Collector spotlight: Arthur Farrell, collector of Charles Eisenmann photos

Serious collectors of vintage circus and sideshow memorabilia know and revere photographer Charles Eisenmann, an immigrant from Germany. Not long after the Civil War, Eisenmann established himself in New York’s Bowery, that thin slice of living history in Lower Manhattan running from East Fourth Street down to Canal Street. Up …

What the experts collect: Spotlight on Elyse Luray of PBS History Detectives

Charismatic, inquisitive, intelligent, enthusiastic – did I neglect to say telegenic? – Elyse Luray, like her fellow investigators on the PBS series “History Detectives”, brings to the field of history all the energy, relevance and wonder…

Chicago and beyond: Art Shay photo exhibition features 60 years of unforgettable moments

~ An Exclusive ~ . A buff and smiling yet self-conscious-looking Marlon Brando, age 26, relaxes on his Libertyville, Ill., farm in the company of his spaniel, that steadiest of companions, sporting its own canine grin … A sea of mourners courses through the streets of Memphis to see …

Restoration angels: The History Channel’s ‘American Restoration’ premieres April 15

~ An Exclusive ~ . April 15: a date that always reminds me of death, taxes, and collecting … and whether money owed to the IRS will put a crimp in the latter, at least in the short term. Sometimes I find myself lying awake at 3 a.m., wondering …

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Ben Isitt: The evil genius behind the scenes at the Black Lake Haunted Asylum

October 29, 2010 | Category: Exclusive, Haunted art, Haunted house, Interview

“Those lab specimens … those body parts … Are they REAL?”

341  320x240 benisitt <strong>Ben Isitt: </strong>The evil genius behind the scenes at the Black Lake Haunted Asylum

You may well be asking yourself that if you work up the courage to show up during “visiting hours” at the Black Lake Haunted Asylum at Freighthouse Square on one of its last four evenings this year: Thurs., Fri., Sat. and Sun., Oct. 28 through 31, from 6 to 10 p.m.

The creepy props and nightmarish scenery comes from the prolific imagination of designer/fabricator Ben Isitt (, whose work experience runs the gamut from Hollywood movie sets to amusement park atmospherics, from commercial décor to parade floats, from fountains and other topiary sculpture to home entertainment spaces and – dare I say it? – kids’ rooms!

Not that this should surprise anyone: The versatile Mr. Isitt, age 43, originally from San Pedro, Calif., and now of Puyallup, is a professional artist and hardly deranged – although you might suspect otherwise on seeing him throwing off all “restraints,” so to speak, at the Haunted Asylum. But even there, in the dark basement corridors of Freighthouse Square, Ben surgically attaches humor to horror, schlock to shock, creating a tour experience that’s part Hieronymus Bosch and part P. T. Barnum … or maybe Ed Wood and Ed Gein?

You decide … Meanwhile, I asked Ben about his work: His answers reveal some of the influences behind his inventiveness …

AmeriCollector: Have you always been a full-time artist, or did you do something else for a living before that?

Ben: I’ve always been a full time artist.

AC: Did you study art formally in school, or are you self-taught?

Ben: I studied art from an early age and eventually attended Phoenix Institute of Technology in California, for commercial art and pursued prop fabrication through apprenticeship and through hands-on work.

AC: Where is your studio located?

Ben: I have a shop on my property at my home in Puyallup as well as a work studio in the basement of the Freighthouse Square.

AC: Do you have any hobbies not strictly related to your artwork?

Ben: Yes, I enjoy building unique flying model aircraft from time to time.

AC: You specialize in sculpture and 3-D props, which is a lot different from working on a flat surface. What materials do you prefer to work in, and in what size: life-size or larger-than-life?

Ben: I enjoy the difference in scales differently. I don’t really have a preference in size, but I enjoy working with six-pound urethane foam versus other products that are commonly used in prop fabrication.

AC: You do a range of work, from signage to statuary to parade floats – even costumes. Are there particular objects you especially enjoy creating, or themes that you like to work in?

Ben: I like the imagination and variety of working within the horror genre most because of the limitless ways to express one’s imagination. And I use the “Haunt” (Black Lake Haunted Asylum) as a practical application for showcasing creations and frightening people at the same time.

AC: The Black Lake Haunted Asylum follows a classic carnival tradition, but it goes far beyond the usual cheap funhouse effects. How did you get involved in this annual event?

Ben: Having worked for Six Flags for 10 years and building props and creations for their Fright Fest influenced me to pursue these endeavors for myself and also appease the need to be creative in something that was relative to sculpture and prop fabrication.

AC: How much new stuff do you create each year, and where do you get your ideas? Do you decide what to create by committee, or do you have free license to do what you want?

Ben: It’s hard to describe where these ideas come from. Each year, I try to incorporate something new and exciting but most of all unique. Often in haunts you see the same ideas happening in the same ways, with little difference, but I try to create things that no one has ever seen before.

I do have free license to create props for the haunt depending on the annual budget. Some years are better than others. This year, we added an organ-grinder/Gatling gun, complete with rabid zombie monkey perched on top. This takes a clichéd machine-gun effect and gives it an interesting new twist.

AC: The Haunted Asylum appeals to many people’s desire, going back to childhood, to be frightened within a safe context, such as seeing a horror movie. Were haunted houses, horror films, Halloween and other scary but fun experiences a formative influence for you?

Ben: Absolutely. Whether it’s old film or new, I always enjoy special effects no matter what capacity they are used and appreciate the ideas and the imagination behind them.

