Tag Archives: Collectors

New Abraham Lincoln Features Debut at the National Museum of Funeral History

NOTE: You will recall that the curator of the museum was a guest with us earlier this year.
Celebrating the life and legacy of our nation’s 16th President in honor of the 150th anniversary of his death and funeral

HOUSTON, TEXAS – April 15, 2015 – The National Museum of Funeral History celebrates the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln and commemorates the 150th anniversary of his death (on April 15, 1865) and subsequent funerals (in early May 1865) with the addition of new Lincoln-related artifacts and displays to the Museum’s Presidential Funerals exhibit.

The National Museum of Funeral History is adding a new section to its Presidential Funerals exhibit entitled “The Faces of Abe,” a chronological portrait history of Lincoln featuring 20 images which illustrate the change in Lincoln’s appearance over a nearly 20 year period, featuring both his pre-presidency and presidency years. Visitors will see firsthand how Lincoln’s appearance naturally matured in the years leading up to his presidency and then witness the drastic transformation, particularly to his facial features, over the course of his four years as president, as his role as our nation’s leader took its toll on him.

Additionally, the Museum will display a replica of Abraham Lincoln’s 1865 “death mask,” the original of which was cast using wet plaster to the face after his assassination. This exact replica, which even shows the bullet indention on Lincoln’s scalp where he was shot, was created by a local Houston area artist. Historically, death masks and their “life mask” counterparts were often created by sculptors or portraitists on either living subjects or the recently deceased before the age of photography to immortalize a person’s likeness. During his lifetime, Lincoln also had two life masks of himself casted.

In conjunction with Lincoln’s life mask and portrait history, the Museum also will feature the diaries of Anna B. Temple, a young 14-year-old girl living in Chester County, Pennsylvania in the 1800s. In January 1859, Temple began Ann Templekeeping a diary and continued her entries through the Civil War in 1865. These accounts were published in 1990 and include two pages of her own report on hearing the news of Lincoln’s death. The Museum has copies of Temple’s diaries available for sale in the Museum’s gift shop.

For the past year, the Museum has been “Looking for Lincoln” as part of its “Leave us your Lincoln” campaign, which encouraged visitors to leave their “Lincoln cash” – five dollar bills and /or pennies – to help support the Museum’s efforts to bring more Lincoln artifacts to the Presidential Funeral’s exhibit. Additionally, the Museum was relying on museum-goers to help fill the Lincoln Penny Folder, which features pennies that have been minted from as far back as 1909, as that was the first year Lincoln was ever featured on U.S. currency. As an unexpected result of this “call to action,” the Museum wound up receiving coins (and even some stamps!) from contributors around the country, including a collection of rare Lincoln coins and stamps from the early 1900s. Sure to be a hit amongst coin and stamp collectors, the rare collection will debut on June 20 as a new permanent feature to the Presidential Funerals exhibit. A few highlights from the collection – a penny from 1910 and an authenticated collection of six stamps commemorating the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, including a 4¢ Lincoln stamp from 1959 in honor of the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, a 25¢ Frederick Douglas stamp from 1967, a 13¢ Harriet Tubman stamp from 1978 and more. Additionally, coin enthusiasts will marvel at the Museum’s “Money Casket,” a custom-made casket made with authentic dollar bills and coins, featured in the Coffins & Caskets of the Past exhibit.

Market for collectibles fluctuates as items age

70p2.previewI’m often asked this question by collectors who are hoping that their prized items have appreciated in value: “What is this worth?”

Let’s say rather than antiques, your quality collectibles are going to hold their value. The thing we have to look at is that collectibles are what we call cyclical. They go in cycles. It’s who wants them. How many collectors are still around who want a particular item?

I look in these older magazines at pieces of art glass that sold for $8,000 and $10,000 and say OK, that was a beautiful piece of art glass. It was worth that kind of money then. What’s it bringing now? It’s probably bringing $4,000 to $6,000.

