Introduction to Collecting Elephants
There are many facets to collecting anything, and elephants are no exception. For example, there are some interesting myths and stories related to collecting. The most common is that one should only collect elephants with their trunk up - I don't personally believe it, and some collectors actually do the opposite. A myth borne of the Feng Shui craze is placing elephants near the entry of you home, facing in certain directions. The lore and myths of elephants and some aspects of collecting elephant-related things are captured in: "An Enchantment of Elephants" by Emily Gwathmey, and: "elephant ancient and modern" by F. C. Sillar and R. M. Meyler. Why collect elephants in the first place? Well, for me, they are cool looking animals, their historical/ancestral forms are fascinating,(e.g., anacus, mastodon, woolly mammoth etc.), and they have been put on more things than any other animal I believe. So there is a huge variety of things to collect. Just look at all the categories in Section 3; most people can find more than one category that interests them - independent of the elephant motif. So if you combine the interests - you can find years of enjoyment indulging those interests. Also, a good reason to announce your interest in elephants is, when people know you collect elephants, you start getting them as gifts!
The Spousal Acceptance Factor - managing your significant other.
Whether you are married or have a significant other, one thing is almost inevitable: conflict over your ever-burgeoning collection. Either in terms of size, amount of space taken in the home, or the financial angle, the spousal acceptance factor plays a part in your attempt to collect every cool elephant you see.
As your collection grows from the tens to the hundreds and then to the thousands for some, you have to have somewhere to put them. Depending on the size of your home, you first start out using available/existing space: in the curio with the dinner plates, on bookshelves along with Twain and Tolkien, and on what was, ostensibly, plant shelves. Then you need a dedicated space - because scattering them all over is messy and some are lonely etc. So you either rearrange things to put them all on one set of shelves or in one curio, or you go out and buy or make dedicated curios or shelving.
Then the ultimate - you convert a room of your house, then your whole house, then buy or rent a building to display the elephants. That is exactly what some people do - as Mitch Brown did when she opened The Elephant Castle and Museum in Las Vegas (now closed and looking for another building).This scenario is fine if your significant other accepts or better yet - joins you in your obsession. But if your relationship is not on solid ground, yielding ever-more space and funds to your hobby could make them become resentful and angry. If they are not on board and amused and accepting of your hobby, NEVER buy them an elephant gift for their birthday or holiday! They will know for whom you really bought it!
How internet is changing collecting.
Let's face it, the Internet has changed just about everything, and collecting is no exception. For me, I reached an elephant collector's epiphany of sorts, when I first logged onto eBay and searched on the word: "elephant". About 3,000 elephants came up for sale for one week! Now, the number is about 10,000 per week - some being repeats of course. The point being, a great variety of elephant collectibles is available to collectors in an open market. It would take me the rest of my life - if then - to travel to all the places and shops, lets alone individuals, to see all those elephants for sale. But on eBay they are all in one place. And that is just eBay; there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of other sites that have a goodly amount of elephanteria to look at.
What to collect - specialization
If you have collected elephants for long, you probably realize that there are a lot of them out there!! Tens, if not hundreds of examples/instances in each of the categories that are listed here. (There are certainly some categories I did not include.) So that means thousands of different basic types of elephants. That does not even consider the lower-level variations in , for example, color or size of a particular model. There are so many elephants, it is doubtful that anyone could collect every one, even with unlimited funds; no one can get every manufacturer or artist, every material, in every color and variety and size. So what do you do? Specialize! Some have decided that only elephant figurines are elephant collectibles - and there are plenty of those to go around! Some may like tobacco-related items and so combine that with a love of elephant things, and collect elephant ashtrays, humidors, dispensers, matchboxes, etc. You can also divert an existing mainstream hobby like numismatics or philately, to the elephant world, as there are plenty of examples of elephants coins and stamps. Another option is to collect elephants made on your birthday, or made during a certain era (e.g., Art Deco), or by a particular manufacturer or from a specific material. Or, be a "type" collector, wherein you try and get at least one excellent example of an elephant in each category. Another neat way to specialize is to collect 1 pachy from each place you visit. Or focus on elephants from the place you grew up. For me - that would be Cleveland, Ohio, so whenever there is an ellie that relates to Cleveland (or the greater metro area), or Ohio, I try to pounce on it!
