Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Can I Borrow $876,000?

Collecting is hard on the pocket book. I keep saying I'm not going to collect anything else and then before I know it, I have acquired 3 of something and the mad rush to get the rest of the set is on.

Back before the days of the Internet and the ability to find just about anything instantly, it was much more challenging to build a collection. It might be years between acquiring one item and finding the next. But now, you can rapidly build up your collection until you get to that point that there's just one or two more to complete the set. And, of course, those are the same two items that everybody else wants and the price of completing your set gets ridiculous. (For the record, if you know anybody else that collects the Take a Seat miniature chairs and has an extra "Sand and Sea" or "Peacock Splendor" or "Windsor Baby Chair", send them my way. Those are the last three I need.)

One of my collections that started back in the days when it took years to add a new item are books by the turn-of-the-century author Amelia E. Huddleston Barr. According to a great-grandaunt on the Hodge/Huddleston side of the family our Huddlestons are related to the lady. Even though I've never been able to tie down what the relationship might be, I have collected her books over a period of about 20-25 years. They are generally charming, Victorian volumes that are what one might call uplifting moral stories for young ladies.

Apart from the potential family connection, Amelia Barr is also interesting for the reason that she and her husband emigrated from Great Britain to Texas in the 1850s. The family lived in Austin for several years before moving to Galveston where her husband and sons fell victim to a yellow fever epidemic. Left a single mother with young daughters, she moved to New York and turned to writing fiction to support them. She ultimately became one of the most prolific writers of her time.

Her life in Texas is recounted in detail in her autobiography All the Days of My Life. The picture she paints of pre-Civil War Texas is fascinating. Naturally I wanted a copy of this book as soon as I heard about it. I was told at the time (about 1976) that the copies were so rare that I should be prepared to pay $250 if and when I found a copy. I finally found a reprint service and bought a copy for about a third of that price, but I still wanted the real thing. Many years later, along comes EBAY and sellers who did not know the value of that particular book. I now own four of the originals, my own collection within a collection.

It's gotten to the point that I have a copy of most of Amelia's books and I rarely add to that particular collection. I still monitor EBAY for the few that I don't have and for the odd autograph or photo of the lady. And that is the reason why I now need $876,000 to purchase the ultimate Amelia Barr collectible.

You see, her house in Cornwall-on-Hudson is up for sale. Yesterday when I ran my semi-regular check on EBAY, there it was. A 3500 square foot Victorian mansion constructed in 1886. It has 6 bedrooms, 4 baths, 3 maid bedrooms, 2+ acres and more. And this is where Amelia lived! See the listing here. I would even consider living in New York for that house.

Dang, the temptation. My collector's soul is in severe craving mode. {Groan}. Contributions will be gratefully received.


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