By Mrs. Martha Yoshida (Leonard Wood)January 21, 2016
The next time you think about throwing out an item you don't think has value, ask yourself, "Does it have a story?"
That item could be the beginning of a great collection, according to Chaplain (Maj.) Jeffrey Roberson, U.S. Army Engineer School ethics instructor, who procures and preserves items from as far back as the 17th century as a hobby.
"So many people are quick to throw things away," Roberson said. "I stress that point, because each time we do that, we lose a piece of our history."
Having collected for nearly four decades, Roberson, a Tennessee native, offers tips and lessons learned for aspiring collectors.
"Everyone has an interest, that if they just thought about it, could really make a neat collection," Roberson said. "Whether a person comes from money or no money is not important. Collecting does not have to be expensive. It does not have to involve pricey items to bring pleasure and happiness."
A collection is an expression of a person's character and what they care about, Roberson said.
"I would say to anyone, find what interests you," he said. "Pursue it, and don't stop your collection. It's part of who you are."
What makes a collection powerful is its completeness, focus and condition, he said.
Some people have focused collections. Others collect everything, and if they don't watch it, will have a collection that is out of control, the chaplain said.
"There is a difference between saving and hoarding," Roberson said. "Saving has a purpose. Hoarding is uncontrolled. A collection does not have to mean an overabundance of something. A collection is not something that just sits and collects dust."
As an example, Roberson said his record collection of 45s, 33s and 78s is often used at the dinner table.
"It's not uncommon to hear the Bee Gee's, Elvis, Perry Como or Bing Crosby being played in the house on the original record," he said.
"What you collect is important," said Roberson. "What is the collection for? Does it serve a purpose beyond yourself? Because there lies the true joy."
While Roberson can offer numerous ideas of items to collect, he recommends simple things.
There are traditional collections such as stamps, books, coins or thimbles, he said.
Service members and their Families may collect spoons, dishes, steins, medallions from previous wars, hat pins, Volksmarch coins, dolls from different countries, cork ornamentation that simulates a pagoda or swans, gems, crystal and local art, he added.
Pieces from historic buildings or monuments, such as the one he carved out from the Berlin Wall with his own pick-axe, are another option, Roberson said.
"Purchasing items requires a little wisdom," he said. "If there is one dealer in an object, there may be others, so you want to make sure you get the very best quality and condition for your money. Sometimes you have to wait and be patient."
Members of the military have the advantage of moving on their side. Travel allows them to build their collection by meeting new people and visiting antique stores, estate sales, auctions, and souvenir shops, he added.
"If you are in the military though, it's important that your collection not weigh very much," Roberson said, as he recounted 10 moves he has made in his lifetime.
"Moving is hard," he said. "I usually pack myself, because I'm the only one who knows how to pack it (some items), so I have to begin in advance."
No matter where the military moves take you, Roberson cautions to be sure to keep paper material, documents, written accounts and anything that is very fragile in a safe place.
"I usually keep a dehumidifier in the room to preserve things," he said. "As a collector it's very important to realize that moisture and light are the enemy to all old things. If any of your garments are made of perishable materials, like wool, be careful of the moth."
Dust is the bain of any collector, too, he said.
"Even though I love to collect, I know in the end I can't take it with me," he said. "If you're enjoying a collection in your life right now with the hope that someone after you will continue that tradition, then you truly have a double blessing."
Roberson cautions anyone who plans to gift their collection must give the recipient the option to accept it or not.
"It must be given to them freely," he said. "They cannot be told what to do with it. It is theirs to keep, give away, or reject and hand back."
"In my Family, if someone shows an interest in something, we will attach their name to it," Roberson said.
As a final recommendation, Roberson said, it's important to have a connection to things, but not so much that they take over your life.
"Do not think more of your collection than the one you marry, because that does not bode well for a happy marriage," advised the married Army chaplain, who was commissioned in 2002. "People are more important than things."
"However, we are responsible for all the things we have, and we have to give an account for them, whether they are old or new," he said.
The real art of collecting is not only to have an interest, but to inspire others through the story of your collection, Roberson said.
Roberson's own advice seems to be working, as each member of his immediate Family can talk about the value of his collection; and they have begun collections of their own.