Most of us have nostalgic memories of our school days. I wasn’t particularly fond of school, but time has blurred the unpleasant memories and sharpened my memories of the good times. I find myself looking back on the “good old days” when I walked the halls of Winslow Elementary and later Pike Central High School. Those nostalgic memories ignited an interest in old school memorabilia and I find myself looking for artifacts of old schools whenever I’m browsing antique shops and flea markets.
One of my favorite collections is composed of items related to the Culver Military Academy in Culver, Ind. I didn’t attend school there, but when I was 19, I joined the summer school staff and returned each summer for 21 years. One thing I loved about the Academy was its history. The school was founded in 1894 by Henry Harrison Culver and has remained in continuous operation to this day.
Needless to say there are a lot of collectibles connected with the old school. So far I have gathered postcards, catalogs, uniforms, caps, shakos (a high, stiff, military hat), dinnerware, medals, books, and even C.M.A. autographs. Each piece is a reminder of times past. One of my favorite finds is a postcard written home by a new cadet in 1940 “… On softball, basketball, crew teams. Getting used to the rifles. Springfields. Sailing quite a bit. Girls here not so friendly, but some are pretty good lookin’. Had General Inspection this morning ….” I find such nostalgic pieces of the past intriguing.
Many schools have a long past and therefore have quite a number of collectibles associated with them. A great number of collectors have discovered the joys of collecting items connected with their old school, whether it be a public elementary or high school, private school, or university. Not every school produced its own postcards, but just about every school published yearbooks and imprinted its name on pencils, notebooks, and the like. My old grade school, Winslow Elementary, sold banners, megaphones, and even clothing with the “Winslow Eskimos” emblem. Take a look around the antique shops near your old school and see what you can discover.
School collectibles are appealing, even when they can’t be linked to a particular school. Collectors search out McGuffey Readers, old slates (early chalkboards), trophies, school bells, desks, lunch boxes and other school-related materials. There are far more school collectibles available than one might think. When I began browsing through the pages of School Collectibles of the Past by Lar and Sue Hothem I discovered picture after picture of school collectibles that I didn’t even know existed. If you are interested in school collectibles, this book is the place to start. Whether your collection is centered about a specific school, schools in general, or both, you will find plenty of items to add to your collection over time.
Where can school items be located? General pieces, such as slates, bells, and old readers can be found just about anywhere other antiques and collectibles are located. Items from a specific school are much more difficult to uncover. The best place to seek items associated with a particular school is eBay. One shouldn’t expect quick results even on eBay. You might be lucky and find something on the first try, but most likely you’ll need to create a search and have the results emailed to you anytime something of interest is listed. This is a good idea even if your initial search is successful. Shops, shows, auctions, and flea markets located near the school of interest are also a good place to search. Many items from a school will remain in the area. I’ve found most of my Culver Military Academy items in and around Culver. The local antique store regularly yields postcards and books. At a shop just out of town I found an old trunk, packed with items from C.M.A.’s Woodcraft Camp. At a flea market in Goshen, Ind., (about an hour’s drive away) I found a complete C.M.A. uniform, circa 1920.
If you collect items from a private school or university don’t forget to look farther afield. I purchase C.M.A. postcards from dealers all over the country. I’ve found items in Louisville, Ky., and Niles, Mich. The best thing about discovering items away from the source is that prices tend to be lower, often much lower. There may be many individuals in your town interested in memorabilia from your old school. If something pops up a 100 miles away there will be much less interest, and therefore lower prices.
Items of interest can pop up almost anywhere. A few months ago I found an antique school desk from the old Winslow High School at the Vanderburgh County (Indiana) flea market. The desk dated to well before my school years, but it was still a nostalgic connection to a school I remember.
An excellent route to take when searching for items for your collection is to place want-ads in newspapers. For most schools and general school items, the local paper will do. For nationally known schools, try advertising in a regional antique publication. I have had considerable luck finding C.M.A. postcards through ads in postcard and paper collectibles publications. The cost of such ads is not great and they can allow one to locate items that would not otherwise be discovered.
Don’t forget to let dealers know what you are seeking. I often look through antique shops and find nothing, but when I mention my C.M.A. collection to the dealers they often come up with something. If they have nothing on hand they keep me in mind when they find something in the future. Let dealers know what you want. Doing so will add a surprising number of items to your collection.
Another good idea is to post notices in antique malls and shops. Many antique establishments have a bulletin board with wanted and for sale ads. Keep your notice simple and make the print BIG so it will get noticed. Don’t forget to include your address or phone number. It is a good idea to have a tear-away section at the bottom with several tabs that have your phone number on them. Such notices can easily be photocopied. Make up a set and carry them with you while on antiquing rounds. You may be surprised at what you can turn up.
Another good idea is to have business cards printed up with your name, address, phone number, and information about what you collect. Drop the cards off with dealers and other collectors who might find something of interest. Let the antique world know what you are looking for and you will find more items for your collection.
Large or small you will find that your school collection will be something you truly enjoy. Old mementos from the past can bring back many memories of times gone by. I treasure each item in my C.M.A. collection. Of all the things I collect, it is the artifacts from this old school that I value the most. Start collecting items from your old school and you will discover a special link to the past.
Guides dedicated to school collectibles are almost impossible to locate. Many general price guides include related items, however.
School Collectibles of the Past by Lar and Sue Hothem, dozens of photos, values, packed with useful and interesting information, 236 pgs. Unfortunately, this book is out of print, but can be purchased used on Amazon.com for about $4. The pricing information is now out of date, but it’s still a great guide and is a collectible in itself.
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