AC: What ARE your favorite horror films, anyway?

Ben: “The Thing,” all of the “Alien” movies … I enjoyed “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” and “Time Bandits.”

AC: The mental asylum concept seems to generate an especially strong response in people. How do you explain it?

Ben: I think because most human beings fear the loss of their own mind, the power of thought or control, people are uncomfortable with the theme; however, we’re not looking to promote the negative aspects of mental illness in itself, but rather point it in a direction of a fictional character, Dr. West, who through medical experiments creates his own monsters much like Frankenstein. This allows people to experience being afraid or uncomfortable in a safe environment. This is a haunt, after all: It’s all theatrics and not intended to offend but rather entertain based on a time period when such places existed but also add a terrifying twist to the theme.

AC: Who are your artistic influences?

Ben: My artistic influences vary, but if I were to name a favorite it would be artist Judson Huss and designer of the Aliens from the “Alien” film series, H. R. Giger.

AC: What is your “dream” project?

Ben: I would enjoy working on a large intricate sculpted relief or frieze of a dramatic scene like something from Dante’s “Inferno” or even “Alice in Wonderland,” but perhaps combined with a contemporary setting.

The Black Lake Haunted Asylum tour is conducted in groups of four to six guests, lasts 15 to 20 minutes and is not recommended for children under 13. Admission is $13 but tickets are limited: Get them online at Freighthouse Square is located at 2501 East “D” St., Tacoma. For directions, visit

Images courtesy of Ben Isitt, Ben’s Artworks,

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Hold on to your frontal lobes: The Black Lake Haunted Asylum is back at Freighthouse Square!

October 27, 2010 | Category: Experience, Haunted art

336  320x240 img 19851 <strong>Hold on to your frontal lobes:</strong> The Black Lake Haunted Asylum is back at Freighthouse Square! Tacoma’s answer to Bedlam, Black Lake Haunted Asylum – a South Sound Halloween “institution” if ever there was one – has been re-created in the bleak basement bowels of Freighthouse Square again this year … But you better surrender all sharp objects and commit yourself quick: Your last chances to get the shock of your life are Thurs., Fri., Sat. and Sun., Oct. 28 through 31, from 6 to 10 p.m.

I haven’t been to this year’s “treatment” yet, but I know from last year that this isn’t your grandparents’ amusement park haunted house – unless Grandpa was Boris Karloff. For one thing, Black Lake Haunted Asylum comes with a “history”: As a consequence of gruesome experiments and procedures performed by its psychopathic chief of staff, Dr. Hubert West, the Black Lake Medical Asylum and Research Facility was the scene of horrific incidents of cruelty and violence culminating in a riot and fire that destroyed the main structure and several outbuildings. While bodies of upwards of 125 patients and staff were found in the smoldering ruins, and another 64 succumbed after being taken to area hospitals, Sheriff Ronald Smith estimated the death toll at more than 200 and possibly as high as 300. That figure does not include Black Lake Asylum’s most notorious inmate, an oddly fetching cannibal named Kristen Starkey; she had been the perfectly happy and well-adjusted daughter of the asylum caretaker before becoming the object of twisted Dr. West’s special attentions and medical ministrations, including electro-shock, with disastrous results. The fate or whereabouts of “Crazy Kristen” – who makes Hannibal Lecter look like Mister Rogers – remain unknown, but each year there are numerous sightings of her at the Freighthouse Square event, and she may actually be running for representative in the 26th Legislative District this November. (Be sure to use a blue or black pen, fill in the blanks completely and mail your ballot in early!)

That’s the story in a “nutshell,” so to speak; you can read the contemporary newspaper accounts on the asylum Web site. If you’re the jumpy sort, I recommend bringing a mentally stable friend to clutch – or at least a change of underwear – and enjoy this year’s tour, which features another slew of enthusiastic actor-participants, haunt makeup by The Voyeur Dead Girls ( and AMAZING custom props by professional designer/fabricator Ben Isitt (, whose résumé includes work on the films “Jurassic Park” and “Army of Darkness” and on the “E.T” ride at Universal Studios.

The asylum tour is conducted in groups of four to six “patients,” lasts 15 to 20 minutes – less if you’re a fast runner – and is not recommended for children under 13. Admission is $13 but tickets are limited: Get them online at Freighthouse Square is located at 2501 East “D” St., Tacoma. For directions, visit

Images courtesy Black Lake Haunted Asylum

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Olympia ‘Roundup Stamp Show’ on Sat., Oct. 30: New worlds for young collectors to explore!

October 27, 2010 | Category: Events, Stamps

You can explore the wide world of philately (stamp collecting) FREE by attending The Olympia Philatelic Society’s “Fall Roundup Stamp Show” on Sat., Oct. 30, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Comfort Inn Conference Center, 1620 74th Ave. SW (just off I-5, Exit 101/Tumwater Blvd.), in Tumwater, Wash. There will be upwards of a dozen dealers, stamp exhibits, a U.S. Postal Service booth, refreshments, a kids’ room and free stamps for kids. Parking is free.

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Olympia ‘Roundup Stamp Show’ on Sat., Oct. 30: New worlds for young collectors to explore!

