THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1994, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Sunday, October 30, 1994 TAG: 9410280118 SECTION: HOME PAGE: G1 EDITION: FINAL SOURCE: BY KEITH MONROE, STAFF WRITER LENGTH: Long : 138 lines
A quiz. What do all these objects have in common? A brass dog collar from Georgian England, a souvenir miniature of the Kremlin, a swastika-adorned cigarette case from the Hindenburg, and Warren G. Harding's first paycheck as president.
Answer: An event billed as the world's largest antique and collectibles show. Twice a year, promoter Norman Schaut turns Atlantic City into Atlantique City. He takes over the cavernous convention center where the Miss America pageant is held and an adjoining space twice as large - seven acres in all. He fills them with 1,000 dealers, 12 miles of booths and 30,000 collectors.
The October extravaganza is such an enormous gathering that it naturally attracts plenty of run-of-the-mill antique sellers and baseball card traders, but those with a concentration on a narrow niche or an outlandish specialty are the most fun.
There was a booth dedicated to art deco phones, another to antique toasters, a third to restored Coke machines. Fabulous Fanny's booth contained nothing but antique eyeglasses from turn-of-the-century wire rims to the '50s upswept look in plastic. Elliot's Marbles from Philadelphia had a booth full of aggies and cat's eyes.
Anne Barbash from Rochester, N.Y., was offering that brass dog collar for sale. She started out as a breeder of German shepherds and whippets. She began to buy a little dog trinket now and then. One thing led to another, and now she has opened a shop - Tails of Yesteryear - where the dog crazy can find dogs hunting a boar carved on the stem of a Meerschaum pipe, cast iron doggy doorstops, dog-headed inkwells and walking sticks, dogs in porcelain and bronze and everything in between.
Often, as in Barbash's case, if you scratch a specialty dealer, you discover a dedicated collector underneath. Margaret Majua and David Weingarten of San Francisco started out the same way. He's an architect, she's in travel-related retailing, and they both are enthusiasts for those little souvenir buildings of bronze and iron and lead - Statues of Liberty, Empire State Buildings and such.
They began innocently enough by purchasing three souvenir buildings from Rome that they fond in Monterey, Calif., eight years ago. Now they have 1,800 buildings and have had to devise a little storage building to house the collection. Weingarten's son calls it their building building.
He describes how the first souvenir buildings were made for the 1876 Centennial and were of Independence Hall and other historic sites. Then, in the late 19th century, stops on the European grand tour began offering souvenirs for sale - Eiffel Towers and Colosseums and Leaning Towers. Another wave of miniature buildings occurred in the '20s. It became fashionable for every hometown bank to offer miniatures of their noble edifices in a spirit of boosterism.
Weingarten and Majua now attend several shows a year, have founded a club for like-minded collectors and publish a newsletter. Their booth is a miniature city on a table top. Unlike sellers of furniture, for instance, they don't have to hire a truck to visit a show. But they need strong backs, because a suitcase full of hundreds of little lead buildings isn't light. And they must make metal detectors go wild.
Down an aisle and around a corner is a dealer who has put his collecting behind him. Charles Schalebaum from Allentown, Pa., started out collecting antique automobiles 40 years ago. ``But I ran out of garage space and started collecting collectibles,'' he said. His specialty is ``memorabilia from the early days of autos and aviation, largely 1904 to 1930. I have trophies. I have bronzes. Anything to do with transportation is of interest to me.''
Many of Schalebaum's pieces are European. ``The automobile companies in Europe were not only interested in making a fine product, but they were competing with each other in design.'' It carried over to awards and even minor decorative parts. For instance, Schalebaum has a frosted glass windswept nude hood ornament by the art glass company, Lalique. He has model airplanes, bronze racing cars and a silver trophy awarded to the winner of an Italian over-the-road race in 1905.
Today Schalebaum is a rotund, canny character who brings to mind Sydney Greenstreet in ``The Maltese Falcon.'' He makes a clear distinction between collecting and dealing. He once created a comprehensive collection of toy taxicabs, but, when he thought he could go no further, sold it off, starting with the most desirable pieces so there could be no turning back.
``I made up my mind that you can't be a collector and a dealer and do justice to yourself or your collection,'' he said. ``If you say, `I'm sorry, it's not for sale,' then you are a collector. The definition of a collector is: Not for sale at any price. Now, I'm just collecting money for my old age.''
Schalebaum says he decided that ``none of us own this stuff. We're just taking care of it for a while. We're custodians of the past.''
The distinction between collecting and dealing is particularly apparent in the case of Robert White of Baltimore. He deals in historical memorabilia, largely autographs. He's the fellow with the Warren G. Harding paycheck. The week after Pearl Harbor, a Treasury Department auditor was told to clean out some rooms and burn the contents. He saw presidential names and grabbed a few handfuls of paper. He had paychecks for Harding, Coolidge, Hoover and Roosevelt. He kept them 41 years, then sold them to White in 1982.
White is 47 and has been collecting autographs since he was 7. From him you can buy a check signed by Edgar Allan Poe, a photo signed by Fred Astaire, an Oscar awarded to ``Portrait of Jennie'' in 1949.
But you can't buy his Kennedy collectibles. ``What I do is collect,'' he said. ``I've got the largest private Kennedy collection in the world. To bankroll my Kennedy wants, I sell other historical memorabilia.'' He's got the president's baby ring, Jack and Jackie's passports, a Rose Kennedy swimsuit, Caroline's Crayolas from the oval office, Jack Ruby objects, Oswald objects. ``I've got the flags from the car in Dallas. I've got over a thousand personal items - watches, rings, glasses. I have the wallet he was killed with in Dallas.''
Given all these obsessed collectors and highly specialized dealers, it may be fair to wonder about Norman Schaut, the man who created this show 12 years ago. He's a middle-aged, amiable sandy-haired man who stops to press the flesh as often as a politician as he strolls through the convention center.
He's a nonstop impresario who somehow gets the State of New Jersey to advertise his shows by placing signs for it at the toll booths on the Garden State Parkway.
But is he a collector, too? Or a dealer? Or just a fellow who profits from bringing the two together? The day before the show opens to the public, his Mercedes is parked on the convention center floor. He's rummaging around in the trunk, hunting press releases and publicity photos when asked if he has the collecting bug.
Without missing a beat, he says, sure - toys, art, all kinds of things. And to prove it, he pulls out from the muddle of his trunk a piece of 70-year-old sheet music in a protective plastic sleeve. It's a long-forgotten ditty about Atlantic City. Now, of course, thanks to Schaut, that's Atlantique City. MEMO: The next Atlantique City Antique and Collectibles Show will take place
March 18-19 at the Atlantic City Convention Center. For information
about attending or exhibiting, call Brimfield Associates (609)
926-1800. ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
Twice a year the Atlantic City Convention Center is filled with
antique dealers offering everything from marble to toasters.
Color Photos courtesy Brimfield Associates
A silver trophy awarded in a 1905 Italian over-the-road race and
bronze dog statues were for sale.
Photo courtesy of Brimfield Associates
David Weingarten and Margaret Majua sell souvenir buildings of
bronze, iron and lead.