Updating a Personal Collection
- by Bruce E. McKinney
Images bring the collection to life.
I write from time to time about my collection relating to the Hudson Valley of the State of New York. I’ve been collecting for sixty years and continue to be surprised by my changing interaction with this subject. I could say “evolving” but this seems to understate the speed with which my options for collecting change.
A book collector from an early age I soon learned about some forty-plus titles I should focus on. That a collection might include more than books was dismissed as requiring the complex alchemy of knowledge and opportunity. As to opportunity it was suggested I offer to clean out attics and garages as well as plan each year to get to the annual library fair early because sometimes interesting material might be sitting on the five-cent table but would quickly disappear. I would do all these things but found the occasional auction more interesting and profitable.
As to resources I was ordered to buy a copy of Howes’ Usiana and did so. The cost, $6.00, would turn out to be an investment that separated the 10 year old that I was from the hoi polloi. Knowledge was for the collector of books, it turned out, the friend of intuition for the material found rarely exactly lined up with the descriptions in reference books. You could think but you also had to feel.
In time ephemera began to emerge as the glue between the bricks. Paintings were also occasionally available but were difficult to acquire because often a bidder or two might decide to buy them no matter what and my budget through high school was limited to what I could earn.
With a job during and after college I began to have some cash and in the late 1960’s bought a framed portrait for $40 that, even today, faces our grand piano. It has aged well and come to anchor the collection I started then that has gradually broadened from books to manuscripts, maps, ephemera, money, furniture, objects and paintings. A collecting focus that began as a list of 44 titles has become an intensely focused view of Ulster County that today includes roughly 5,000 items. Go figure.
Collecting today of course is not the collecting it was when I was a kid. All collectors of a certain age see the world as “before” and “after” the Internet. With the Internet came the dawn of a new world, albeit one that, for years, clung stubbornly to the old model, mimicking bookshops even as they began to fold.
In that time I came to understand that I was collecting books because they were the closest I could get to collecting what I really wanted, which was to intensely collect the history of Ulster County. So, for the past ten years that’s what I have focused on – and learned that the internet has permitted obscure fields to be aggregated into very larger and consistent searches.
As to what this changing perspective has translated into here are some purchases I made over the past year. The material is eclectic and yet also precisely within the field I now pursue, a New York State county that most would pass by: Ulster and nearby places.
1. Poughkeepsie. A large lithograph I wrote about in February, 2017. It’s by Edwin Whitefield and dated 1852. It’s a minor gem. It was advertised in the Newtown Bee.
2. An Auction Poster. Beautifully printed, 20" w x 28" h. Announcing the postponement of an auction on the road between High Falls and Mohonk. Visually appealing.
3. The Toll Roads of Ulster County in 1824. An absolute gem. Roads would become public but were often private in the early 19th century.
4. A Map of the then border between Ulster and Albany Counties in 1765. Unique.
5. Early Stickley Furniture. A trestle desk, a sideboard, and a table and chairs.
Altogether, very special.