In all areas of collecting, not just elephant collecting, one factor is of utmost importance - condition! It cuts across all categories of elephants - the better the condition, the rarer it is (as compared to used and damaged versions of the same thing), and the more it will appreciate, because other instances will become used/damaged over time. Therefore, ultimately, if the elephant is in the best possible condition, the more you will pay for it. So, if you can afford it, buy mint or near mint items with little damage. That is, unless you find an unusual item or one so rare that affordability in any kind of future time frame would be out of the question. Not only does buying undamaged elephants pay off in case you ever sell, but your peace of mind is important too. I mean, you don't what to look through your collection and be reminded of that crack or chip or tear every time, right?! Now, that being said, there is nothing wrong with some normal wear (as opposed to 'tear'). For example, if you buy a bronze that has been painted and is, say a true antique (~100+ years old or so), it is safe to say it is OK for there to be some minor paint problems - either small flakes or chips, or a rubbing/dulling of gloss. But not too much!! Or, if you buy an old magazine advertisement that has a minor margin tear that will 'mat out'; that seems OK too. Especially if you feel you will not get an opportunity to see/buy that exact item again, and it really appeals to you otherwise.Of course you could take a purist stance and only look for perfect specimens. This is fine too, but keep in mind that it will take a lot longer to find specimens in that shape, and will cost more, likely much more for certain items. However, if you specialize in elephant bronzes to the exclusion of all else, since your focus is narrowed, you can afford to be picky. Your time and money is focused and you want to get the finest possible examples within a particular category of elephants.
Things to be wary of include: *ivory vs. bone vs. synthetic: how to tell: the hot pin test - reference link:
Ivory Test*Bakelite vs. other plastics: how to tell: The Rub Test: Rub the Bakelite object in question with a clean, dry finger until you feel heat being generated. If you smell an odor like formaldehyde, the object is Bakelite.
The Hot Water Test:. Heat some water close to the boiling point, and place a part of the object in the hot water for a moment and remove; If you smell an odor like formaldehyde, the object is Bakelite.
The Hot Needle Test: Heat a needle to red hot. Touch the needle for only a second to an inconspicuous spot on the surface. If you smell an odor like formaldehyde, the object is Bakelite. Also, if the needle penetrates the surface of the object easily, it is probably NOT Bakelite!.*post-ban ivory imported into US
*fake signatures on e.g., Lalique
*reproductions and re-introduced models/namesAs with all other collectibles, your familiarity with the subject will help you identify a reproduction from the real thing. Reading books, like those referenced in Section 4, monitoring internet auction sites like eBay, attending shows, flea markets and live auctions, and talking to specialists and other collectors, all contribute to your knowledge and expertise.
