During my many years as an “1840s farmer” at a living history site in central Illinois, I was tasked with engaging the public in dialogue. The goal was to demonstrate how people lived on the prairie at the time when Abraham Lincoln was practicing law in the state capitol. In fact, our site was a “first-person” site. That meant, we all acted as though we were living in 1845. At times, this simply confused our audience, so I would get their attention with a story about “The minister and the one-legged pig.”
Leaning back in my splint-seat chair, I would take off my straw top hat, and ask the the strangers if they had heard about our minister and the one-legged pig. The awkward clash between the 19th and 20th centuries melted, as I began…
“A minister on horseback rode past a farm where he noticed a pig with one wooden leg. He didn't think much of it until a week later, he passed the same farm, and the pig had two wooden legs. Finally, after seeing the pig a week later with three wooden legs, he had to stop to inquire about the animal.
He tracked down the farmer to ask about the strange sight. The farmer told him, "Well, that's the greatest pig alive. About a month ago, he saved my wife, kids, and me from our burning house by waking us up just in time to escape without any harm!"
The minister said, “That’s great, but why the wooden legs?”
"Well," the farmer replied, "this pig is just like one of the family. He's a really great pig. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, when our youngest fell in the creek, this pig fished him out just in time to save him from drowning!"
The minister, starting to lose his patience, demanded, “That’s fantastic… but what about the legs?” The farmer replied, "Just last week, I fell off my horse and my foot got caught up in the stirrup. This great pig ran along side of the horse and untangled me. He saved my life."
Exasperated, the minister shouted, “Okay! Okay! I get it. He’s a great pig—a really GREAT pig. But what about his wooden legs "
To which the farmer replied, "Well Reverend, you ought to know, you just don’t eat a pig like that all at once!”
CUTTING OFF THE LEGS
Talking to people at two recent shows—one a military relic show, the other a military vehicle show—I was reminded off this old story many times. Perhaps it’s the age of the enthusiasts with whom I speak, but I often heard similar tales of cutting off one leg at a time as collector after collector described how they were “paring back the collection.”
This isn’t anything new. Redirecting collecting efforts is part of the dynamic of assembling a collection. Focusing is a certain path to developing a theme.
While some approach collecting like a mother’s day smorgasbord, heaping everything they can find into one, big olive drab, field gray, and khaki salad, it probably isn’t the most nutritious approach to a balanced hobby. A lot of resources are spent on minimally meaningful relics, leaving you feel unsatisfied at the end of the day. Sure, that “war room” that is packed full of stripped Ike jackets or your garage that you have stuffed to the rafters with MRAP mirrors and M35 steering wheels might give the uninitiated the impression that you are a serious student of history, but in reality, it is just a lot of redundancy. All those piles occupy space and tie up collecting dollars. Remember: There are no rewards for having the biggest pile of militaria
In fact, that type of hoarding is extremely detrimental to the hobby. It ties up entry-level relics, creating the impression that there is no way for someone to get started. It probably isn’t doing much for your social rep either. Thanks, in large part, to reality television, hoarders aren’t really coming across as desirable role models.
So, when I hear tales of collectors “cutting back” their collection, this does not sound an alarm to me. Rather, I am delighted to hear that they are seriously looking at their collection, making hard decisions about what to keep and with what to part.
When I returned to my office after these two shows, I took a hard look at my collection on display. I asked myself, “How many M1912 tunics do I need to tell the story that Tank Corps soldiers wore them during WWI?” Did twenty 37mm rounds actually convey a stronger message that these were the standard projectiles for light tank cannons during the Great War? Would two or three tell the story just as effectively?
Whether through sale, trade or even gift, actively moving items from one collector to another is one of the strongest efforts we can make to keep the hobby, “fresh, young and vibrant.” You don’t have to “eat the pig all at once” and liquidate your collection. Instead, you can take the prudent path of that 1840s Illinois farmer and just sell a few extraneous pieces, all the while enjoying the satisfaction of retaining the bulk of your prized possessions—it will be good for you, your collection, and the hobby.
Preserve the memories,
Editor, Military Vehicles Magazine and Military Trader