Sunday, June 10, 2012

Quirky or Eccentric?

Quirky and eccentric are not synonymous.

People like quirky.  They don't like eccentric.

Quirky is wearing retro sunglasses with your fedora and tattoos to the film festival.

Eccentric is my father collecting old glass insulators from abandoned telegraph lines.

His great prize in his large collection was a "Provo" type insulator made in the 1890s for a small power company in Utah that supplied electricity to parts of  Utah and southwestern Colorado.  The one he found looks very much like this one.

  He found it on a mountainside near Silverton, Colorado in 1972.  I remember that expedition vividly.  My mother was furious.  My brother and I felt like we were hunting for the Holy Grail.  We found fragments of these things all over the mountain, but nothing intact.  My father found one, whole with barely a nick in it.  What a triumph!  Brian and I were ecstatic.  Mother felt relieved that we could get home before dark.

The Great Unattainable for my father was a kind of violet insulator known to collectors (yes, my father was not the only one) as an "amethyst."

These are insulators originally made from clear glass that turned purple with prolonged exposure to the sunlight.  There was some chemically unstable ingredient in cheap 19th century glass that caused it to turn purple in sunlight.  I've seen this in New York in Lower Manhattan.  Some of the small glass circles that once formed cellar skylights in front of old tenements and iron front buildings are now very purple.
He could have bought one of these from any number of collectors, but my father insisted on finding his own.  We scoured old railroads with abandoned poles throughout Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado.  We found a reasonable variety of such things, but no "amethysts."  I found lots of other things on these quests, especially fossils in the limestone rail beds.

I never quite understood what my father found so fascinating about these things.  They were kind of pretty, but what would you do with them?  My mother tried to make hanging candle holders out of them, but to no avail.  My father was a true eccentric, and insulator collecting is a truly eccentric hobby.

Telegraph insulators were an early example of recycling.  They were usually made from melted down old bottles and broken windows.  Sometimes they came in a wide variety of colors including amber and even carnival glass.  Most were clear glass or varieties of green depending on what bottles were melted down that day.


Varieties of insulators

In their original context, in this case still functioning on an active power line.

Amber ones, my dad never found any of these, but I remember seeing them in junktique stores and at First Monday trade days in Canton, Texas.

My dad had several deep green varieties of these

Carnival glass insulators; I saw these in Canton, but never on a pole anywhere.

My dad had several like these in a variety of greens and blues.

My dad's dream collection; he never bought any of his insulators or traded any.  He went out and found them.  Sometimes he got into trouble.  He spent a night in a Colorado jail when he was found by the local Sherf climbing an abandoned pole to purloin an unused insulator.  My mother never could understand this obsession, but he had us kids hooked.  We dutifully used our sharp little eyes to scope out old poles whenever we traveled, and yes, we stopped to collect from time to time.

EXTRA EXTRA from Wilfried:


 Insulator Mambo



JCF said...

Oh, I LOVE these things! Totally get your father's hobby (or is it habit? ;-X). Then again, I'm a pack rat (a more picturesque term than "hoarder"), so there ya go...

IT said...

My brother collects insulators too.

Although they aren't just telegraph but electrical, glass being inert...

Wilfried said...

To your father, from Edward Gorey's "The Willowdale Handcart":

Unknown said...

I've never been a "collector," thank goodness. I understand that it is an addiction for some. As to the difference between quirky and eccentric, the later can sometimes drive a person crazy! :-)

Tristan Alexander said...

I can see why people would collect these. they are very cool looking! I collect various things, mostly less (originally) functional items, but still collections are collections.