Sunday, 25 April 2010

The Young Collector's Handbook - Chapter 13





Published simultaneously in Canada



Natural Objects

Why and What to Collect

Rocks and Minerals


Plants and Vegetable Specimens


Fresh Water Animals

Marine Animals

The Camera and the Microscope

Photographing Wild Things

The Use and Value of the Microscope

Collection of Man-Made Objects

Indian Relics

War, Historical, and other Relics

Stamps, Coins. Post Cards, etc.

Traces of a Changing World



EACH of us carries on the tips of his fingers a signature which can never be forged. No one knows why the system of ridges which we call fingerprints was ever devised by nature. It is only known that these ridge formations remain unchanged during our entire lives and that no two fingers have ever been found with the same patterns.

In the files of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington there are more than three million fingerprint records. These are not fingerprints of criminals. They were placed there by the nation's most law abiding citizens who realize that this is the only completely positive means by which they can always be identified.

The value of this file has often been proved. In 1935 a hurricane smashed through southern Florida. It crushed whole villages. Fingerprints of unidentified injured were rushed to the F.B.I. Within two hours many of the victims had been identified and their grateful families notified.

Fingerprint collecting offers a boy or girl both a fascinating hobby and a chance to perform an extremely valuable public service.

From the Director of the F.B.I., Department of Justice, Washington, D. C., the collector can secure a set of Personal Identification cards. These contain space for complete sets of fingerprints together with vital information about their owners. By gathering the prints of his family and friends and sending them to the Washington files, the collector will assure that the identity of these people will never be lost.

Equipment for making good fingerprints is inexpensive and simple. It consists of a tube of printers ink, a roller, an inking plate, and a magnifying glass.

Printer's ink is preferred because ordinary writing inks give blurred impressions. The ink and the small roller may be obtained at any printer's supply house. The inking plate is a sheet of ordinary glass about six inches wide and fourteen inches long. It can be purchased at any hardware store.

For his own collection, the boy should use cards that are eight inches square, the same size as those the F.B.I. has found the easiest to file.

Each card should contain space at the top for the name and address of the subject. Next there should be five square spaces each for the right and left hand fingers. These squares should be labeled "Thumb", "Index Finger", "Middle Finger”, "Ring Finger", and "Little Finger". At the bottom of the card there should be two large squares labeled "Right Hand", and "Left Hand".

The prints which go in the individual squares are known as "rolled impressions." Those which go in the large squares are called "plain impressions."

To make a set of fingerprints, place R very small dab of ink on the plate and roll very thoroughly with the roller until the entire surface of the plate is covered with a very thin, even film.

To take rolled impressions, place the ball of the finger on the inking plate, the nail of the finger at right angles to the plate. The finger is then turned over or rolled until the ball faces the opposite direction. The inked finger is then rolled lightly on the card in the proper square. A clear impression of the finger surface will appear. You will get the best prints by inking and printing each finger separately and by making sure that the ink extends evenly from the tip to below the first joint.

Your first impressions may be blurred and indistinct, but a moment's practice on a scratch pad will show just how much pressure to use in order to get a clear, perfect print.

To obtain "plain impressions," press all the fingers of the right hand lightly on the inking glass and then press them simultaneously without rolling on the lower right hand corner of the card in the space provided. Then do the same with the fingers of the left hand.

On the back of the identification card you should provide space for listing the name, address, place of birth, height, weight, build, and complexion of the subject, including color of hair and eyes. You may add a snapshot on the rear side if you wish.

Fingerprints are classified according to the following types or patterns: arches, tented arches, radial loops, ulnar loops, and whorls. Each of your ten fingers will fit into one of these groups. To find your group, you trace and count the individual ridges of the print.

In plain arches, ridges enter from one side of the print and flow to the other side with a slight rise or wave in the center. An arch is called a tent arch when two ridges entering from opposite sides thrust upward to meet at an angle giving the appearance of a tent front. Loops are patterns in which one or more of the ridges enter on one side of the print, recurve and flow out on the same side from which they entered. All other types of fingerprint fit into the group called whorls.

This may sound confusing at first but with a little investigation the collector will rapidly learn to recognize the different classifications. He will be amazed at the difference in fingerprints among members of his own family. In order to make a serious collection, he should endeavor to include specimens from all his friends and neighbors in the community.

An interesting variation of this study can be made from prints gathered without their owner's knowing it. These prints can always be found on smooth surfaces such as glasses or papers which the person has touched.

Each finger leaves an invisible print of moisture when it touches an object. By bringing this out with fingerprinting powders the boy collector will discover as perfect a print as though the subject had inked his fingers.

The powders are made of lamp black or graphite for bringing out prints on light surfaces or glasses, and of powdered chalk for bringing out prints on dark surfaces. They are applied to the invisible print by soft strokes of a very fine brush.