Heaven forbid something bad happens to your elephant collection. If you don't have them stored away in a safe place - like Fort Knox, a bank's safety deposit box, or an in-home vault (see Storage/Protection subsection), if disaster struck you would want some way of recouping the loss.If your elephant collection starts burgeoning in terms of sheer numbers, cost/replacement value or just sentimental value, you want to consider getting insurance to cover them. Check with the insurance agent for the company that covers your home; many times the coverage for personal belongings is some percentage of the coverage for your house. So if your house is covered for $100,000 say, and your personal belonging coverage/content is covered for 30% of the value of your house, then you are automatically covered for $30,000. Now, assume your furniture, TV/VCR/etc., clothes and kitchen wares etc., are worth 25,000, and your elephant collection is worth $3,000 (or you paid that amount over the years), then you may be covered to the extent you need to be. But, if in the same situation, you paid $25,000 for your elephants over 20 years, or they are currently valued at $25,000, you definitely want to add an insurance rider to make up the difference in coverage
Fixing broken elephants
Of course, the old adage: "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." applies to elephant collectibles as well. But the sad day inevitably comes when, by moving an elephant in the home, or by shipping accident, or other mishap, an elephant becomes damaged. Some collectors buy damaged elephants and either fix them or leave them alone, claiming it increases the charm or "character" of the find. Others buy a damaged elephant if it is especially rare or if a perfect one would be too expensive.One note of utmost importance: it is not advisable to clean or otherwise repair true antiques, unless a professional does it and you understand the consequences. For some antiques, refinishing or repairing certain flaws actually diminishes value, even though it may make the elephant look better cosmetically, or restore a missing part. Some dirt or dust can be removed on pottery, metal or wood with nothing more than a damp cloth.The most common damage I have seen is missing or broken tusks. For many types of elephants - tusks can be repaired or replaced. Wood, plastic or ivory tusks can be re-created with a little ingenuity and skill. For example, a dowel rod of the appropriate length and diameter, soaked in water or put in a steamer for a few hours, can be bent into the appropriate curve and held there for several hours to set the shape. Then further shaped with carving tools, can produce a most-pleasing replacement wood tusk. Add paint or stain to match the elephant or an existing tusk. Replacement ivory can be carved from mammoth ivory (legal and available) to replace tusks and toe-inserts or missing pieces on ivory elephants.For common pottery elephants, breaks or cracks can be repaired at home using common glue or epoxy cement. More expensive elephants can be taken to repair shops that specialize in such repairs. They usually re-break the piece, treat the surfaces, re-glue and then the most important step - re-glaze/fire the piece; the result is a repair than only trained professionals with a microscope could tell. Highly recommended for that favorite, expensive piece.Metal elephants can be repaired by skilled metal-working artists. I have an old brass elephant box that had missing tusks. I took it to an metal artist who used brass rod to create and re-solder the tusks into the holes. Natural aging should even out the patina. Brass, bronze, aluminum, copper, and chrome elephants can be cleaned and protected with the common, non-abrasive metal cleaners and polishers. Rubin-Brite is a museum-quality cleaner/polisher that leaves a carnuba-wax protective finish on the metal. Iron and steel elephants can rust, which requires more work. A rust remover jell, followed by 0000 steel wool cures most rust spots. Again, for older, rare or true-antique metal elephants, unless the corrosion is so advanced or bad that it further endangers the elephant, leave minor discoloring and surface blemishes alone.Ephemera - paper images, prints, posters and paintings - can be repaired by professionals, if the item is pricey or rare, and some repairs can be done by the home hobbyist. Pencil marks on paper can be removed by gently rubbing with an eraser-like material called "Magic-rub" by Sanford. A more thorough cleaning can be gained using Lineco's Document Cleaning Powder. Paper items can be deacidified using Bookkeeper Deacidification Spray. Tears can be repaired using Lineco's transparent mending tissue.Lastly, a great reference on caring for your elephants (or any collectible) is: Kovels' Quick Tips: 799 Helpful Hints on How to Care for Your Collectibles (Kovel's 1995)
Sources of elephants
Elephants can be found almost anywhere other products are found. Because there are so many types of elephants - even specialty stores (like a Kitchen & Bath shop) or venues may have that obscure elephant needed for your collection. Here are some places I have found elephants:*Almost any retail store like Wal-Marts, Hallmark, Sears has elephants - mostly mass-produced.
*On-line Internet auctions like Ebay.com, amazon.com
*On-line antique stores and malls like www.rubylane.com
*Yard Sales/Garage Sales
*Looking for elephants wherever you go on vacation.
for more information about elephant collecting and elephant collectibles!
Or contact the author at MichaelKnapik@EverythingElephants.com
About the Author
Besides being an obsessed elephant collector, Michael Don Knapik is a Software Architect specializing in object-oriented analysis and design and artificial intelligence, lifts weights, is a Master SCUBA diver and designs custom homes.
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