Does that mean it’s not as good a quality? Does that mean that it’s not as rare as it was 20 years ago? No, that’s not what it means. What it means is that 20 years later, there’ are probably fewer people who collect that item who could appreciate the quality of what they haveI use this example all the time: With antique cars, vehicles from the 1920s and 30s used to bring ridiculous money at auctions 20 years ago. Now, stuff from the 1960s and ’70s is bringing crazy money. Why? Because the guys who grew up with cars from the 1920s and ’30s are no longer collectors or they’ve passed away. The baby boomers who grew up in the 1950s and remember riding in dad’s Chevy Impala or his GTO want to be able to have a part of that history, or they want to be a part of that era, and they have the money to pay for it. So now, they’re into collecting the antique cars.

The same thing with the art glass that was made in the early 1900s. Lots of older people collected it. They remember growing up with it. The newer generation of people can lots of times appreciate the quality and rarity, but there’s not as much of a market these days that says, “We’re going to compete for this particular piece.” It’s just not there. This is what we run into with collectibles. But if you decide you’re going to get involved in collectibles, like I’ve always said, enjoy it. When you pick your collectible up at the end of the night, you fondle it, you touch it, and if it makes you smile, by all means, collect it.

If you’re buying collectibles as an investment, remember that you want to buy the best quality you can afford. You want to know that it’s genuine because once collectibles become expensive and they’re worth money, there’s always going to be somebody out there counterfeiting those items, copying them and aging them so they look old, and trying to sell them to a collector who’s a novice and hasn’t gained enough knowledge to know the difference. Know who you’re dealing with. Make sure that person from whom you buy collectibles will stand behind the items with a guarantee, not just give an opinion. Put it in writing that the seller guarantees the item to be genuine.If you take a collectible to someone who is more knowledgeable and get an opinion that the item is not genuine, make sure the person has the credentials to make that call. There are a lot of selfproclaimed experts out there. Deal with someone who has been doing transactions such as these for years. A reputable dealer will stand behind his or her opinion in writing.

Courtesy of Florida Weekly.

Why did people lose their minds over Beanie Babies?

By Mark Joseph Stern of “Slate On Line”

In July of 1999, I traveled with my family to Tenby, Wales. The town is said to be picturesque, but I have no memory of its scenery—except for a small toy store we passed on our drive in. As soon as we settled into our hotel, my sister and I begged our father to trek to the shop and search for the Britannia Beanie Baby, sold exclusively in the United Kingdom. The Britannia bear wasn’t just a toy, we explained; it was an investment, projected to be worth thousands of dollars within a decade. Our father capitulated and bought us each a Britannia bear, which we dutifully kept in mint condition with the tag intact, reveling in its rarity while dreaming of the day it would be a hugely valuable collector’s item

One month later, the company that developed Beanie Babies abruptly announced that it would stop producing the toys at the end of the year, both anticipating and precipitating the burst of the Beanie Babies bubble. Sellers panicked, buyers lost interest, and by the start of the new millennium, Beanie Babies had swung from an economic and cultural phenomenon to a tired punch line. Today, the Britannia Beanie Baby sells for $10 on eBay. My own Britannia lies buried in a box in the back of my closet along with hundreds of other Beanie Babies, where it has sat, untouched, for 15 years.

Frances Mountain, left, sorts out Beanie Babies with her ex-husband, Harold Mountain, in a Las Vegas courtroom in 1999. The couple was unable to split the collection by themselves, so they spread it on the courtroom floor and divided it up under the judge’s supervision. Maple the Bear was the first to go.

Frances Mountain, left, sorts out Beanie Babies with her ex-husband, Harold Mountain, in a Las Vegas courtroom in 1999. The couple was unable to split the collection by themselves, so they spread it on the courtroom floor and divided it up under the judge’s supervision. Maple the Bear was the first to go.