Of course, there are real signatures whose collection is just as fascinating as chasing down a set of fingerprints. Presidents and kings, generals and scientists—all the famous people of history have had something to say. When they have written down on paper and then signed it, they have created material for one of the busiest hobbies we have, autograph collecting.

An autograph is not just a name scribbled on a piece of paper by a movie celebrity. It should tell a story. While the young collector may be satisfied to begin with mere signatures from one group of people, he will soon want something more. He will learn that a true autograph includes the entire letter or document to which the signature is attached, and that its value lies in what the signer had to write about himself and the times in which he lived.

The vague collecting of general autographs is a hopeless project. The young collector must concentrate on one group of people. He may choose presidents of the United States, generals of the Civil War, or congressmen and senators. Or perhaps famous scientists or leaders in the field of aviation would appeal to him more.

His object is to gather a complete set, and while he will be able to secure many autographs through trades, sooner or later he will have to approach a dealer. He will find, however, that this need not be an expensive undertaking. For example, autographs of Revolutionary War leaders can still be bought for one and two dollars.

The first step in building a collection is picking the field. If the beginning collector cannot decide, be will find whole lists of possible "sets" in the world almanac where cabinets, ball teams, law enforcement officers, and even criminals are grouped. Once he has decided upon his set, the young- collector should turn to the nearest dealer to learn just how scarce his desired autographs really are. Each dealer publishes regular free catalogues which include lists of autographs for sale and general news of the hobby.

Armed with this information the collector should invade his own attic and secure permission to go through old trunks, and desks of his neighbors.

When they realize that he is seriously on the trail of historic autographs, they will be glad to help.

It is amazing what such a search will reveal, especially in communities that have been settled for over a hundred years. Letters from local statesmen, war generals, and even cabinet members and presidents will appear. Whole armies out of the past will march by the young collector as he prowls through the old records.

His first glance into a dealer's catalogue may convince the young collector that he is reading a foreign language, but he will soon learn that autograph collectors speak a jargon just as distinctive as that used by airplane pilots. This widely used jargon consists of letters. "A" stands for a hand written autograph. "L" means a letter. "S" means the paper bears a signature. "Ms" means a manuscript. "D" stands for document; while "Q" means a quotation has been used. For example, if an item in the catalogue was labeled ' A.L.S.", the collector would know that it referred to a letter both handwritten and signed by the individual. "D.S." would refer to a signed document such as a deed or commission.

Collectors use ordinary folders, albums or frames for keeping their specimens. They arrange them by date, region or profession. No matter what their method, however, they always recognize two cardinal rules of autograph collecting. They never use paste and they never cut a signature from the body of the letter. Paste discolors and eventually ruins paper while snipping can rob an autograph of almost priceless value.

Stamp hinges and photograph tabs are most commonly used to fasten an autograph to its holder. Some collectors accompany each signature with a picture of the signer together with a brief typewritten biography. If the set is one of U. S. presidents, the collector may purchase from the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, Washington, D. C., a complete set of portraits of the presidents. These prints, fastened above the signature, can convert an album into a real museum piece. Often the collector will find dealers who offer whole packets of signatures. These will include one hundred names of congressmen, governors, politicians, writers, composers, or actors for some two or three dollars. True, the set will include many a stranger, but in finding just who each of the signers really was and his place in the nation's history, the collector will be greatly increasing his own knowledge.

Many autographs can be secured from living leaders by a carefully-written request which encloses a stamped, self addressed envelope. The collector must realize that these people probably get hundreds of such requests daily. Many actors and other celebreties hire professional forgers to handle this load of mail. Nevertheless many celebrities can be so impressed by a sincere letter that they will comply with its request. One collector received the autographs of both Hitler and Mussolini by explaining to them that he wanted their signatures as representative of people he hated. Some collectors have found it successful to enclose a snapshot of their hobby to show how serious their work really is.

Perhaps the one most famous name hunted by every collector is that of Button Gwinnett. Mr. Gwinnett was an unimportant figure during the Revolutionary War. For some reason, however, he was one of the men to sign the Declaration of Independence. Soon afterward he died, little dreaming that almost immediately his autograph was to become one of the most sought after things in history. Mr. Gwinnett had not been a writing man. His few signatures were snatched up overnight. So rare is his autograph today that a collector recently purchased one for $51,000. Fortunately for the young collector other men in history were more eager penmen.

The wise collector will not stop with autographs of people already famous. He will anticipate new leaders. One young collector specialized in the field of aviation. When he learned that two fliers were about to attempt a round-the-world flight, he requested their autographs. The two aviators were glad to comply. Immediately after signing, they took off on a flight from which they never returned. Overnight they had joined the list of martyrs to the progress of aviation and their autographs became of vital significance.

The secret hope of each collector is that someday he will find a "sleeper." This is not a pullman car. It is an autograph which has lain for years hidden in some forgotten trunk or drawer. The boy collector is just as apt to find a sleeper as the most skilled expert. Even today there are hundreds of missing Washington and Lincoln autographs. A constant thrill to the collector is the knowledge that any day he may pick one up.

