Mantiques: Collecting for Sport
By Meredith Jean Morris
Three china closets packed to the brim. Military memorabilia covering the walls. Thousands of marbles on display. These descriptions might sound like the contents of an eclectic shop specializing in items from eras gone by, but they are the prized possessions of a few of Polk’s “mantiquers” – the 863’s men who collect antiques.
“My collection is kind of a catch-all for military stuff,” says Hugh Jones of Bartow. “And, I can’t resist a good story, or, as goofy as it sounds, something that shows wear.”
Jones, who rents booth space at antique store Lloyds of Lakeland, became a collector at a young age, when a middle school history teacher introduced him to baseball card collecting.
“I had this teacher, Mr. Cheek, who loved giving out baseball cards,” Jones says. “He really got me started on the collecting bug.”
That bug has grown into a lifelong fascination, leading Jones to scour antique fairs, garage sales and thrift stores for items to add to his collection.
Jones’ collection encompasses a variety of military items, but perhaps the most unlikely items in his collection are his teacups — a fascination passed onto him by his mother.
“I get picked on by other guys when they find out I have a teacup collection,” Jones says, chuckling.
However, the teacups in his collection reflect a definitive time in American history. They endorse the Occupy Germany and Occupy Japan slogans of World War II.
Jones says the key to successful collecting is having knowledge about the items’ history.
“You have to know how it’s made,” he says. “You have to know what you’re looking for, but knowing how it’s made is the biggest thing.”
A good example of one of Jones’ knowledgable finds is a silver creamer that was made in Germany in the 1800s.
“It was black from top to bottom,” he says. “I looked at the way the handle was pinned to it and the way the metal was worked. It ended up being pure silver, and I bought it for $15. Knowing how things are made helps you from buying fakes.”
While Jones’ favorite collectibles are related to the military, that doesn’t mean he discriminates.
“I’ll sell anything I can make money on,” he says. “I’ve sold everything from Barbie dolls to bows to antique Boy Scouts stuff, and comic books and records. I’m like a kid on Christmas with this stuff.”
Marble collector Steve Debats, of Lakeland, agrees with the enthusiasm.
“For me, it started 25 years ago when my mother-in-law said, ‘There’s something going on with marbles,’ ” he says. “I just had to learn about them. I went to a marble show about 18 years ago. Up to that point, I’d just been buying anything that was round and glass. After that, I learned more about what to look for.”
Debats, who owns Lloyds of Lakeland, has thousands of marbles, ranging in value from less than $1 to $1,000-plus.
“I have a showcase to show off my main collection,” he says. “But, I don’t really sell them. If someone inquires, I’ll give them a price to scare them off. One time, I had someone who paid it. It just about broke my heart.”
Debats prides himself on instilling a passion for marbles in younger generations.
“Every kid who comes in the shop leaves with a marble,” he says. “It’s important to create collectors. Your collection is only as good as the next generation. If no one wants to buy what you have, it won’t be worth anything.”
Winter Haven mantiquer Brad Dowton understands the role younger generations play in collectibles. He collects vintage glassware, dishes, and crystal.
“With the population getting older, items that were valuable to grandparents and parents is just glass to younger people,” Dowton says. “I’ve picked up incredible buys when people think they are just getting rid of a piece of glass.”
One example was a piece of Waterford crystal purchased at Goodwill for $2. It’s worth $50, he says.
While Dowton does have a personal collection, he also sells items on Ebay.
“I enjoy using the pieces I have,” he says. “But, there’s only so much room. I have three china closets and a storage unit. I also overflowed my collection to my niece’s house.”
Due to space constraints, Dowton says he has a rule that when he buys new items, he must sell something.
“It’s hard, though,” he says. “I don’t want to get rid of anything.”
Part of the thrill in collecting items can be the story behind the memorabilia, Jones says. He enjoys finding military pieces and trying to discern the history behind it.
“I have a painting of a World War II airborne soldier, and right now it stays on the wall because I don’t know who he is, yet,” Jones says. “I know from the medals that it’s World War II, it was painted in 1946, and I know he jumped at Normandy, but I don’t know who it is.”
Jones says he would not only like to know the identity of the soldier, but perhaps have the opportunity to reconnect the painting with one of the soldier’s family members.
“I would love to find the family of the man and give them the painting,” he says. “Until then, he has a great home right here.”
Jones says he comes by many collectibles when relatives have estate sales for items owned by older family members.
“I would tell people to not throw things out of your family house without having someone look at it to see what it’s worth,” he says. “People just don’t realize what they’re getting rid of sometimes.”