Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Collector Mindset

Antique music boxes have been an important part of my life for the past thirty years. These self-playing musical instruments appeal to both my ear and my eye, and they've opened doors for me to places I'd never otherwise have discovered.

I grew up in a household which valued only work done by the mind. "Manual labor" was very definitely infra dig. But when I began to acquire music boxes, I saw right off that these old instruments had a tendency to stop playing, and that I'd be wise to learn at least the basics of their care and feeding. Talk about starting at Square One. I spent a couple of weeks at Nancy Fratti's Restoration School in upstate New York. The teacher was Dr. Joseph Roesch, a professor of English, fully as adroit with words as with tools. Amazing! Joe patiently walked me through what I needed to know about the workings and non-workings of music boxes, listed out the tools I'd need, told me to call him any time I got stuck, and sent me home to enjoy more than a quarter-century of fulfilling manual labor.

Another of my father's strongly-held opinions was that opera was stupid. "I don't understand it," he used to say. "A man gets up on a stage and starts singing, "Oh, I am going to go out the door, out the door, out the door, yes, out the door. I am going to go out the door, yes, yes." But the music on the very finest antique music boxes was operatic - this, after all, was the popular music among people wealthy enough to be able to buy music boxes back in the nineteenth century. It didn't take long for me to decide I'd like to hear this music in a theater. The upshot was that my wife and I have been Seattle Opera subscribers for some twenty years now, and are declared Seattle Ring-Nuts.

I like the whimsical early-twentieth-century chromolithographs, and it just so happens that they sometimes can be found on the lids of small music boxes from the turn into the twentieth century. At the Palmer-Wirfs Expo Show in Portland this past weekend, I noticed a lovely Russian black-lacquer box with a small, unexceptional two-tune musical movement inside. But the lid was covered with a very engaging litho, at the left lower edge of which was printed "Bringing in the Christmas Pudding." And very unusual, the artist's name, Helena Maguire, was printed opposite the title. Well, I do collect music boxes, so of course this one came home with me.

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