Literary Lapses/On Collecting Things
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Like most other men I have from time to time been stricken with a desire to make collections of things.
It began with postage stamps. I had a letter from a friend of mine who had gone out to South Africa. The letter had a three-cornered stamp on it, and I thought as soon as I looked at it, "That's the thing! Stamp collecting! I'll devote my life to it."
I bought an album with accommodation for the stamps of all nations, and began collecting right off. For three days the collection made wonderful progress. It contained:
- One Cape of Good Hope stamp.
- One one-cent stamp, United States of America.
- One two-cent stamp, United States of America.
- One five-cent stamp, United States of America.
- One ten-cent stamp, United States of America.
After that the collection came to a dead stop. For a while I used to talk about it rather airily and say I had one or two rather valuable South African stamps. But I presently grew tired even of lying about it.
Collecting coins is a thing that I attempt at intervals. Every time I am given an old half-penny or a Mexican quarter, I get an idea that if a fellow made a point of holding on to rarities of that sort, he'd soon have quite a valuable collection. The first time that I tried it I was full of enthusiasm, and before long my collection numbered quite a few articles of vertu. The items were as follows:
- No. 1. Ancient Roman coin. Time of Caligula. This one of course was the gem of the whole lot; it was given me by a friend, and that was what started me collecting.
- No. 2. Small copper coin. Value one cent. United States of America. Apparently modern.
- No. 3. Small nickel coin. Circular. United States of America. Value five cents.
- No. 4. Small silver coin. Value ten cents. United States of America.
- No. 5. Silver coin. Circular. Value twenty-five cents. United States of America. Very beautiful.
- No. 6. Large silver coin. Circular. Inscription, "One Dollar." United States of America. Very valuable.
- No. 7. Ancient British copper coin. Probably time of Caractacus. Very dim. Inscription, "Victoria Dei gratia regina." Very valuable.
- No. 8. Silver coin. Evidently French. Inscription, "Fünf Mark. Kaiser Wilhelm."
- No. 9. Circular silver coin. Very much defaced. Part of inscription, "E Pluribus Unum." Probably a Russian rouble, but quite as likely to be a Japanese yen or a Shanghai rooster.
That's as far as that collection got. It lasted through most of the winter and I was getting quite proud of it, but I took the coins down town one evening to show to a friend and we spent No. 3, No. 4, No. 5, No. 6, and No. 7 in buying a little dinner for two. After dinner I bought a yen's worth of cigars and traded the relic of Caligula for as many hot Scotches as they cared to advance on it. After that I felt reckless and put No. 2 and No. 8 into a Children's Hospital poor box.
I tried fossils next. I got two in ten years. Then I quit.
A friend of mine once showed me a very fine collection of ancient and curious weapons, and for a time I was full of that idea. I gathered several interesting specimens, such as:
- No. 1. Old flint-lock musket, used by my grandfather. (He used it on the farm for years as a crowbar.)
- No. 2. Old raw-hide strap, used by my father.
- No. 3. Ancient Indian arrowhead, found by myself the very day after I began collecting. It resembles a three-cornered stone.
- No. 4. Ancient Indian bow, found by myself behind a sawmill on the second day of collecting. It resembles a straight stick of elm or oak. It is interesting to think that this very weapon may have figured in some fierce scene of savage warfare.
- No. 5. Cannibal poniard or straight-handled dagger of the South Sea Islands. It will give the reader almost a thrill of horror to learn that this atrocious weapon, which I bought myself on the third day of collecting, was actually exposed in a second-hand store as a family carving-knife. In gazing at it one cannot refrain from conjuring up the awful scenes it must have witnessed.
I kept this collection for quite a long while until, in a moment of infatuation, I presented it to a young lady as a betrothal present. The gift proved too ostentatious and our relations subsequently ceased to be cordial.
On the whole I am inclined to recommend the beginner to confine himself to collecting coins. At present I am myself making a collection of American bills (time of Taft preferred), a pursuit I find most absorbing.