October 27, 2010 | Category: Stamps

inverted jenny stamp <strong>Olympia ‘Roundup Stamp Show’ on Sat., Oct. 30:</strong> New worlds for young collectors to explore!The Internet is an amazing thing: a portal to a whole universe packed with virtual libraries and schools, shopping malls and banks, movie theaters and concert halls, government agencies and employment offices … even coffee shops and park benches where you can, by e-mail and through chat rooms, figuratively sit down and schmooze with someone living down the street or on a different continent – with neither of you having to step out of your actual front doors.

Small wonder that children of the 21st century growing up on the Web, equipped with cell phones and adept at text messaging, are less likely to experience the simple joy that kids only a generation ago did when the mailman brought a letter or postcard from far away, bearing a beautiful or unusual stamp.

Stamp collecting (or philately, the study of postal history, which includes not just stamps but postmarks, envelopes and other postal items) is a good, wholesome hobby that can broaden children’s knowledge of many subjects: history, geography, transportation, commerce, communications, art, popular culture – you name it. What’s more, parents, teachers and club organizers can easily build on this to develop kids’ social, organizational and composition skills – not to mention penmanship. (I’ll write about some of those projects in an upcoming story.) It’s also a low-tech way for parents, grandparents and others to share some quality time and, hopefully, a common interest with younger relatives.

You can explore the wide world of philately FREE by attending The Olympia Philatelic Society’s “Fall Roundup Stamp Show” on Sat., Oct. 30, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Comfort Inn Conference Center, 1620 74th Ave. SW (just off I-5, Exit 101/Tumwater Blvd.), in Tumwater, Wash. There will be upwards of a dozen dealers, stamp exhibits, a U.S. Postal Service booth, refreshments, a kids’ room and free stamps for kids. Parking is free.

I haven’t been able to determine how many people collect stamps: A 1996 New York Times story by Marcia Vickers (“Delivery Isn’t Guaranteed, but Stamps Are Turning Profits,” viewable at cites a contemporary USPS estimate that some 20 million Americans were stamp collectors, “defined as people who have saved at least one stamp.” (By that reckoning, I’m also a buffalo nickel collector and a refrigerator magnet collector, I guess. With accounting logic like that, no wonder the Postal Service is in trouble.) “About five million collect up to four stamps a year,” continues Ms. Vickers (again, writing in 1996). “And about 550,000 are serious collectors, people who … carefully research stamps and slowly build collections.”

Asked to name their hobby now, 15 years later, it’s hard to say just how many Americans would answer, “Philately!” No matter: Stamp collecting is the kind of hobby we at AmeriCollector love:

  • It’s fun
  • It’s educational.
  • It can be enjoyed by people of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities.
  • It spans many subject areas.
  • It doesn’t have to take up much space.
  • It can be done on any budget – for the price of ordinary postage stamps, if that’s all you can afford.

Meanwhile, if you and/or your child decide you want to get deeper into philately than just keeping Aunt Marge’s holiday postcards from Spain in a kitchen drawer, you can see the possibilities by going to a stamp show and noticing how dealers organize their items within various collecting areas.

I think this is a smart approach if you don’t yet know what you really want to collect. Whether it’s Washington Territorial postmarks, stamps of the independent Armenian Republic of 1918–20, U.S. airmail history or stamps with images of cats on them, my advice is to specialize and branch out: Resist the urge to buy a lot of unrelated stuff in the beginning, only to you have to eBay it off later on to afford what you REALLY want.

(For philately basics, visit the American Philatelic Society at and the Smithsonian’s National Museum Postal Museum at

Recently I chatted with some of members of the Olympia Philately Society (founded in 1955, incorporated as a nonprofit in 1976 and with about 48 members at present), and I was really impressed by how friendly and outgoing they were. I also asked OPS president Dennis Gelvin and treasurer Shar Wilkey some questions about the society, the Roundup Stamp Show and philately in general:

AmeriCollector: When they hear “philately,” many people think postage stamps clipped from letters. What does philately really encompass?

Dennis: “Philately” of course can be the stamps clipped from vacation postcards, although more collectors would save the entire card as a study of postal markings, rates and transportation.

Philately is almost an indefinable hobby, other than as a general study of official issues and methods of the postal system of any country.  A dictionary will of course have formal definitions, but we have nearly 50 members of the club, and to my knowledge no two of us have anywhere near an identical collection.

I have been collecting since 1967, and been interested in several different areas of specialization, I’m currently working on canceled envelopes and postcards (called covers) from Washington State Post Offices that no longer exist.

AC: How would you advise a newcomer to philately on how to start a collection?

Shar: I’ve collected seriously for 30 years, specializing in northern island countries because we lived on islands in Alaska when my husband was in the Coast Guard. Most collectors specialize once they realize that collecting worldwide is just overwhelming and impossible. Some, however, just collect to 1940 or 1950, or some other smaller segment of the world.

The thing to make clear is that a collection can be what you want: topical, one country, covers from the year you were born or the state where you grew up …I collect dragons on stamps and have been amazed to find that nearly every ethnic group has a dragon story in its folklore or history, many of them on stamps.

AC: We often hear of stamps like “Penny Blacks” and “Inverted Jennys” that sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Is philately an expensive hobby to get involved in?

Dennis: We do hear of the Inverted Jennies and other stamps selling for thousands, but the only reason is because they are rare, and do sell for lots of money. We don’t hear about the free stamps we can clip from envelopes found in the trash or from the vacation postcard. At any club meeting or at any show, there’ll be boxes of stamps for a nickel each, and folks will spend all day searching though them, finding stamps they don’t have in their collections – those don’t make the news.

