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What we treasure

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I was having a discussion with a friend the other day about “collectibles”. It was his observation that anything marketed as collectible rarely ever increases substantially in value if at all. Commemorative coins, beanie babies, Cabbage Patch dolls, Swatch watches. Should I continue? I’ve said here before that I’m anti-crap. Which is not to say I don’t have way too much of it. I think most of us do. I suppose there’s an up side to people collecting things they don’t need and only think they want. Thanks to sites like E-bay and Craig’s List, we can sell all that crap in order to have money to buy someone else’s crap because theirs looks pretty good in the pictures. Which is awesome, especially if you can get something for less than it’s worth.

Ah, but that leads me to a question: Who or what determines something’s worth?

My mom has several Madame Alexander dolls from the early 70’s. She has a Scarlett O’Hara doll in mint condition which she said several years ago was valued at over $800. But that doll is only worth $800 if you find someone willing to pay $800 for it. Well, that’s not entirely true. I suppose she could commit insurance fraud and report the doll stolen, but that’s very unlikely to happen.

I used to collect a few things. I still have a case full of ceramic Disney characters from years ago. Some I bought and some were gifts. By the way, if you find yourself becoming too obsessed with collecting any sort of themed item, just tell your friends and family how much you like said theme. I had a friend that liked hippos. She received so much hippo paraphernalia that she had to plead with people to stop buying her anything hippo related. I used to like to remind her what incredibly vicious, violent animals hippos were, and that a real hippo would just as soon kill her as look at her, but I digress…

Where was I?

Oh, yeah. Who or what determines something’s worth and what makes some things more valuable to us than other things? For me, certain things I consider treasures because they evoke special memories. Many of the objects I cherish are of very small monetary value.

I have a jar of shells sitting in a prominent place in the family room. The jar itself is special because it was given to me by a dear friend as a housewarming gift. I’ve kept different things in it over the years, but I think the plain, white shells will stay in there. Nothing fancy, but these are the shells my daughter and I collected on her first visit to the beach. It was just the two of us and we had a wonderful day.

I also have a Wedgewood covered dish given to me by my in-laws. They have given us many wonderful gifts over the years, but this dish is special because of the story behind it.

My husband is the youngest of four kids. His dad was a science teacher then later a school principal. His mother was also a teacher. They worked hard, raised 4 kids on modest salaries and still managed to save and invest money. I don’t think either would mind me saying that they are frugal. They buy things on sale when they can, rarely if ever spend extravagantly on themselves and they both love a great bargain.

After they retired, they traveled extensively in the United States and abroad. In 1996, one of their vacations brought them to Copenhagen, Denmark. They were shopping for mementos and souvenirs when they saw some items in the window of an antique shop. They picked out a few gifts and brought them to the sales clerk. My father-in-law had been converting Kroner to U.S. dollars in his head, figured they had approximately $90-$100 worth of items and felt like they had found some good deals. My mother-in-law sensed that the sales lady was very pleased by their purchases as she filled out their tax free shopping cheque.

They went to another shop where my father-in-law tried to purchase two items. When he handed the clerk a $10 bill expecting change, the man asked him if he wanted to put the rest of the balance on a credit card. At this point they discovered that the conversion rate was about 10 times higher than what they had been figuring. He declined to purchase the items and proceeded to the Tax Free Shopping Office, both with a sinking feeling.

The items they had figured to be between $90-$100 came to a grand total of $900.

That box is special to me because they probably could have explained their miscalculation to the antique shop and selected less expensive items. Instead, they choose to keep them. Which, knowing them, probably went against every fiber of their being.

So my covered Wedgewood dish is a treasure because the story behind it is a testimony to my wonderful in-laws, who are living proof that you can be both very frugal and very generous all at once. And if my husband is reading this, I’d just like to point out that I’ve got the generous part down, just not so much the frugal part…

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This post is part of the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival: Treasure hosted by my friend Peter Pollock. To read more posts on the topic of Treasure, please visit him at PeterPollock.com