A collection of Collectors

Published: Friday, January 21, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 20, 2005 at 10:17 p.m.
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Mary Christopherson collects Titanic memorabilia, from old newspaper clips to movies. The front page of The Detroit News, seen in the background, erroneously reported that all passengers had been rescued before the Titanic sank.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun


Collectors Day

  • What: Florida Museum of Natural History's 26th Annual Collectors Day
  • When: Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Where: Powell Hall, Southwest 34th Street and Hull Road
  • Cost: Free
  • Guest Speakers: Tom Emmel, McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity director, "Collecting Butterflies with Net and Camera," 11 a.m.; Gordon Hubbell, president of Jaws International, "From Hobby to Obsession," 1 p.m.; Elise LeCompte, Florida Museum registrar, "Preserving your Collection," 3 p.m.
  • For more information: Call (352) 846-2000, ext. 246

  • One day a year, spatulas meet antique microscopes, potato mashers share space with James Bond memorabilia, and corkscrews surround fast-food toys.
    Nearly 2,000 people will likely flock to see these seemingly random items, because these spatulas and corkscrews happen to be among somebody's most prized possessions. They are some of the approximately 100 collections that will be displayed Saturday at the Florida Museum of Natural History's Collectors Day.
    The event boasts a wide assortment of collections, large and small. This year, museum staff will see collections of fishing flies, carousel horses, pigs and lighthouses. Visitors can also expect ocean-liner memorabilia, motorcycles and antique cars, usually set up outside.
    "Anything you can think of, someone probably collects it," said Paul Ramey, director of marketing and public relations at the museum. "There's something there for everyone."
    Like many museums, the Florida Museum began with a single collector. Natural-science professor Frank Pickel purchased research collections of fossils and minerals for teaching aids in 1891. Later, more professors began to donate.
    The first Collectors Day in 1980 had about 20 collectors and 450 visitors. It served as a way to showcase private collections and also to demonstrate the variety of types of collections.
    "The strength of our museum is in our collections," Ramey said. "It just makes sense that we would host this type of an event."
    Mary Christopherson of Gainesville, a collector of Titanic memorabilia, began attending Collectors Day in the late 1980s. At that time, she collected motion-picture memorabilia, but in later years, she developed an interest in the Titanic.
    Her collection began with a book about the doomed ship, "A Night to Remember," by Walter Lord, and developed from there.
    The more I learn about it, the more questions I have," she said. "It's the thrill of discovering. It's sort of like you have the edge on a normal person."
    Today, she owns more than 20 books and movies, two board games, a bell and lifesaver with "Titanic" written on them, miniature ships, newspaper pages from 1912, and a thick, wieldy scrapbook containing mostly modern newspaper clips. She has one piece of memorabilia that comes directly from the ship - a piece of coal she bought for $25.
    A perk of regularly attending Collectors Day is that visitors are able to approach collectors with new items to add to their collections.
    Such was the case with one of Christopherson's favorite pieces. Two years ago, a woman came to Christopherson's table with a letter from Harold Godfrey Lowe, an officer on the Titanic. Lowe wrote a letter to the woman's aunt shortly after the crash. The woman had brought a copy of her aunt's letter to donate to Christopherson's collection.
    "People are very generous," she said.
    Treasured items and entire collections are often passed along from person to person. An old collectors' rule says that collections can never be sold for money.
    This year at Collectors Day, Les Singleton of Micanopy will display a collection that his friend, Barbara Raney, passed along to him. Raney's life passion was collecting turtle figurines from around the world. Raney, who died in September, had arranged to have her turtles passed on to Singleton.
    Singleton's wife, Addie, has displayed a Coke memorabilia collection at Collectors Day since the 1980s, so he has attended the event many times. This time, though, he will display the collection he inherited from Laney.
    "I feel privileged to display something that meant so much to Barbara," Singleton said.
    The turtles range in shape and size. Some come from exotic locations like Guatemala, Thailand, Peru and Indonesia. One figure from Japan has three turtles stacked on top of each other. The turtle on top has a slit in its shell for coins. Singleton's favorite turtle comes from Mexico. Called an "ocarina," the brown turtle has four holes on its back, and produces sounds when air is blown into it. The smallest turtles are no bigger than a thumbnail.
    Within the collection is a framed certificate of adoption from the Micanopy Historical Society. Raney was an active member in the society for many years, so when she died, members of the society bought an endangered green sea turtle in her name. They purchased the adoption through the Sea Turtle Survival League and the Caribbean Conservation Corporation.
    "There's a turtle swimming around in the ocean some place named Barbara," Singleton said.
    Singleton's newly inherited collection also includes a turtle letter opener, magnet, magnifying glass, backscratcher, coins, books, candles, stuffed animals and stamps.
    Though Singleton had no particular attachment to turtle figurines before he inherited the collection, he now enjoys the objects for the same reason most collectors do. They are fun, they are interesting, and they hold a sentimental tie.
    "It's something to remember Barbara by," he said.

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