Campaign Buttons

Autographs are not the only things which colorfully demonstrate our nation's history. Every old closet contains a wealth of items which suggest entirely new collections.

A vivid record of America's progress has been left in campaign buttons. Ever since the days of Lincoln the main events of history, whether they were wars, presidential campaigns or community chest drives, have left traces in lapel buttons which range through all colors of the rainbow and in size from a fraction of an inch to half a foot. Everybody remembers the buttons so common a few years ago carrying such slogans as "Remember Pearl Harbor," and "On to Tokyo!" Even today these are growing scarce, but if one acts quickly and scours his neighborhood, the young collector can find the beginnings of an excellent collection.

Further search will bring out older buttons. The coronation of the King of England, drives to aid victims of disasters, the first World War, the Spanish American War — all of these historic events are recorded in lapel buttons which can still be found in the possession of family and neighbors.

One young collector has assembled five thousand of these colorful relics. He keeps them arranged by date fastened to display boards which are covered with dark velvet. On these boards he can trace every main event of American history for the past fifty years.

Army Shoulder Patches

Even more colorful is a collection of Army shoulder patches. When the 81st Division, the old Wildcat Division of World War I went overseas, they wanted a dramatic symbol of identification. So they designed medallions that showed a wildcat's head and proudly sewed them to their uniforms. These non-official emblems were the first shoulder patches. The 81st didn't know it but they were creating a hobby which today is followed by over 100,000 Americans.

The collectors includes young boys and seasoned war veterans. Favorite emblems are the lightning stroke of the Atom Bomb Group, the winged torch of the Pathfinders, worn by fliers who have parachuted safely to their own lines during combat, and the colorful patches of the Maquis, famed French underground troops. Even the forest green patch of Rommel's Afrika Korps, crack German tank outfit of World War II, is a valued item.

The pursuit of badges and insignia can be endless. A boy was once impressed with the brilliant, coloring of the shoulder patches worn by his state police. He embarked on a mailing campaign which gave him one of the most unique collections we’ve seen. His favorite emblems are a brilliant sunburst patch which came from the State Police of Arizona, and another of two black bears on a golden background from Missouri's State Troopers.


Today more than ever before the transportation systems of the nation are changing rapidly. Routes which once were traveled by stage coach, then by streamlined trains, are now left far below by roaring stratoliners.

This changing field offers a hobby which costs not one cent while it provides one of the most graphic means of recording history's march. Every bus, railroad, steamship and airplane line in the world publishes colorful timetables. They will gladly send these free of charge to any one who asks for them. By arranging a system of folders according to state and country the young collector can assemble a mass of information which will be unique in his entire neighborhood. He will be able to sit in his own living room and plot a cruise around the world, scheduling stop-overs in any country that interests him. As routes continually change, as old railroads are abandoned and new ones opened up, as governments overseas rise, change hands, and fall, his collection of timetables will change from merely being items of colorful interest to become valuable records of history.

Transportation Tokens

Another unique collection we know of began when a boy received a street car token from a friend in Hawaii. That was enough to stir his imagination and encourage him to become one of the world's 200 transportation token collectors. He learned that since 1832 the United States has seen over 3200 different kinds of tokens for use on ferries, street cars and stage coaches. Most of his tokens come in as a result of trading, though when he turned to the dealers, he found few items which cost more than one dollar even though they were decades old. He found friends throughout the entire country as his mailing list grew.

Auto Name Plates

Still another young man was greatly interested in automobiles. He lacked the money to collect complete cars, but he found a fine substitute one day in a corner junk yard. It was a group of automobile name plates. These were fastened to the radiators of cars before streamlining became popular. Early plates he found, were made of brass, but after the 1914 models, colored enamel came into use. This collector also uses a dark velvet background for his set which includes such rare names as "Baker Steamer," "Great Smith," "Doris," and many makes whose records now are a part of automotive history.

Concentrating On One Person

One of the most interesting collections is that dealing with only one man such as Lincoln, Washington or someone more recent. In the United States there are more than 3,000 Lincoln collectors. They chase down anything at all which has to do with Lincoln, autographs, anecdotes, clippings, pictures, and articles of clothing.

From all we have said here it is obvious that valuable collections are produced not by money so much as by imagination. Few young people can collect Rembrandt paintings or medieval armor. But in the daily life of each of you, your neighbors are throwing away enough material to form a priceless collection just because of lack of imagination.

To be of real value your collection should record some historic, scientific, political or artistic aspect of your time. For that reason the hoarding of match books, movie actor signatures and cigar bands are of little real value. They may interest you personally—and if they do, by all means go ahead.

But it is when you extend your curiosity into the rapid march of a changing world that you become a true curator of history. Remember, the daily newspaper which your mother will throw out tonight will someday be of great value. No matter where your interest lies, you will find something to collect. Start today and all history will take on a new meaning as it marches through your own living room.

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