Village with an Old Fashioned in a plastic cup just for her. She deserves it!

Finally, my favorite quote. Once my brother Tim was in the kitchen, and every other word out of his mouth was “fuck.” He just wouldn’t let up, until finally my Grandma shouted, “would you please stop swearing, just stop already!” Tim leaned down to hug her. “I’m sorry Grandma.” “That’s okay,” she said, “you’re my fucking Grandson.”

Happy Birthday Grandma!