A person can spend as little or as much as they want to on their collection. I’ll bet most of us started collecting for free: “Wow! What a neat stamp on this envelope someone threw away!”

AC: How can teachers introduce philately into their curricula?

Shar: My daughter is a second grade teacher and uses insect stamps to illustrate some of the bugs in her discussions. She says the kids love the stamps. I also did a presentation to a teacher friend’s class about collecting. Then we had a hands-on session with big piles of stamps for them to sort through. They had a page with subjects like transport, animals, buildings, man-made and nature and added the stamps to the correct blocks. The kids didn’t want to quit.

Our shows have a dedicated teacher who does the same in a separate area just for the kids and gives prizes for finished sheets. The club gets lots of donations for children, so the prizes are really nice. Older children get assignments and make posters using stamps to illustrate their subjects. Her area is always well attended and the families really get into the act. The U.S. Postal Service has a packet for $12 for teachers to use in classrooms.

AC: How much does it cost to join the Olympia Philatelic Society, how often do you meet and what does membership involve?

Shar: We meet on the second and fourth Mondays of each month at 7:30 p.m. at the Olympics West Retirement Inn, 929 Trosper Rd. SW, in Tumwater.  Our address is Olympia Philatelic Society (OPS), P.O. Box 1554, Olympia, WA 98507. An informational phone for the shows is (360) 455-0082. Club dues are $10 a year, due in December or January; for this, a member receives a monthly newsletter and a membership list with members’ collecting interests and contact information.

Dennis: Membership involves whatever you want it to: We have members we seldom see, and a core of regulars who seem to always be there, and yet others who appear every once in a while. The nice thing about it is that nothing is obligatory; it’s just a nice, friendly diversion from the stress of a job and often life in general.

AC: How often do you hold shows?

Dennis: We hold our Roundup Stamp Show twice a year, in April and October. There are usually 9 to 12 dealers, who have a varied stock: There’ll be something for everyone.

The neighborhood stamp store is nearly a thing of the past: The weekend shows are now the in-person market.

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The top 10 signs that your collecting is out of control

October 8, 2010 | Category: Collector's humor

10. You’ve memorized all your auction bidder numbers but can’t recall your kids’ first names.

9. Your collection takes up so much of the surface area in your home, your cat has to sleep standing up.

8. You asked your pastor to move church services to Tuesday nights so you can have Sundays free to attend garage sales.

7. You’ve started a profitable side business selling used Styrofoam peanuts and bubble pack from all the boxes you receive.

6. The seismographs at your regional earthquake research center record a tremor every time you get an outbid notice.

5. You started to write the first price guide to your collecting field, then decided you didn’t give a damn what anything cost.

4. Your total time spent at collector’s conventions and shows exceeds your first two marriages.

3. Every Christmas, the president of PayPal sends you a bottle of booze and a personal letter thanking you for your business.

2. You’re new baby’s first word isn’t “Ma-ma” or “Da-da,” it’s “e-Bay.”

1. You call Dr. Phil for help – and he’s already heard of you!

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Collector alert: Railroad Memories auction ends Fri., Oct. 8

October 6, 2010 | Category: Auctions, Railroad memorabilia

You need a ‘ticket to ride’: Register now!

322  300x220 rr lot 156 <strong>Collector alert: </strong>Railroad Memories auction ends Fri., Oct. 8

Serious collectors, whatever their areas of interest, know that the best places to find scarce items are smaller venues: out-of-the-way shops and flea markets and specialty auctions. Go the extra mile, dig a little deeper, peruse entire auction catalogs, whether printed or online, and experiment with your key-word searches: You’re bound to be rewarded with buried treasure where your rivals didn’t think to look.

It’s another reason why I urge readers to check out the current auction at Denver-based Railroad Memories (, which closes Fri., Oct. 8, at 5 p.m. Mountain Time (7 p.m. EST, 4 p.m. PST). Even if the Age of Steam doesn’t get your pistons pumping, and your idea of rail travel is riding the shuttle between terminals at Sea-Tac Airport, you may well spot a unique piece to give as a holiday gift – an accent for your friend’s office, perhaps, or your significant other’s man cave or powder room – or to add color to your own living or work space. I guarantee you, smart professional decorators watch auctions like this.

There are about 500 lots in this auction, plenty of which have low minimum bids; but you have to register to participate, so don’t dicker. After a quick perusal, I noted some of the collecting categories represented:

  • Advertising and signage
  • Art deco
  • Art nouveau
  • Badges and insignia
  • Barware
  • Brassware
  • Broadsides
  • Buttons
  • Calendars
  • China
  • Cutlery
  • Ephemera
  • Furniture
  • Glassware
  • Jewelry
  • Lanterns
  • Lighters and match holders
  • Lighting fixtures
  • Locks and keys
  • Maps
  • Medallions
  • National parks
  • Pinbacks
  • Playing cards
  • Regional history
  • Calendars
  • China
  • Cutlery
  • Ephemera
  • Furniture
  • Glassware
  • Jewelry
  • Lanterns
  • Lighters and match holders
  • Lighting fixtures
  • Locks and keys
  • Maps
  • Medallions
  • National parks
  • Pinbacks
  • Playing cards
  • Regional history
  • Seals
  • Silver
  • Telegraphs and telephones
  • Timetables
  • Tobacciana
  • Tourism
  • Uniforms
  • Writing implements

Of course, there’s good old-fashioned railroad memorabilia for train enthusiasts as well, all described by an expert. Railroad Memories owner and appraiser Susan Knous and her late husband Bill authored “Railroadiana: The Official Price Guide for the Year 2000 and Beyond,” now out of print. “I am proud to say we sold 7,000 copies,” Susan told me. “It is still available from Amazon and many of the other used-book dealers, often selling for a ridiculous premium. However, if you watch eBay or even some of the dealers’ sites, you can still find it fairly affordable.”

