When attending a Civil War or Native American artifact show, I’ve grown accustom to being one of the youngest people in attendance. At nearly 40-years of age, my dark head of hair contrasts sharply against the sea of “silver foxes” and “cotton-tops” shuffling through the aisles of any given show. And to the eyes of today’s adolescent or teenager, such a scene might be enough to dissuade them from exploring no further than a quick glance up from their device! In my experience however, the welcoming generosity of others has helped usher in a new and younger demographic of collectors into this wonderful hobby.
Paying it forward through kindness and generosity
For many years, I’ve attended historical artifact shows by myself or with my Dad―one of the aforementioned cotton-tops. Up until recently, my oldest daughter has insisted that the smell of old stuff and “old people” was just too much for her to handle! Her outlook on this recently changed when she mustered up the courage to attend a Civil War show with me.
Upon entering the exhibit floor of the show, she was immediately overwhelmed by the number of people, the interesting things to look at, and the busy commotion of dealers and patrons wheeling-and-dealing. The chaotic and foreign scene prompted her to tightly clinch my hand for reassurance.
As we casually walked from table-to-table, mulling over the many artifacts on display, she continued to hold my hand securely and stood a half-step behind me, not wanting to be recognized or called upon by a dealer. As she would soon learn, it’s nearly impossible to go unnoticed at such a venue as an adorable 8-year old girl!
One of the very first dealers we encountered, greeted her with a friendly smile and gently invited her to pick through his bargain bin of Civil War artifacts to find an item she liked. After I reassured her that it was okay to do so, she slowly fumbled through the relic bin and held up a slightly damaged Civil War bullet. With a smile on his face, the man told her to put the artifact in her pocket and take it home with her. The smile on her face would have melted anyone’s heart who saw it.
A similar scene played out a few more times that day, in which complete strangers, through their kindness and generosity, welcomed my daughter with open arms into the hobby of collecting historical artifacts. Up until then, the hobby was just something that her Daddy did. But now? Now it was bigger, more interesting and important than she first realized. To cap things off, her cotton-topped Poppa bought her three Native American points along with a display case to exhibit all of her “finds” from the show. She was over the moon and couldn’t wait to go to the next show. Apparently she got over the distinct smell of old stuff and old people!
Two weeks later, we visited another Civil War show. This time, she brought her “chore money” to purchase a few more artifacts for her new and growing collection. As she sat and talked with one my friends, I visited with Tom Hays of Stones River Trading Company. At the previous show, Tom taught my daughter about Civil War spurs, or “horse accelerators” as he called them. She must have made quite an impression on him, as he quickly recognized her from afar and asked that I bring her by his table for a visit.
As we arrived at his table, Tom greeted my daughter by name. Already feeling special that someone recognized her, Tom asked her about her collection and if she liked hearts. Payton nodded in approval. He then asked if she liked horses. She nodded yes again. “Well then” Tom said. Pointing to a harness buckle on his table, Tom continued, “If you like hearts and you like horses, why don’t you grab that buckle with the heart on it and take it home with you.” With her new artifact in hand, Tom asked her to come around the table for a hug. Smiling ear-to-ear, she gladly accepted, giving Tom a big bear hug that he summed up as his best deal of the show!
At every show we’ve visited since, the older generations of collectors have gone out of their way to welcome, educate, and share with my daughter. It’s expanded her understanding of history, given us precious time together, provided her with a unique hobby, and helps keeps her nose into history and out of digital media!
A lesson for all of us
Wrapped up in this story is a lesson about paying it forward. Doing good to others helps to ensure our understanding of history continues to be shared and expanded upon. As demonstrated by the countless acts of kindness in this story, the importance of welcoming younger generations into this hobby, educating and mentoring them, cannot be underestimated. Why? Veteran collectors have tremendous knowledge to share; but if younger generations aren’t interested, what happens to that knowledge? And what about the artifacts that bring our history alive? Who’s going to care for them when their caretakers pass on?
Together, let’s pay it forward to help sustain this hobby and the history it represents.