From this distance, it’s easy to laugh at Beanie Baby fever, to mock it as just another pointless fad in a chintzy, hollow decade. But in the latter part of the 1990s, Beanie Babies were so much more than a fad: They were a mania, an obsession that ensnared not just gullible children but also otherwise responsible adults who lost all sense of perspective over these plush playthings. People sold—and bought—some rare Beanie Babies for $5,000 each and expected others to skyrocket in value within a decade. (Collectors were careful to keep each toy’s tag attached and protected by a plastic case; a Beanie Baby’s worth was said to fall by 50 percent once the tag was removed.) Looking back, it’s clear that the Beanie Baby craze was an economic bubble, fueled by frenzied speculation and blatantly baseless optimism. Bubbles are quite common, but bubbles over toys are not. Why did America lose its mind over stuffed animals

Zac Bissonnette’s new book The Great Beanie Baby Bubble does an excellent job explaining the basic economic factors behind Beanie Babies’ success. Ty Warner, the mastermind behind the toys, had a remarkable talent for manipulating supply and demand. (He’s also a borderline recluse and a profoundly troubled man; among other things, Warner repeatedly dated the same women as his father—at the same time—and became a plastic surgery addict.) First, Warner understuffed his toys so that they were flexible and “looked real,” in his words. Second, he sold only small batches of each new Beanie Baby to independent businesses, refusing to supply large quantities to big-box retailers and fixing the price of each toy at $5. Third, Warner “retired” every animal after a fairly short amount of time, introducing a new toy in its stead. This strategy created a near-hysteria each time a Beanie Baby was released, sending fans rushing out to local stores to buy the new toy before supplies disappeared forever.

All of this explains, in simple market terms, how Warner manipulated supply and demand to build a frenzy for his product. But Bissonnette’s book is disappointingly short on psychological explanations for why Americans were eager to shell out at least hundreds of millions of dollars for rather conventional toys. (The total spent on Beanie Babies is unclear because ever-secretive Warner refused to release his company’s earnings.) In one sardonic passage, Bissonnette cites Sigmund Freud’s belief that “the root of collecting” lies in “sex and toilet training,” as “the collector … directs his surplus libido into an inanimate object: a love of things.” Bissonnette also hypothesizes that collecting Beanie Babies “reflect[s] a regression to the soothing and comfort provided by objects during childhood,” and that the acquisition of a scarce, valued item activates our endorphins.

While Freudian theory hasn’t held up well to scientific analysis, some sort of mental disturbance might account for the more extreme cases of Beanie Baby addiction—like the retired soap opera star who lost his children’s six-figure college fund investing in the toys, or the man who committed murder over what a detective described as a “Beanie Baby deal gone bad.” But does it really explain what sent millions of Americans—soccer moms and CEOs, blue-collar workers and yuppies, Ph.D.s and high-school dropouts—utterly bonkers over a brand of plush stuffed animals?

A paper by David Tuckett and Richard Taffler, two economics professors with training in psychoanalytical theory, suggests Bissonnette’s conjecture isn’t that far off. Tuckett and Taffler specifically examine the dot-com bubble, but their theory applies to all modern bubbles. According to the economists, humans occasionally view exciting new creations as “phantastic objects,” which overwhelm us and skew our sense of reason. Our brains begin to tell us that by obtaining these “magical” objects, we will achieve some profound level of satisfaction—something akin to transcendence. The thrill of the chase then muffles our ability to rationally evaluate the actual worth of the object, and others’ willingness to go along with our fantasy reinforces our suspension of logic.

All this theorizing may sound like so much argle-bargle. But the meat of Tuckett and Taffler’s thesis builds on a famous theory of bubbles by renowned economist Charles Kindleberger. According to Kindleberger, every bubble has four basic stages: a grand new development that shocks the market; “euphoria” over that development; a sudden “boom” in sales and speculation; and, eventually, panic when the bubble bursts. Tuckett and Taffler approve of Kindleberger’s model, adding a coda—“revulsion”—to describe the collective hangover society experiences when it realizes it has invested in junk.

In the Kindleberger model (with the Tuckett/Taffler twist), Beanie Babies are a kind of magical object whose plush perfection captured the imagination of a small subset of early adopters. Soon Beanie Baby collectors sprang up to spread the toy’s transcendent joy, and then everybody needed each new Beanie Baby to complete his or her collection. But Warner limited the number of each animal produced, leading both buyers and sellers scrambling to purchase new releases and, in the process, wildly overvaluing their worth. Eventually, the fantasy faded—for most people, after all, Beanie Babies do not bring about nirvana—and the bubble burst. Buyers lost interest, sellers struggled to offload their surpluses, and the whole country felt rather gross about fixating on stuffed animals.

