Park City Collects
Photography: Timothy Thimmes
Some people are born collectors, growing up with a love for old and found things. Before they know it, they morph into yard sale and flea market junkies. Other folks are content to preserve treasures bequeathed to them by relatives without succumbing to the collecting bug. Caretakers of both persuasions can be found in Park City, a town enriched by its pioneer and mining past, with many homes chock-full of antiques.
Upon entering Janice Moore’s home in Prospector, a visitor can’t miss the profusion of old telephones and glass insulators that perch atop windowsills, tables and floors. She has carefully restored her father’s collection of 200 to 300 phones. She found them heaped high in the rafters of his garage, where they’d been for 50 years. “My father worked for a telephone company in California after World War II. People didn’t want their old-fashioned phones, and he was happy to collect their discards,” Moore reminisces. “He kept everything in good working order — every phone I have can be used.” Phones dating from the early 1900s are mounted on walls in the living and dining rooms, including a “Scizzors” phone that once graced company offices in the 1920s (Moore thinks it was the precursor to today’s extension phone). Her father acquired an old switchboard, which he intended to hook up, but somehow never got around to it. Moore has been working on it for years and has almost achieved her dad’s goal. She keeps abreast of the increasing value of the collection (most phones are worth $200 and more) by reading price guides, checking e-Bay results, and joining such organizations as the Antique Telephone Collectors Association. “Prices depend on rarity and whether the phones have all of their original parts,” she notes, but says she has no intention of ever selling the collection, as it is a heartfelt tribute to her father and evokes fond memories of her childhood.
Down the street from Janice Moore, Marilyn and Roger Harlan enjoy what they call “old things their parents and grandparents used in their everyday life — from old tools and farm implements to well-worn kitchen utensils. “Nothing was ever thrown away,” Marilyn Harlan remembers. “It was a natural reaction to use Dad’s plumbing stuff that worked just as well as the newer versions. Now I appreciate the patina on the old wooden toolbox and the simple lines of his old lawnmower. It all holds double meaning for me.”
Harlan loves to scour yard sales and flea markets for “junk” that she can add to her collection. While antiques seem to be casually strewn around the house and yard, closer inspection reveals patterns of groupings based on thematic content. Other antiques have been cleverly turned into lamps including an old coffeepot and gasoline can. “It gives me great pleasure to realize that many of these objects are enjoying second and third lives,” she says with a contented smile. Her husband, former city council member, Roger Harlan, tends to his own collection of vintage lead trucks and cars, many saved from childhood. “We didn’t have many toys, and so every single truck or car was extremely valuable to me. If I lost one, it was not easily replaced,” he says as he shakes his head. “It makes me happy that my children and now my grandchildren enjoy them and it’s also a testament to how well made they were.”
When Edna Pogue and her husband Jim moved from California to Park City four years ago, they found the flea markets in Salt Lake City a source for their many already-established collections. When time allowed, Edna also surfed e-Bay, especially for vintage miniature kitchen stoves. These made-to-scale models were either made as toys or more rarely as “salesmen’s samples” that were displayed in rural stores, hopefully enticing customers into ordering the latest model. Many of these miniatures were advertised in magazines for children and catalogs such as that of Sears. Pogue notes that all of her stoves are in working order. She marvels, “I could actually burn wood in them.” Some stoves in Pogue’s collection are replicas made in the 1960s usually priced from $50 to $250. If original, their price tags today often read over $1,000. She keeps them along with other kitchen miniatures in built-in cabinets with glass doors, thereby reducing the need to dust.
While Pogue doesn’t mind mixing reproductions with real antiques, she thinks it is important to recognize the differences between them. “You have to know your iron,” she notes. “The iron on reproductions will be rough and grainy, not smooth and silky like on the old stoves.”
All of these savvy Park City antiques fans demonstrate a curiosity about their collections, a talent for display and an appreciation for the history behind them. By turning a page into the past, they are looking into the future, saving heirlooms and other found delights for future generations.
Wendy Lavitt has authored six books and many magazine articles in the collecting field. She has guest-curated several shows for museums including two for Park City’s Kimball Art Center. She and her family discovered Park City in 1976 and since have lived both part time and full time in what she calls a "little bit of heaven."