Susan said she is well into production of a new book, “Railroadiana II: The Official Price Guide for the Year 2011 and Beyond,” to be completed this year. “I am feeling pretty excited to be this far along,” she noted. “My first book has 368 pages and over 900 photographs. The new book, I am proud to say, is completely illustrated, with photographs for every piece shown; there will be several thousand. I am halfway through layout and have surpassed 2,200 photographs now.”

Eager to learn more about railroad collecting, I asked Susan some basic questions about it …

AmeriCollector: Why do people collect railroad memorabilia? What is the appeal?

Susan: I have had the pleasure over the last 25 years of dealing with so many different people in this hobby. For some, they grew up with the railroads, and the love of the memorabilia has just been a way to keep those wonderful memories alive. Many are retired former employees, and then others are just fascinated with the history.

Whatever the reason, there seems to be a magic that lures people to the railroads. Watch a child’s eyes light up when he or she sees a model train – too young to have been able to experience it firsthand and yet still fascinated by the engine pulling the cars around the track. Is this the beginning of a lifelong hobby? I would like to think so. Even adults become enthralled by the display. And yet, this hobby does seem to entice more men than woman. There are many wives who take part, but oftentimes it seems the trains are big boys’ toys.

And then there are so many different facets of this hobby. Some just model; others take photographs chasing trains across the country to get just the right shot; and then others collect.

AC: What do collectors tend to focus on?

Susan: The railroads marked everything with their initials or logos, which has kept the provenance alive. If you grew up in New York and you remember the 20th Century Limited, you would most likely collect the china, lanterns, locks, keys and so much more with the logos and initials; it becomes a way to keep the history of a bygone era alive. If your passion is the history of the early narrow-gauge railroads that struggled to build lines in areas so remote that even if they were successful they often lasted only a few short years, then to obtain something from those elusive carriers is the ultimate quest. Such items can command premium prices.

I have customers as far away as England who collect Colorado Midland memorabilia. There are enthusiasts who limit their choices to simply collecting lanterns or locks or keys. And then there are those who look for everything and anything in regard to the railroads. From the simplest timetable to the rarest lantern, each piece has a story that we only wish we could replay.

AC: Is collecting railroadiana an expensive hobby? Are there interesting items that are relatively inexpensive?

Susan: It is not uncommon for some extremely rare pieces to command several thousand dollars. Certain lanterns bring in excess of $25,000 or $30,000. Some keys sell for $2,500; locomotive builders’ plates and front-end number plates in excess of $10,000; and some china pieces for $4,000. And then there are the paper items, surprisingly bringing $1,000-plus for a paper pass from an early narrow-gauge railroad. All of this seems to suggest that railroad collectibles are real treasures.

Still, there are definitely some affordable items to be had, and no, you don’t have to spend thousands to enjoy this hobby. My catalog is a great example of that, with minimum bids as low as $5 to as much as $5,000.

I encourage people to join the hobbyist organizations. The Railroadiana Collectors Association, Incorporated (RCAI, at is a great start. The Web site is very well done and is a great resource for anyone interested in getting started in the hobby.

AC: Is it my imagination or are there very few dealers – and fewer auctions – specializing in railroad items?

Susan: You are right that there are only a few companies that specialize in railroad collectibles. Many would suggest that there are just not enough railroad artifacts that have survived to be able to spread the wealth. My thought is if you are in the collector’s circles, the antiques are still available.

It is the specialization and the lack of overall knowledge of railroad collectibles that probably limit the amount of companies involved. Railroad Memories has built a strong reputation for honesty, integrity and unparalleled customer service, coupled with extensive knowledge derived from handling amazingly rare items over the years.

AC: How did you and your husband get involved in railroad memorabilia?

Susan: This starts as a hobby for many but turned into a full-time business for my late husband and me. He was the consummate entrepreneur. He always loved trains growing up, and my grandfather was an executive with the Denver & Rio Grande, so I had the love of trains in my family.

We took a road trip one day up to Georgetown, Colo., to ride the Loop Railroad and, walking around town, saw a small shop for rent. We discussed plans all the way home, made a few calls and within a week had rented the storefront. Our thought was that a shop devoted to railroad artifacts would be fun in a small mountain town.

We did our first auction in 1987 after meeting a gentleman with a large collection he needed to sell. Needless to say, this was the beginning of what would become a successful full-time business. It is due to our experience in handling literally thousands of different pieces of railroad antiques over 25 years that we have been able to amass not only a large photographic library but also the knowledge to write the price guides.

We were partners in everything we did and had 33 wonderful years together and three beautiful children. Continuing to build the business we began together is my way of keeping his memory alive.


Images provided courtesy of Railroad Memories (

zekebullet <strong>Collector alert: </strong>Railroad Memories auction ends Fri., Oct. 8 Railroadiana: The Official Price Guide for the Year 2000 and Beyond <strong>Collector alert: </strong>Railroad Memories auction ends Fri., Oct. 8

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Painting the wide open spaces

October 5, 2010 | Category: Exclusive, Interview, Western Art

exclusive32 <strong>Painting the wide open spaces</strong>

Fred Oldfield Center hosts 21st Annual Celebration of Western & Wildlife Art Show & Auction, Oct. 8 to 10; meet guest of honor Michael McGrady, actor and painter!

