Collecting at Arc’s Value Village

By Adam Granger.

I’m a collector. I collect small things, often miniature, but not necessarily. The only two criteria are that they’ve got to be small and I’ve got to think they’re neat. I’ve had this passion as long as I can remember. I still have items from my early childhood: a tiny black pot, a small leather dictionary, a miniature deck of playing cards and twenty or so china animals.

My adult collecting started in earnest about 25 years ago, when we bought our house and I suddenly had space not hitherto afforded by apartments and car trunks. I acquired a large commercial glass display case and filled it with literally a thousand cool little things. It lived in our dining room for awhile, but when I got a second, bigger case and filled it, too, it became clear even to me that the collection needed to migrate southward.

Today, my basement “museum” contains dozens of display cases and boxes holding tens of thousands of items in sixty-odd collections: miniature versions of knives, books, slot machines (over 200!), harmonicas, tools and puzzles, as well as, wind-up toys, styrene figures, money facsimiles, cloth patches, sets of nesting boxes, campaign buttons, and—well you get the picture. All that’s missing is a partridge in a pear tree.

One of my main sources for acquisitions is Arc’s Value Village, in Richfield, MN. I teach guitar at a music store two blocks from their location, so I’m there every Thursday afternoon, looking for treasures as I define them. Besides its convenient location, this store has the happiest and friendliest employees I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if it’s something in their water fountain or what, but these folks act as if every day were Christmas, which makes shopping there a pleasure..

I have a set route through “my” Value Village:  I start by checking out the large new display cases right by the door. There aren’t usually things I’m looking for there, but once in a while I find something:  last month, a 1931 Lutheran summer camp hymnal, and last week a miniature pocket knife (number 83 in my miniature pocket knife collection).  Then I make a large counterclockwise circle through the store: first down the housewares and kitchen aisles, and then past the office supplies and craft and hobby areas, then through the hardware and electronics areas, and finally swinging around through the games. I find additions to my collections of boxes of paper clips and thumb tacks, folding fans, travel sewing kits, little wooden boxes, old games, decks of cards, anything small in its original box, and anything else that strikes my fancy. Nothing costs much; these things are of little value. Nobody else wants the stuff I want, which makes me different from the collector of Impressionist art or Stickley furniture.

I often ask others if they collect anything. At first they say no, but then, upon reflection, they often say, “Well, I do collect ____”, and you can fill in the blank with pretty much any noun you can imagine. Last month, a cashier at Value Village told me she collects owls.

Some people collect speculatively—in hopes of financial gain—or to soothe old emotional or psychic wounds, but I collect for the sheer, non-neurotic pleasure and satisfaction of seeing sets of things lined up neatly in well-lit display cases.

I don’t yet know if either of my two sons inherited the collecting gene.  I hope, of course, that at least one of them will come to see the “value” of my basement museum. If they don’t, watch the obituary notices in the newspaper, and when you read my name, come check out the shelves of the Richfield Arc’s Value Village—there’ll be some interesting stuff there.

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