A Solution in Search of a Problem: Tchotchkes

- by Bruce E. McKinney

If you are collecting books no one needs to think where they will put them because book shelves are a basic design element.  Shelves are everywhere.  Manuscripts, often slim and fragile, however are often placed in cases to protect and provide an identifiable presence.  For maps that display well, the options are many .  For ephemera, the display and management of what are often thousands of examples, will have electronically managed futures with a variety of physical structures to control, organize and maintain the collection.


But for random sundries the challenges are more complex and their future as displayables, less clear.


When a kid I visited the Will Plank Civil War Museum in Marlborough, New York and remember the couple’s concern about theft.  I didn’t take their concerns personally and could see then, and can still see today, how random bullets, shards, buttons, bayonets, and guns on shelves are next to impossible to keep secure when browsers move among them.  Mr. Plank’s collection of battle remnants came by the hard way, beginning in the 1920’s, spending his available weekends sifting dirt and prying slugs out of trees at Gettysburg.  He earned what he found and was determined to keep his collection together.  I understand his determination to both share and secure, as many collectors faces the same conflict.


In a different way I too have created collections, mine relating to the mid-Hudson Valley that face the same conflicting objectives of displaying while securing the thousand or so objects I have acquired that are part of local history.  I offer my approach.


Years ago eBay created an easy to access marketplace for virtually every kind of used and collectible item and I randomly found interesting things showing up in my searches relating to places and events within my collecting scope.  While I was looking for books and manuscripts, maps and ephemera, other things emerged such as political campaign buttons and ribbons, local money, script and coins.  So too, other tchotchkes - local ribbons and buttons of all description, some commemorating firemen’s conventions, others remembering Civil War reunions, anniversaries, and fraternal associations, would randomly appear and I’d bid:  voila!  In that way trophies, business cards, arrowheads and even musket balls came to be a fun to contemplate but difficult to display collection.


Over the past year I concluded I could have a custom built desk to provide a solution for security and display and eventually commissioned Berkeley Mills of Berkeley, California to build it.  It has a heavy glass top and under the glass there are side to side lockable open top drawers that display my cornucopia of historical artifacts in an open and appealing way.


Currently I have about 600 items and hope to add hundreds more as time goes by.  Some collections have to be seen to be appreciated.  For me, this is one of them.


There is a brief video (1:17) that shows how the desk/table looks and works posted here.


For other collectors looking to resolve the same predicament I include contact information for the firm, Berkeley Mills in Berkeley, California.  They do custom work. 


Berkeley Mills

2830 7th Street

Berkeley, California

[510] 549-2854


Their website:  https://berkeleymills.com/