300  320x240 michael mcgrady <strong>Painting the wide open spaces</strong> “Icon” … It’s a word that has lost much of its impact through overuse by our glib media.

I don’t mean “icon” in the sense of a religious image or, similarly, a command symbol on a computer monitor (everyone’s personal shrine in the Internet Age, with direct access to the gods and demons of cyberspace: no clergy necessary). I mean it as an embodiment of a spirit and an era, a place and a time and an approach to life.

Ask Americans and observers of America what they see as this nation’s most iconic figure – the embodiment of the American spirit – and I’ll wager my milk money they’ll say the cowboy.

To those of us who generally get no closer to a horse than watching a Clint Eastwood movie, “cowboy” in the classic sense is a broad term that includes different people who lived in the Old West of lore and legend, that rugged, untamed land west of the Mississippi from the mid-19th century to the early years of the 20th. We may use the “cowboy” loosely to mean a frontiersman, applying it to not just to ranchers and cattlemen but homesteaders and sheepherders, trappers and traders, prospectors and mountain men. All the same, it’s that courage and independence amid solitude and long vistas that we revere – that unself-conscious individualism and rawhide-tough acceptance of danger and deprivation – that even nowadays inspires little kids, wearing cardboard Stetsons and plastic six-shooters from Wal-Mart, to walk with a swagger and imagine themselves riding the range.

The Old West – that’s to say, the historical West of Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour, John Wayne and John Ford – supposedly ended with World War I, a cataclysm that marked the ends of eras in many other places as well. But the American West as a physical place (a very broad and topographically varied one) and the cowboy as an archetype live on, although the modern world tries to encroach a little more each day. Usually it succeeds, but not always …

That’s because there is flesh-and-blood proof that the cowboy of yesteryear still walks with us: He’s Fred Oldfield, onetime placer miner, ex-prizefighter, Army veteran, longtime cattle driver, renowned painter with an extensive and devoted following.

Raised on the Yakima Reservation, Fred, now 92, is a Washington cultural institution, a beloved mentor to the young artists (most on scholarships) who study with him at the nonprofit Fred Oldfield Western Heritage & Art Center (, located at the Puyallup Fairgrounds (home to another Washington cultural institution, during which Fred enthusiastically pitches in every spring and fall). Honored in 2003 and 2008 by the Washington State Senate and Governors Gary Locke and Christine Gregoire, respectively – they declared his 85th and 90th birthdays “Fred Oldfield Day” – Fred is a rare individual who has done much in his 92 years and still bubbles over with creative energy. While working in Alaska in his late teens, he started painting Western scenes on bunkhouse walls and linoleum tiles; over the years he would paint whole murals depicting historic events and sweeping landscapes for businesses like the Horseshoe Café in Bellingham and the Copper Creek Inn at Mt. Rainier; and he continues to fill canvases with stirring images of the cowboy life he lived and the vast and starkly beautiful terrain in which he lived it.

Actually, “authentic” is a good adjective to describe Fred Oldfield – for his achievements, certainly, but also for the person he is. For Fred is emblematic of a time and a place and a value system that seems endangered in this 21st century, threatened by the apathy, selfishness, sloth, moral laxity and general dumbing down of our society. He brings to us a heritage of barn raisings and caring neighbors happy to lend a hand; a strong work ethic and a sense of personal integrity in which one’s word is a matter of honor, an agreement sealed with a handshake a solemn promise; and a sense of duty to one’s community, especially the young and disadvantaged.

302  320x240 540 3 foldfield <strong>Painting the wide open spaces</strong> This is Fred Oldfield’s West, and it’s one commemorated during the Celebration of Western & Wildlife Art Show & Auction that The Fred Oldfield Center hosts each year – in fact this week, from Fri. to Sun., Oct. 8 to 10, in the Expo Hall (Gold Gate) at the Puyallup Fairgrounds. Show hours are Fri., 3 to 10 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sun., 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call (253) 445-9175 for more information.

You’ll be stirred by the flair and vision with which Western themes are embraced by more than 100 extremely talented artists – painters, illustrators, sculptors, carvers, weavers, photographers and jewelers – and you’ll enjoy great country music by top-flight performers. There will also be live and silent auctions, art demonstrations, one-hour “quick-draw” challenges and meet-and-greets. Admission and parking are FREE, and proceeds from the show will benefit the Experience Art Program at The Fred Oldfield Center. It’s an event the whole family will love!

But that’s not all: This year’s guest of honor is Federal Way native Michael McGrady, a masterful professional landscape painter (view his work at, an intrepid hang glider and an accomplished martial artist (he’s the holder of two black belts) who also happens to be a highly successful TV and film actor. (Michael stars as Detective Daniel “Sal” Salinger on the TNT police drama “Southland,” played Buchalter in the action-thriller series “Day Break” and has been in a slew of other shows, from “Grey’s Anatomy” and “ER” to “The Mentalist,” “Bones” and “Cold Case,” with repeat appearances in “CSI: Miami,” “Las Vegas,” “24” and “Murder, She Wrote.” His extensive filmography includes roles in “Evolution,” “The Thin Red Line,” “The Deep End of the Ocean,” “Wyatt Earp” and “The Babe,” in which he played Lou Gehrig opposite John Goodman as Babe Ruth).