Andrew Odlyzko, a mathematician and bubble expert, proposes a simpler theory explaining speculative panics in his study on the British Railway Mania of the 1840s. Odlyzko credits Railway Mania in part to a “collective hallucination,” an extreme form of groupthink wherein a significant chunk of society feverishly buys into a shared dream with no regard for the skeptics and naysayers. (Some scholars think Jesus’ resurrection might have been an acute instance of collective hallucination.)

The existence of groupthink has been confirmed in a rich assortment of studies, and Odlyzko’s theory expands the idea to economic bubbles. Under his analysis, the initial coterie of Beanie Baby collectors comprised an in-group that shared the great secret of Beanie Babies’ worth. As more people discovered the toy, they yearned to learn this secret and partake in the impending financial success of the Beanie Babies market. Soon, millions of Americans were gripped by the conviction that they had discovered an easy path to personal wealth. And thanks to their collective hallucination of Beanie Babies’ worth, none of these collectors ever realized that the only thing driving the Beanie Babies market was their own conviction that the toys were valuable.

These theories may explain the mass delusions that enabled a large chunk of the country to believe that a $5 Beanie Baby could eventually be worth thousands. What they never quite get at, however, is that initial spark of fascination: how the ineffable appeal of Beanie Babies turned them, and not one of a thousand other 1990s trends, into a collective mania. That allure can probably never be quantified

But those who once loved Beanie Babies may still remember it. I certainly do, because I remember when I got my very first Beanie Baby. I was 7 and had just woken up from adenoidectomy surgery to see a family friend through the anesthesia haze. She leaned over my bed and laid Bruno the Bull Terrier Dog by my head. I grabbed Bruno, closed my eyes as the room started spinning, and threw up. Bruno stayed with me through my convalescence, and long after I lost interest in Beanie Babies, he remained perched on my nightstand. There was something sweet and comforting and innocent about him, something so tender and gentle and warm. Bruno was the kind of toy Ty Warner was trying to make for children when he accidentally created a speculative mania for adults.

In 2013, Warner pleaded guilty to tax evasion after admitting to hiding millions of dollars in a Swiss bank account. He was sentenced to probation but may face years of prison time if the Justice Department’s appeal is successful. Bruno the Bull Terrier Dog now sits at the back of my closet with hundreds of other floppy, forlorn toys. Today he sells for 36 cents, with the tag still attached.

The National Museum of Funeral History Where They Put the Fun Back In Funeral


Authentic mourning clothing on display illustrates the strict rules that governed the life of a woman following her husband's death;  as shown here.

Authentic mourning clothing on display illustrates the strict rules that governed the life of a woman following her husband’s death; as shown here.

This week on The Collectors Show we learn about collecting funeral and mortuary items. To listen to the Collectors Show, go to www.webtalkradio.net or iTunes.

You may recall a few weeks ago I mentioned in the news segment that there were a number of museums that were, non-traditional. The National Museum of Funeral History was one of them and their president is who we will be talking with today. I like to talk with people from museums because most started with a collection that belonged to someone or was inspired by someone and that is again the case this week. We will be talking with Genevieve Keeney who is the president of the National Museum of Funeral History, which is located in Houston, Texas.

When I first read about the museum, I thought it was a Halloween attraction. After all the word, “funeral” has a lot of baggage attached to it. Genevieve said it was like climbing a mountain to get people to recognize that the museum was about honoring deceased loved ones and their memories and not a seasonal attraction. This was and is an ancient tradition. She felt like this was an association she did not want, until about 3 years ago.

The museum did attract more attention during October, so she decided it was O.K. to be associated with Halloween as a way to raise money for charity. So in the name of good works and generosity they now have an annual “haunted house”. According to Genevieve they put the “fun” back in funeral.

