WHO AM I? Fall 2014

This 1935 paper globe by Cram was used as a promotional item for a southern textile mill.

This 1935 paper globe by Cram was used as a promotional item for a southern textile mill.

Growing up, I watched my father assemble collections of old things: clocks, rulers, rugs, and his mainstay, globes. This is why I am a historian and curator, and a collector myself. Unless you collect, collecting seems wasteful. Last spring, while cataloging an elaborate clothing collection owned by clotheshorse and famed film director George Sidney, one of my graduate students asked, “Did he really need sixteen blue linen blazers?” She was not a collector.

It’s not about using. It’s about having, and reveling in having, and the thrill of the chase.

I recently spent a few weeks cataloging my father’s globe collection with my 11-year-old niece, who turned out to be quite a photog. My father was an indiscriminate collector—six of the same item, ones with broken bases or peeling gores (that’s globe lingo for paper coverings). Half of the objects are from the late 1920s and 1930s; many of these are tin and brightly hued. The other half is a hodgepodge of European globes, early-1900s school globes by companies such as Rand McNally and Weber Costello, and miniature globes. The globes are decorative items in all of the living spaces in my parents’ home, and stashed in closets and my brother’s attic. The globes (about 350 in total) are everywhere.

This c. 1910 school globe from Weber Costello has a wire base and colorful markings.

This c. 1910 school globe from Weber Costello has a wire base and colorful markings.

We catalogued the collection to get my father to offset some of his holdings. Over-collecting isn’t good for the collection or the objects. “Cull” the herd, Dad. He agreed and admitted, “There are only about 20 that I would really have to keep.”

My niece and I spent afternoons tagging and cataloging the globes. We took breaks for Chinese food and played a game where we invented the names of countries and imagined what they were like. She wore the same tie-dye shirt everyday—as you can do when you’re eleven. I taught her some basic geography and she taught me how to work my very expensive camera. We got through about half of the collection, and will resume next summer. I can’t wait.

But I don’t have high hopes that my father will part with his collection. As we sat down one evening to discuss the value of the individual globes, he said, “I didn’t collect them for money or even care much about the money while I collected. I just wanted the globes.” I listened as he recounted when, where, and why he bought certain ones and how it was unique. I don’t blame my dad for wanting to keep his globes. After all, he found them.

I did take a few prime ones for myself as a payment, of course.