Michael is passionate about art and especially painting, and I had a lot of questions about this important part of his life – and Fred Oldfield’s place in it. He obliged by answering them with great eloquence and wit …

AmeriCollector: How long have you been an artist?

Michael: I have been an artist ever since I can remember. I started out hiding under my sheets at night with a flashlight and pencil and paper drawing dinosaurs and race cars. I was supposed to be sleeping (LOL). I have always been a doodler and often sketch on napkins, bit of paper, whatever is handy at the moment.

I have been painting for a little over 20 years, although I have been either drawing or sculpting for much longer. I started out sculpting soapstone in my late teens and Carrara marble not too many years after.

I never dreamed that one day I would be a selling professional artist. I recently had a solo show at one of the galleries that represent my work and sold eight painting within the first two weeks.

AC: What do you most enjoy about painting?

Michael: What I enjoy most is the solitude and the freedom to get lost in thought … lost in the world of the subject. The dance between right-brain and left-brain activity is like massaging the brain. When I paint, I often listen to different types of music from classical to Led Zeppelin to help transport me emotionally into the painting I happen to be working on. I’ve been accused of being a romantic and I suppose I am guilty of that: Give me my paints, a blank canvas, a glass of good wine and I am in heaven. Riding my Harley with my wife on the back does the same thing (LOL).

AC: Many actors, including the late Tony Curtis (who passed away last week), have derived great satisfaction through painting. Is there a connection between performing and painting?

Michael: Tony Curtis, Tony Bennett and Gene Hackman are all great artists. There are several actors that paint. All of the arts are interchangeable as far as I experience them. I write, I play guitar and sing, sculpt and even dance Salsa with my wife, and the language is all the same: movement, line, composition, positive space, negative space, rests, melody, shape, etc. Primarily it all comes from the ability to let go and think less with the mind and feel more with the heart. It sounds corny but it’s the truth.

I have yet to meet an artist that bored me. Most are widely and deeply read and have a real appetite for new experiences. And all have a passion for life. I love to spend hours talking with other artists. I have a friend, Tim Willocks, who lives in the countryside of Ireland. He is an amazing novelist. He was a psychiatrist specializing in addiction and suicide. He practiced and studied at Oxford. He has written some incredible novels, his latest “The Religion.” He and I can get together with a bottle of good whiskey and talk for hours about everything under the sun, and yet, when I walk away, I am invigorated, rested and inspired. Small talk drains all of my energy and always leaves me wanting.

AC: Your landscapes are fantastic: beautifully executed and full of real atmosphere. Do you paint from life or imagination – or both?

Michael: I paint from both life and imagination. Usually I use what is in front of me as a reference point – a launch pad, if you will. Once I can grasp the “thing” that caught my attention in the first place, I then go about getting it down as quickly as possible in terms of color, form, edges, etc. Then I embellish as my instincts direct me.

AC: Do you have any favorite subject matter? Do you think growing up in the Northwest has had an influence on you?

Michael: Growing up in the Pacific Northwest has certainly influenced me. I gravitate toward landscapes because, let’s face it, nowhere on earth is there such diverse beauty than the Pacific Northwest. I tend toward autumn colors. Autumn is my favorite time of year: the umbers, rusts, ochers, browns, yellows and reds against bold blue greens, yellow greens and deep blues … I also like the feel of autumn: the cool crisp air, the sweet smell of maple leaves crushed beneath my feet and the smell of pine. That mix of fragrances has always been able to enchant me.

AC: What painters do you admire?

Michael: I admire the works of Joaquín Sarolla, Richard Schmid, John Singer Sergeant, Anders Zorn, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Jeremy Lipking, G. Harvey and my friend and recent mentor, Fred Oldfield.

AC: How long have you known of Fred Oldfield and his work? Has he had an influence on you?

Michael: I saw that ol’ rattlesnake Fred Oldfield on television a couple of years ago while recuperating from the flu. I was lying on the couch and he came on our local PBS station. I was amazed and shocked at what could be done with a knife. I recorded the episode and as soon as I got better I turned Fred back on and painted along with him. I was so satisfied by the experience and the results that I have been painting with knives ever since. I owe Mr. Oldfield a serious debt of gratitude: He opened up a world of art that I did not know existed. I now modify my own knives by shaping them and filing them to suit me.

To be invited to this event as the guest artist is more than just an honor: It is a humbling experience and one that will go down in my mind as a milestone. Fred’s daughter Joella has been a refreshing and welcome influence in our lives. Her loving, sweet and genuine nature has inspired both my wife and me to seek out more friends like her.

I am eager to get up there this week and meet Fred. I have talked with him on the phone and it was like I was talking to the grandfather I never had. We immediately hit it off and began talking about art and the Pacific Northwest. We have stayed in touch ever since.

Images of Michael McGrady’s paintings copyright © McGradyFineArt. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

MichaelMcGradyico <strong>Painting the wide open spaces</strong>

Michael McGrady’s website

Michael McGrady’s facebook

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Welcome to the redesigned AmeriCollector!

October 3, 2010 | Category: AmeriCollector updates

oldtype1 300x200 <strong>Welcome to the redesigned AmeriCollector!</strong>“Live fast, die young and make a good-looking corpse” – so said small-time mug Nick Romano (played by John Derek) in the 1949 Humphrey Bogart film “Knock on Any Door.”