The collection started with a Mr. R.L. Waltrip who was the founder and chairman of Service Corporation of America. Service Corp is in the funeral home and cemetery business on a very big scale. While building up his business and buying privately owned funeral homes, their equipment was being discarded. What do you do with an old embalming machine? Mr. Waltrip saw that so much of his industry’s history was literally being thrown out and he was not happy about it. He wanted a place to tell the story about the tradition, science and advancement of his trade. So he founded the museum. Funerals reflect culture and how people celebrate and commemorate the life of their family and friends. We share memories and honor the fact that there is a void left in our lives with the person who is gone. While this is not a traditional collection (like stamps or coins) it is still one that is culturally significant.


So much of the science associated with funerals deals with chemistry and that chemistry with embalming. The goal is to present loved ones in a way that makes their appearance such that it is a good and last memory for the loved ones. It is part science and part art with little room for error as Genevieve explains.

Two of the most interesting exhibits at the museum deal with the evolution of embalming, starting with the Egyptians. Later, hand pumps, gravity bottles and now machinery inject embalming chemicals into the deceased. Progress marches on.

Hearses, they are not just cars

The hearse collection at the museum starts with the horse drawn hearse, through to the hand cranked first automobiles through to the hearses of today. And big engines? Yes, the engines from the mid-twentieth century were enormous. They have the hoods up so car enthusiasts can look at the motors.

Caskets or Coffins and What is the Difference?

There is a difference and it deals with the shape of the lid. Coffins are contour to the body, wide at the top and narrower at the bottom. Caskets are square and the lid is a single piece that comes off in one piece. Of course now there are combinations or hybrids (my word) of the classic coffin/casket design.

Fantasy from Ghana

These are caskets made to reflect what the person achieved in this life and what they hope to achieve in the next. They look like garden sculptures or part of a ride at an amusement park. They are nothing like what we in the U.S. expect to see at a funeral, but that is not a bad thing, just a culturally different thing. These style caskets are not allowed in churches but are still popular, though services with them have to be outside. There are several of these in the collection.

Saved by the Bells Inside the Coffin

During the 14th and 15th century there was the realization that, whoops, we buried someone alive. Lacking the technology and skill to know that someone was still alive prior to burial, inventors did the next best thing and tied a string was tied to the finger of the deceased. The string was attached to a series of pulleys that rang a bell, when or if the deceased started to move. Hence, the expression “saved by the bell”. No records about how many people were saved exist but it is safe to say enough were mistakenly buried to make it worthwhile.


In addition to the haunted house, there is a fall Dracula event. I do not know about anyone else, but me dressed as Dracula at the museum is going to look really good on my Face Book page. In June, 2015 the Professional Car Society will be there with fire trucks, ambulances, hearses and the ambulance/hearse combination. I’m not sure how I feel about the ambulance hearse combo. I picture someone changing the sign on the car while en-route to the hospital when their passenger does not make it. Yikes.

Stay up to date with everything going on by visiting their page at www.NMSH.org


A Collection of Lost Grateful Dead Recordings Are Found

Losing Then Grateful for Finding the Dead

 2015 will mark 50 years of The Grateful Dead. During their 30 year career, the Grateful Dead played 2,300 live shows. Of those about 1,700 were recorded and archived. So who cares, right?

It’s not like the Dead were ever huge chart toppers or hit makers. Name a hit song by the group. See? But the number of top ten hits is not what makes this group special. What does make them more noteworthy than anything else was and is the loyalty of their fans and the groups’ devotion to them in turn. David Meerman Scott wrote a whole book about this, “Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn from the Most Iconic Band in History.”

So in 2013 when Carolyn Garcia (Jerry’s former wife) mentioned that she’d found a small box of reels among Garcia’s belongings, and she read off the labels. David Lemieux, archivist who knows the Dead’s collection better than anyone, instantly recognized that they had struck audio gold. Lemieux had Garcia send the reels to sound engineer Jeffrey Norman, who eventually gave him the good news: these were indeed recordings they didn’t know existed, and better yet, they were from very important eras. Despite the fact that the reel sat for 43 years in less than optimal storage conditions, Lemieux says the sound quality is great — it’s an Owsley Stanley soundboard recording. Even more important, the performance quality is outstanding.

