Question of the Week: What are your earliest memories involving antiques and collecting?

I love hunting for treasure. Thus far, gold and silver treasure eludes me, but I continue the hunt.

Paper “treasures” are my favorites. It started when I was grade-school age and fell in love with boxes of stationery. In the 1950s, you could buy stationery sets for young people, with the stationery sheets having pretty graphics and tied with a ribbon, nestled in pretty pictorial boxes.

I received a particularly lovely boxed set of stationery when I was 7 years old, and I almost worshipped it. My older brother became interested in it one day, and wanting to stake my claim on it, I wrote on the face of the box the warning, “Do not touch,” but years later I saw what I had actually written was “Do not tough.” Well, I was only 7! And, horror of horrors, I had defaced the box with the warning written in ink.

This 1940s calendar picture, a prized treasure in Judy Kinnan Woods’ collection, features Chessie the Cat and her family, the mascots of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Co.  (Photo courtesy Judy Kinnan Woods)

This 1940s calendar picture, a prized treasure in Judy Kinnan Woods’ collection, features Chessie the Cat and her family, the mascots of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Co.
(Photo courtesy Judy Kinnan Woods)

In junk stores I will pick up, buy and take home with me the ragged and worn books that have been left on the shelf due to their lack of beauty and undoubtedly even more so, due to their being a poor investment. The illustrations will catch my eye, or perhaps it will be the quaint or obscure subject matter, or just the feel of the book in my hands as I caress it and turn the pages. How could I not take these abandoned and deserted “treasures” home?

One favorite “find” I keep safe in archival paper is a 1940s calendar picture of Chessie the

Cat and her family, which I found in the back room of an antique store owned by a man everyone considered strange (at best). Jim sold the print to me at a reasonable price, probably under $5, and I am sure at that price he made a profit.

I am just as sure he liked the fact I recognized and was familiar with the picture and appreciated its significance. Of course I was familiar with the picture. I saw one of those calendars every year of my childhood. They were printed and circulated by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad. Chessie had started out as a kitten, but through the years, she gained a mate Peake and two babies, Nip and Tuck.

My dad worked as a ticket agent for the Rock Island Railroad, and every year at Christmas time he would bring home calendars given to him by the many different railroads operating throughout our state. We would use one or two, and the others? Some were shared with family and friends, and the rest most likely reposed undisturbed in a drawer for the whole next year, being thrown away when the new batch of calendars arrived home with Dad the following Christmas.

ROCKISLD copy

During the war years the C & O calendars displayed Chessie with heroic Peake proudly wearing military medals. Chessie and family were used to promote war bonds and support the war effort. Chessie and her war hero Peake were inspiring to the families living through the tough times during the war. The pictures gave a little bit of whimsy to the otherwise seriousness of the times, while still reminding us that our loved ones were overseas facing danger but fighting on our behalf.

We had rationed sugar, butter, coffee, beef and fuel oil. We saved cooking grease in cans on the back of the stove to be turned in each month. We bought war bonds with pennies in our classrooms. In movie theaters, if we were lucky enough to have the money to attend, the lights were turned up between the movie and the news reel and the ushers would pass around cans for a collection for the war effort. We endured periodic black-outs and were subject to knocks on our door by the Civil Patrol if even a small crack of light could be seen through our windows from the street.

I recall those days of limited or nonexistent luxuries but with absolutely no sense of being deprived, as I was surrounded by a loving family, good and caring neighbors and the ever-present essence of patriotism and love of country.

The true treasures in life never eluded me.

— Judy Kinnan Woods

 Editor’s Note: This is one of many wonderful memories readers shared with us in response to this recent Question of the Week. To give these heartfelt memories the special attention they deserve, we’ve decided to include them in a number of upcoming issues. Look for more “earliest collecting memories” on the Reader’s Page of future issues of Antique Trader magazine, and here on the site.

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