“Kid” Collectors

May 8th, 2013

By Karen Osburn, Archivist and City Historian

A lot of things have brought childhood to my attention lately. My friends have made me an “Honorary Aunt” several times and I find myself spending enjoyable time shopping in toy stores and book stores looking for the perfect gift for small friends. I am not a woman who can’t wait to purchase that perfect little dress or cute little baseball uniform to dress the new niece or nephew in, but I am the person who can be counted on to purchase charming stuffed animals, favorite children’s books, building blocks, puzzles, crayons, art supplies and (shudder) things that allow children to make their own noise! You know drums, tambourines, whistles, harmonicas and xylophones. I am not the aunt who purchases toys that need batteries or power supplies, toys that say “moo”, “neigh”, “meow” or that do the exploration for my young discoverers. No, I am the aunt that grew up with books, many physical collections, and a real back yard swing set and teeter-totter. I am the aunt who discovers and collects! Just ask my niece, Alicia, if you ever meet her.

Cover of the 1886 Chatterbox book showing an illustration of a boy holding a knit hat in his hand.

Part of the joy of being a child, for me, was reading books that took me to many imaginary places filled with wondrous sights and sounds. I could spend an entire rainy day solving a mystery with Trixie Belden, or on the back of a Black Stallion with Alex Ramsey, or being in a sunlit forest with Bambi, or even a space ship created by Robert Heinlein. I loved books and started to ask “Santa” for them as soon as I could write my own letters to him. I found out early that when you ask for books Santa is much less likely to bring you socks and underwear for Christmas. I guess Santa is a fan of reading. One of the many things I collected as a child was books.

It didn’t stop with books though.  We had a cottage on Lake Ontario when I was a child and walking the shoreline led to collections of interesting stones, interesting driftwood and colorful collections of “lake glass”.  My fate was sealed.  I would become a collector.

I also collected stuffed animals. I will confess immediately to being an animal lover from my very first memories. If it had fur, I loved it. Of course many of my parent’s friends encouraged me with stuffed dogs, cats and mice, but my first love was bears! My parents encouraged toilet training with the irresistible reward of a bear. Bears came home with my father from hunting camp; he said he found them hiding in trees begging to come home and eat cookies with me. Very large carnival bears came from my teenage cousin who managed to win them at games of skill (he must have been between girlfriends that year). Then, of course, there were the dogs that came home in lunch pails and stuffed rabbits at Easter.

I am sure you see where this is going. As a child I not only had a book collection and collections of interesting lake debris, but a stuffed animal collection

These collections were quickly followed by a new love…HORSES! How could I read the Black Stallion and not love horses? I received my first model horse for “being good” when I got my tonsils out. It was a Hartland black-and-white pinto with Cochise as the rider. Cochise was kept in pristine condition, untouched, while I played with his horse so often and so intently that I broke the poor thing’s front leg off. My father fixed the leg and we embarked on a journey of fix, re-break and repeat, fix, re-break and repeat that continued until the small equine figure vanished. It was about this time I discovered Breyer Horses. A company now in business more than 50 years, they made beautiful “plastic” horses. My first Breyers were an appaloosa mare and foal followed, as rapidly as I could manage, by others. My parents were not as enthused with this collection. It required dusting and took up space, something at a premium in our small house, so they were more than a bit discouraging every time I tried to add another horse to the “stable”, but lucky for me my mother’s friend “Grandma Roberts” sent me horses for every birthday and Christmas holiday. I keep and treasure those horses today.

cover of the Roosevelt Bears Abroad by Seymour Eaton with an illustration of two bears dressed in kilts. One is dancing, the other is playing the bag pipes.

Anyway, fast forward to this moment. Do I still collect? Of course! I am an archivist and a museum worker by avocation and inclination! I still collect books today, some of which remain from my childhood; and bears, stuffed, carved and painted, create a diorama on my 2nd floor landing; Breyer Horses fill shelf after shelf in my home jostling agreeably for shelf space with my books; of course there is Native American pottery, rugs and baskets; then there are fossils; interesting shells and stones; and finally (I can’t be too sure about that though) beads with which I create items I hope others will want to add to their collections of jewelry.

By now you might be wondering what the point of this article is. My “Kid Collections” led me to a career, a lifetime of learning and discovery, helped me form friendships with people in various walks of life I may not have otherwise met, and given me endless hours of fascination. I support encouraging children to develop interests and hobbies that lead them to curiosity, creativity and inspire lifelong learning. Collections can lead to research, discovery and inspiration that will at least make life more satisfying even if it doesn’t make one materially rich. This may sound obvious, yet everyday legislators, tax payers, and bureaucrats question the value of informal education. Just think how desolate life might be without libraries, museums and the arts. Think of the topics that fascinate you and where you might go to learn about them if we didn’t have institutions that are a part of the informal education network. Imagine saying, “I’m bored, there is NOTHING to do” because there is nothing to do! Help a child start a collection today!

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