“It’s a show of incredible historical significance,” Lemieux told Rolling Stone, “because it’s the Grateful Dead, but they weren’t billed as the Dead.” The show was promoted as Mickey Hart and the Heartbeats and Bobby Ace and the Cards from the Bottom of the Deck, giving the Dead an extraordinary amount of freedom to do whatever they wanted.

“So they didn’t perform a full three- or four-hour electric psychedelic Grateful Dead concert,” Lemieux said. “They played an acoustic set, and it was a long one.”

The 80-minute show ends with Ron “Pigpen” McKernan playing six songs solo acoustic, sitting on a stool and building his legacy as not only an incredible bluesman, but also an especially adept guitar player.

April of 1970 was what Lemieux – who hates the terms “crossroads” and “reinventing” – describes as a “transitional” time for the Dead. A month before this particular show the band had been in the studio recording Workingman’s Dead, and a little later in the spring and early summer they went back to record American Beauty. Widely considered the Dead’s two classic acoustic albums, those records were a departure from their Sixties sound. “[This is] massively transitional Dead,” he emphasized. Lemieux said that they’ve got a host of new stuff planned for the 50th year Grateful Dead anniversary in 2015, and for the 2014 releases due out this spring. He said there was a show from 1971 in Garcia’s box that’s “really hot” and has no known set list and hinted that he’s been immersed in 1983 and 1984 Dead.

“People are going to be pretty shocked by what’s to come,” he promised. A self-described “vinyl-head,” Lemieux considers the Family Dog show the perfect Record Store Day Release. According to Norman, who still does all the Grateful Dead mastering, the vinyl versions of the shows are “like listening to them in color for the first time.” As an archivist, though, this show is particularly exciting for Lemieux, because it means that come Black Friday fans will be able to hear something no one knew existed six months ago. “It’s very rare, it’s unique, and collectors are going to flip out on it,” he said.

In October, 2013 Rhino Records issued 7,500 vinyl copies of the lost show. A notice on the album cover says, “This rare recording was made on a non-professional machine at low level and contains some tape hiss and other undesirable stuff. Several procedures were employed to clarify the sound, but artifacts may still be heard. However, the music shines through, and the performance is too good not to bring to you.”




Over 800 Dummies Is A Whole Lot of Dummy

This week on The Collector’s Show we meet Lisa Sweasy, Curator/Director of the Vent Haven Museum. Many museums start based on the collection of a single person and that is the case this week.

The Vent (short for ventriloquism) Haven Museum is the only museum of its kind in the world.  It houses more than 800 figures, thousands of photographs, playbills, letters, and an extensive library of vent-related books, some of which date back to the 1700’s.

To hear The Collectors Show go to http://www.webtalkradio.net or iTunes.

Collecting Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments On The Collectors Show

This week on The Collectors Show (www.webtalkradio.net) we meet Kevin Dilmore of Hallmark. Kevin was a collector of Hallmark Keepsake ornaments before he was an employee. He is one of so many people we have on the program who take their collecting passion and make it into a full time career.

Kevin Dilmore of Hallmark is our guest on The Collectors Show.

Kevin Dilmore of Hallmark is our guest on The Collectors Show.

Ever since his mom taught him to read at age 2, Kevin has loved to figure out how stories work so he could make up his own to tell-usually ones with spaceships, aliens and weird science stuff. In his career, he has told stories with novels, children’s books, screenplays, newspaper articles and more, including Hallmark greeting cards and Keepsake Ornaments. Kevin grew up in central Kansas and graduated from the University of Kansas.

You will hear his enthusiasm for the topic in his voice. Of course there is always news from the world of collecting, one story in particular that made me laugh. This one is about an author who wrote a book that did not sell well. To drive some sales he signed books to create a collectible but is now unhappy that the collectibles are selling well and he is not getting paid. I say either write better books or become a book dealer.