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Private collections

From spoons to Star Wars, Charlestown collectors share their most prized possessions

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April 12th, 2016
Collectibles Fair

Charlestown resident Bob Carter (left) has been collecting cap guns for the last 50 years.

It’s been nearly 40 years since Barbara Edwards first picked up a few buttonhooks at an antique show. Four decades later, she is still hooked on the Victorian-era decorative tools once used to button stiff leather shoes and fasten garments dating back to the late 1800s.

“I’m a retired occupational therapist, and we used hooks to help children with disabilities fasten buttons on their clothes,” says Barbara. “The girls never wanted to use them. They thought they were ugly. I spotted some with pretty handles at a show once and bought them for the kids. They loved them, and after that I began collecting.”

Barbara displays her collection of nearly 200 buttonhooks in her home at Charlestown, an Erickson Living community in Catonsville, Md. 

“I go to two or three antique shows a year, and there are usually a few dealers who sell them,” says Barbara. “I like ones that are new and different. Some of them fold, some retract like a pencil—unfortunately, they are usually the most expensive ones.” 

Barbara is one of dozens of collectors who shared their collections this past winter at Charlestown’s Collectibles Fair. 

“We had a good turnout,” says Rose Sands, community resources coordinator at Charlestown. “There were 25 collectors who showcased pottery, antique buttons, thimbles, political memorabilia, nativities, fruit jars, you name it.”

Catching on

Whether it’s stamps, coins, comic books, or baseball cards, popular television shows like Antiques Roadshow, American Pickers, and Pawn Stars, along with auction websites like eBay and Rubylane.com have played a big part in expanding the collectibles market. 

Collectibles experts like Greg Dove of the National Flea Market Association say these sites and shows have helped level the playing field between casual and serious collectors.

“It’s bringing in new faces, people from all economic strata,” Dove said in a CNBC.com article. “We’re seeing more and more middle-class and upper-class folks coming to flea markets. Some are just curious, others are seeking collectibles, and others are trying to stretch their dollar in a bad economy.”

Dove says these types of shows have helped generate new interest in the antiques and collectibles industry and changed the misconception about what flea markets really are. “They’re small business incubators, where sellers with a business concept can get started without a lot of cash and buyers can find bargains on both vintage and new items,” says Dove.

Charlestown resident Bob Carter displayed a sampling of his cap gun collection. Bob began collecting cap guns 50 years ago after buying five cap pistols at an auction. 

“My wife and I frequent flea markets, yard sales, antique shows, and auctions, and I spotted them,” says Bob. “They were just interesting, and they were cheap. I think I only paid a couple of bucks for them.” 

Over the years, Bob has collected hundreds of cap guns. The original five he started his collection with have since been sold or traded. He now has about 50 or 60 in his collection. He has never fired a single one. 

“The pre-1900 era is the period I like,” says Bob. “They are to look at and learn about, not to use. I haven’t bought any for a few years now. Back when I started collecting, they were fairly easy to get, but that has changed. Word gets around and more people start collecting them, and the next thing you know, they become harder to get and higher priced.” 

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