For Popularity, There Is No Papering Over Sheer Numbers

Times Staff Writer

Question: What do you think is the most popular collectible category in terms of sheer numbers of collectors?--C.P.

Answer: Tough question, but we would have to go with the category of paper collectibles, which, according to dealers and collectors, may number up to 50 million people in this country alone. Included would be dozens of categories: from autographs to stock certificates, from advertising memorabilia to drawings, from baseball cards to posters and signs, from labels to newspapers.

That's why in an area so enormous, we've recommended in the past that new collectors specialize as much as possible in an effort to put together a more meaningful collection that could have some historical significance.

So enormous is the literature and subject matter of this category, that new collectors, clubs and publications are surfacing almost weekly. And collectors are constantly opening up with new areas--items like financial receipts and securities, which didn't exist a number of years ago--that are now being sought by hobbyists.

These new categories have added the word "ephemera" to our vocabulary--items that weren't originally thought to be collectibles and that weren't designed as such, but that have survived over the years and are now eagerly sought. Advertising artwork and labels would fall into this category. These items, of course, acquire greater value than items specifically designed as collectibles because they were not originally created to be saved but have somehow survived.

Q: I have an old Army bugle that may date back to the Civil War. What prices have you seen for antique bugles?--S.T.

A: If it's in top condition and if you can authenticate its age, dealer sales have reflected prices in excess of $400.

Coming to the turn of the century, American artillery and cavalry bugles have sold for about $200.

The nickel-plated and brass parts should have any dents knocked out by an expert, and if there were any moving parts, they should be in working order.

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Mailbag: Ron Barlow's book, "The Antique Tool Collector's Guide to Value," has arrived, and it's recommended for anyone with an interest in the history of the instruments of early craftsmen. The 229-page, coffee table-size book, complete with bibliography (we wish it had an index too), is richly illustrated with black-and-white drawings and histories of a wide assortment of tools--anvils and axes to saws and wrenches.

More than 4,000 men and women with similar interests belong to half a dozen tool-collecting clubs in the United States today, Barlow states in the introduction. "Another six or eight thousand like-minded souls are actively engaged in the hobby, but are not members of any formal organization."

Prices in the guide, Barlow says in a page on antique-tool auctions, "were distilled from some 55,000 separate dealer offerings and auction transactions recorded over the past 48 months."

On tool appreciation, he writes: "Over the last 10-year period, average auction prices of old tools have increased at least fourfold. Gains of 1,000% are not uncommon, especially among the wider examples of early American moulding planes that are signed by their makers. Just last year, a two-bladed crown moulder . . . by Benjamin Sheneman (a mid-19th-Century Philadelphia maker) sold for a record $2,050 at a Pottstown, Pa., sale. . . ."

The book is available from Ronald S. Barlow, Windmill Publishing, 2147 Windmill View Road, Department D, El Cajon, Calif. 92020. Cost is $12.95 plus $1.05 postage (plus 78 cents tax for California residents).

Ronald L. Soble cannot answer mail personally but will respond in this column to questions of general interest about collectibles. Do not telephone. Write to Your Collectibles, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

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