Summer Holidays Remembered

A few blogs back we discussed the question of how long it takes a racy bestselling romance to move into the Literature category. I would like now to consider the same phenomenon in connection with the Vacation Souvenir.

Postcards have been covered already, and I have no intention of discussing seashells, pressed flowers, or those little figurines wearing a barrel which become naughtier when the barrel is lifted. These are perennial, and are unlikely to vary in price as ages go by unless Grandma picked up a one-of-a-kind specimen. (I was thinking of the seashells.) But there are more bookish things: the brochures, the programs, the picture guide to the Aquarium or Zoo.

Chicago, being full of attractions, is naturally full of brochures, and this would be a good time to revisit the question of Collectible vs. Valuable. Yes, there are people who collect every edition of the booklets on Colleen Moore’s Doll House or the Thorne Miniature Rooms. These are undeniably Collectible. Unless Miss Moore or Mrs. Thorne autographed them, the price is going to be modest. (By the way, somebody gave us a set of postcards of the Thorne Rooms this year. These are generally not all that pricey either, but I did note that the cards say “Thorne Miniature Rooms, Chicago Historical Society”. Since the Thorne Rooms are housed at the Art Institute of Chicago, this called for a little research. Apparently they used to go on tour.)

I wish I could get a dollar for every guidebook to the Shedd Aquarium that comes through. That’s what I charge, but fish look pretty much the same no matter what year it is.

Programs from events can be better: there’s a date to show everyone when you went to the show. Chicago used to have an annual railroad fair: the programs were big and jolly and garish and had pictures of trains. This is the kind of travel souvenir people never get tired of buying. (It’s also the kind nobody ever throws away, so they’re not especially rare or expensive either, at least at the right Book Fair.) Commencement programs aren’t nearly as valuable: no train pictures.

Other cities, of course, have zoos and conventions and shows. Old rodeo programs have pictures of cowboys and horses and are sometimes used for examinations of the history of how we presented historical characters. Auto Show programs, if well-illustrated, can be golden: you can read how they extol the new, higher fins on this year’s model, or marvel at the introduction of the automatic transmission.

But we have strayed from our basic premise: how long does it take something like this to move from being a quaint bit of bygone days to being an item of great value, something you can be glad Grandpa put into the trunk and left there for you to find?

It depends on the usual considerations: fragility, scarcity, demand, etc. Things from a World’s Fair are always of interest, but they’re best if they were exclusive. Something which made most Grandpas say, “No, that’s expensive. I’ll just enjoy the show and buy a postcard later instead” is what you’re looking for.

We have a zoo guidebook for sale this year. It was big and bulky when it was produced and, instead of photographs, there are artist’s renderings of the animals. They tried to be accurate: they knew you’d be looking right at the pelican and comparing it with the picture. They tried to make it smaller and cheaper by using rather small print, but it’s still a good, solid item.

It’s a guide to the menagerie in the Tower of London, and was published in 1829, one of the first printed zoo guides. It has definitely worked its way to the Collectibles table, where you can look at it and its three-digit price. Unless your Grandpa saved space in the trunk for it by throwing away all those figurines wearing barrels. (What DO the people who carve these things say about the tourists after the boat pulls away?)

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