10 Locals with Fascinating Collections
Some Are Gifted, Others Gathered. But All The Items In These Carefully Curated Collections Are Significant In Their Own Way.
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Photo by Joe Tennis
Right Round Like A Record, Baby
How many in collection: 100,000
Bob Jones spins his wheels—like a record, baby—to flea markets, auctions and thrift stores, seeking both LPs and 45s. Be it The Beatles, Beach Boys, Chicago or The Rolling Stones, Jones has it all. And his music collection totals a staggering 100,000, though it was recently twice that—until a fire hit a storage unit behind his Virginia Beach home in March.
“I collect for different purposes,” says Jones, a retired social studies teacher. “In my personal collection, it’s probably about 10,000. I also furnish records for Birdland Music.”
On Tuesday nights, you can often find Jones at Birdland in Virginia Beach, where the Norfolk native sells many of his recent finds—from Adam & the Ants to Frank Zappa.
“Records are like any other collectible,” he says. “What makes things valuable is how many of them there are, and how many people want it.”
Jones is more than a record collector. This father of four also once made records. He sang lead for New Directions in the late 1960s and scored a local hit with "Springtime Lady." In later years, Jones played music with The Stingrays. "My mom and dad bought me a record player at age 2,” he says. “And, according to them, I began singing along with the records right away.”
Now in his late 60s, Jones says the fire—leaving "tons of melted vinyl"—may have changed how he sees his record collection. "I wouldn't have had time to sell all that, what I wanted to sell," he says. "And the fire made me realize that."
Valentines For Loved Ones Now Hold Loved Things
Collection: Sailors’ Valentines
How Many: At highest point: 25; currently about a dozen
Ellen McBride is a garage “sailor” from way back. But this marketing communications director at Red Chalk Studios and EMT with the Virginia Beach Volunteer Rescue Squad is also a thrifter and antiques aficionado who is undeterred by her husband’s common refrain of, “Where are you going to put that?”
Though she has impressive collections of Bakelite and 1930s and ’40s paintings of women, McBride began collecting Sailor’s Valentines some 20 years ago, around the time she moved into her beach house. They seemed thematically appropriate without being kitschy. The romantic lore surrounding these octagonal shadowbox frames and boxes encrusted with intricate shell designs would have it that sailors made them for loved ones while out at sea. It may be more likely that sailors purchased them when in overseas ports. For McBride, the latter doesn’t diminish the loving thoughts, just the time invested.
She laughs at her rationalization that anything that holds something—or ever did—is “functional” and therefore not a frivolous purchase. Though she didn’t begin collecting the Valentines because she needed containers, she recently realized that all of them do hold objects: natural treasures like feathers and shark teeth that she finds on beach walks.
McBride’s Sailor’s Valentines, most purchased for under $10, aren’t of the pristine and fussy variety. She prefers them old, a little irregular—even chipped—not heavily shellacked like the newer versions, and grouped together for display. In answer to her husband’s question, there’s always a place for things we love.
A Pearl Of A Plate
Steve and Lynn Bonner
Collection: Antique Oyster Plates
How many: 250–300
Oyster plates were used at the turn of the 19th century as a fancy way to display and consume oysters, usually eaten raw. Most of them have six indentions for the oyster shells to rest, and a center well to hold a butter or sauce cup. Most of them came from France, Germany and other countries, but they gained considerable notoriety in the United States when President Rutherford B. Hayes bought a set for the White House.
Steve and Lynn Bonner buy and sell oyster plates as part of their trade. They are the owners of the Kilmarnock Antique Gallery, a business they have owned and operated for more than 21 years. “When we first opened, I had a dealer that had a few plates,” says Steve. “We advertised them a lot and even mentioned them on our billboard. Then we started collecting them ourselves.”
The one thing Steve and Lynn didn’t like about the dealer they were working with was that he sold plates that had chips and/or cracks in them. “So I made it our thing that our plates are pristine,” adds Steve. “There is no oyster plate that I’m aware of that is so rare that you can’t get one in pristine or very good condition. So that’s something we hung our hat on—always offering good plates with no problems, that people would be proud to own.”
The Early Bird Gets The Shade
Collection: Lost sunglasses (among other things)
How many: Around 300
Jim Spruance is a Virginia Beach resident who is concerned about the environment and does his part to pick up trash on his morning walks. He has been going on his daily treks for more than 40 years and has discovered lots of interesting things along the way, but has mostly concentrated on the sunglasses he finds.
“I’ve lived here 41 years or so, and I’m the head of the Beautification Committee on the Civic League of the North End,” he says. “So I’m always trying to encourage other people to pick up trash, and I’m just trying to set the proper example.”
Spruance usually likes to get started on his journeys a little before sunrise because “the early bird gets the worm.” His record for the most sunglasses found in one day is 15, but he doesn’t try to profit from his finds.
“Last summer I put a little notice on the Nextdoor website and said if anybody wants to come by and take a look, I keep them on a big wire fence displayed on my deck,” he says. “So if you see something you like, go ahead and take them. Some of them have been at sea for quite a while so they’re pretty scratched up, but often I’ll find some that I’m sure have not been lost for more than a day. I never have to buy sunglasses for myself anymore.”
Photo by David Uhrin
Every Day He’s Muddlin'
Collection: Mortars and pestles
How many: 10
Bill Doyle has what friends call a mortar and pestle collection, but he doesn’t consider himself a collector of bowls and pounders that grind substances for culinary/medicinal purposes: “I don’t know anything about them; I don’t have a lot of them.”
Like their number, he’s modest. He knows something about them—and other stuff.
The retired marital and sex therapist holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. While a University of Cincinnati student, an antique brass set intrigued him because it was solid, substantial, well-proportioned.
His mother gave it to him for a graduation present. Nice, huh? “One of my roommates got a Pontiac Bonneville, one a Lamborghini and one an Alfa Romeo,” he says grinningly. “Their mothers were really proud of them.”
An antique French white porcelain pharmaceutical pairing and another of handblown glass followed. Their materials fascinated him. He bought newer marble and olivewood. “Feel this,” he says, hefting surprisingly dense tools carved from tsunami-withstanding Hawaiian ironwood. His volcanic rock, Mexican molcajete and tejolote is pig-shaped, and he floats magnolias in a coarse Japanese mortar come spring.
He once thought it would be “neat” to be a pharmacist until he realized he’d be on his feet all day. “Mine are terrible,” he claims. They haven’t stopped him from teaching spin (his arcane rock-and-roll knowledge turns Y classes into music tutorials) or cycling cross-country with wife, Sandy. Twice. That might be why he doesn’t fetishize his possessions: “I just like the looks of them.”