At, we’d rather move fast, stick around a long time and make a hell of a good-looking collector’s Web site …

If you haven’t visited us in a while and just cruised by, only to think you typed in the wrong URL, that’s because we have a WHOLE NEW LOOK – the artistic and tech-savvy hand of Stephanie Irwin at work.

Stephanie is the other half of this operation – the part that endeavors to make AmeriCollector both eye-popping visually and user-friendly. That means adding all kinds of other functions that we have long been dreaming of, in the hopes that AmeriCollector will be the hippest, most comprehensive, most informative collector’s site around. What kinds of functions? Things like collector classified ads, club notices, message boards, a “What’s it worth?” feature for your own treasures as well as directories and calendars of online auctions and museum exhibits and book signings and shows taking place all over the country – and beyond – listed both geographically and by category. So, no matter where you are, where you go and how long you stay there, you’ll know what’s going on in a whole range of collecting fields.

We’re not there yet, but as anyone who really appreciates the challenges and intricacies of Web design well knows, it’s not just a matter of having lots and lots of useful stuff – it’s organizing it so that you, our visitor, can easily locate the information you want … and designing a beautiful Web site so you can have fun using it.

That’s exactly what Stephanie’s doing, and I don’t doubt for a New York nanosecond that her vision and expertise will win awards before long, for pioneering a model Web site that moves fast, offers lots of options and looks fantastic too.

On the writing and editorial end, we want to add more stories, more book and exhibition and auction reviews, more interviews and collector profiles – and post them more and more often as we get into our stride. And you can help us do that by submitting questions, comments, criticisms, suggestions, story ideas and news items and even, if you have a literary bent, writing for us. Drop us a line and tell us what you have in mind.

To our regulars, thanks for staying with us! To newcomers to our Web site, thanks for stopping by! We hope you’ll visit often and grow with us!

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‘Collector’s items’

October 3, 2010 | Category: Autographs, Collector's items

Bomsey Autographs update

301  320x240 bomsey fdr <strong>Collectors items</strong> Virginia-based autograph dealer Ed Bomsey (‘Collectors items,’ Aug. 11) of Edward N. Bomsey Autographs ( has announced a lot of new stock. What I like about Ed, in addition to the fact that he’s a likable guy who knows a lot, is that he prices his items very reasonably – this, at a time when a lot of other dealers seem to pull crazy prices out of the air. If you want to get an early jump on holiday shopping, check out Ed’s site, which is arranged alphabetically as well as by category.

Image courtesy of Edward M. Bomsey Autographs

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Celebration of Western & Wildlife Show & Auction

September 30, 2010 | Category: Auctions, Events

Sponsored by the Fred Oldfield Western Heritage & Art Center

300  320x240 michael mcgrady Celebration of Western & Wildlife Show & Auction

Michael Mc Grady, an actor as well as an accomplished painter will be the Guest of Honor for the 2010 Celebration of Western & Wildlife Art Show. Show Host Fred Oldfield, nationally acclaimed Western Artist, is pleased to have Michael join an already out- standing line up of over 100 of the country’s top Western Artists.  Fred is a friend and mentor to Michael and is delighted have Michael, a Federal Way HS Graduate, return to “his roots” and showcase his artwork at this event. Michael stars as “Sal” in the critically acclaimed TNT police drama “Southland” and is currently working in a movie. The show is delighted to.  Many of you know him as the young Federal Way High School graduate who took a leap of Faith and moved to Hollywood where he has enjoyed a full and rewarding acting career.  He has had recurring roles in “Las Vegas”, “CSI Miami”, “The Riches”, “Jag” and Fox’s24”.  He has also guest starred in dozens of major films.  Even though Michael has experienced great success in his acting career, he has never lost sight of his deep-felt passion for art.  He gravitates towards bold colors and thick layers of paint that encourages a more three-dimensional experience with painting.

The show opens with much excitement in the air as the artists gather from the Western half of the United States to bring this show to you. Western Art includes every subject matter that pertains to Americana whether it’s Cowboys and Indians, Grandma’s old house, Victorian ladies, Landscapes, Historical portrayals, or Nature. There will be oil paintings, watercolors, pencil drawings, bronzes, carvings, weavings, paper sculptures, photography and jewelry to please every taste. The show brings together such a diverse array of talent it’s hard to fathom where else you would be able to feast your eyes on such a display all under one roof. Come and spend your day wandering through the art displays. Enjoy meeting the artists and watching their art demonstrations. Then relax with the evening festivities at the “Artists Reception”. There you will get to watch the artists create a piece of artwork in one hour at the “Quick Draw” event. The items will then be auctioned off at the Live Auction. Meanwhile you can enjoy the Silent Mini Auction with all the art gems being Miniature in size.

The show benefits the “Experience Art Program” at the Fred Oldfield Western Heritage & Art Center. The Art Program is designed to engage students of all ages in a guided creative learning experience.

Exciting Quick Draws – Live Auctions – FREE Family venue! FREE admission – FREE parking

Visit Fred Oldfield Western Heritage & Art Center  for more information.

Media Contact Joella Oldfield.

More photos available – Phone interviews with Michael can be arranged.

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Yesterday's Gallery


Palmer Wirfs - America's Largest Antique & Collectible Shows

Foss Waterway Seaport

Timothy Hughes Rare & Early Newspapers

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Dietrich's Vault

Prize Fighting Books

Curtright and Son Tribal Art

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