In 1975 I needed money for college tuition. I had a waist-high stack of comic books, including many of the first issues of Spider-Man I inherited from my brothers or bought myself. I sold that pile for the amazing sum of $150. If I had only held onto them, I would now be retired on my comic book wealth.
I think of that transaction during Friday noontime strolls through the Goshen Antique Mall. Since 1975 comic book prices have skyrocketed, as has the price for many other common items of bygone eras.
The antique mall is a fascinating place. There are many items there I recognize from being in my grandparents’ homes or my childhood home. What were once everyday items, say a trivet, have become collectible and far more valuable than back when.
I admire people who are antique experts and marvel at how they can remember which pickling crock was made by whom and how much a like item sold at auction recently. That’s their passion and their business, so they are good at it. Me, I have little interest in collecting anything. But I do occasionally buy antiques for their function.
My most recent desire is to obtain a “safety axe.” These are miniature hatchets that are just the right size to slip into a backpack for a hiking or kayaking trip. But because they are antiques, and highly collectible, they are pricey. The one at the mall is $165. That’s a high price to pay for the ability to split kindling.
Most antiques became obsolete for the simple reason that something better replaced them. Tools are a good example. There is a hand-driven drill press on display at the antique mall. It’s tough to crank a drill press with one hand and exert downward pressure with the other hand, all while trying to hold your wood so it can be drilled in the right place.
My modern drill press is electric powered, has variable speeds, a work light and a vice to clamp wood in place. It’s an example of how technology increases safety and productivity.
Technology moves forward constantly and the evidence is in kitchens, living rooms and workshops across America. Who wants to watch a black and white TV with a fuzzy picture brought in by rabbit ear antennas? What cook doesn’t like the convenience of non-stick frying pans?
Even the most recent of items are going obsolete quickly. Remember the early Nintendo games? My wife and I are empty nesters now and she has been cleaning out the kids’ former rooms. Some of the treasures she has found are electronic games the kids dropped like hot rocks when new devices came on the market. I expect that someday people will stroll through an antique mall and recall how they once played for hours a similar Game Boy on display.
The old and the new
I will continue my quest at antique shops for an old-time miniature axe, with yesteryear’s softer steel I can sharpen easily. If I find the right one, I will stuff it into my modern backpack made of exotic, modern fibers and I will then load that pack in my touring kayak made from the latest lightweight plastic polymers. I will paddle that kayak with a featherweight carbon fiber paddle and find my way across the water with the GPS on my iPhone.
When I pitch my nano-weight tent and rest by the campfire, I will fondly recall the good-old days, when camping out with antique equipment meant roughing it. By then I should need to split some more kindling.
Roger Schneider is business and city editor at The Goshen News. Read this and other staff blogs at the TGN blog spot at www.goshennews.com