It Happened At The Fair By Deeanne Gist

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Do you collect anything? Stamps, coins, comic books? Or are you the type to clean out and throw out? My husband’s a thrower-outer. But me, I’m a collector. Always have been. As a child, I collected things to put in my scrapbooks—a matchbook from a restaurant we visited, a flower (okay, a weed) from a field near our home, a paper crown from Burger King.

As an adult, my collections centered on memorabilia from vacations we have taken. Then I’d return home and add them to a scrapbook chronicling our trip.

But since I became a novelist, my collecting has become a more focused hobby. After writing Maid to Match (about a lady’s maid and a footman who fall in love but have to keep their love a secret or they’ll lose their jobs), I became fascinated with Victorian women’s clothing: corsets, bloomers, crinolines and hats. Then I zeroed in on their accessories: brooches, hat pins, chatelaines. Finally, I narrowed it even further into types of chatelaines: sewing chatelaines, nurse’s chatelaines, soiree chatelaines.

My latest collecting craze? Memorabilia from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Since writing It Happened at the Fair (about an inventor who can’t hear over the noise in Machinery Palace, so he hires a lip reading instructor who ends up jeopardizing all his carefully laid plans), I have become captivated by everything Fair related. I’ve collected books, of course, but I’ve also managed to snag a set of silver spoons with different buildings engraved into their bowls. I have a set of hand painted postcards. Did you know the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair invented picture postcards? People had never seen them before, but they quickly became extremely popular and an entire new industry was born.

I’ve also collected a silver half-dollar minted specifically for the Fair; I’ve an original admission ticket; and a full-color panoramic view of the Fair. But my pièce de résistance is a full deck of 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition playing cards. All fifty-two of them plus the joker. I can’t tell you how my imagination spins when I hold those cards in my hand. Cards that someone else held for the first time one-hundred-twenty years ago. Who bought them? Where in the Fair were they? Which card games were their favorites? Why are they in such pristine condition? Were they so coveted that they were afraid to use them lest they wear them out? The questions in my head go on and on, then I carefully tuck them back into their box so as to preserve them for someone else who in, say, one-hundred-twenty years just might ask those same questions.

What about you? Are you a thrower-outer? Or a collector? If so, of what? For how long? Why do you collect what you do? Leave us a comment and tell us what kinds of things you hold in your hand.

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