IN LIFE ARE FREE
Mary Stufano started collecting when she was 5 or 6. She started out with shells and rocks and sea glass, things she’d find on the beach with her family. Things that were nature’s gifts, because when you’re financially dependent, free is where it’s at. Living in New York City, not far from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mary started her all-time favorite collection—the little round metal tags in 16 different colors that indicate you’ve paid admission and which often become a kind of souvenir of your visit. The metal Met tags are a New York City icon, like the subway token or an “I Love New York” T-shirt. Mary used to collect not only the tags from her visits, but also scour the area around the museum for others. And then one day they were gone! After 42 years, in June 2013, the Met announced it would replace them with a more earth-friendly paper sticker. Mary, like many others, was shocked, and went to the museum with her dad to find out what they could do to bring them back. “Start a petition,” the museum suggested. “If you get more than 2,000 votes to bring them back, we might consider it.” Mary was elated, but the task was daunting. And so her collection of these tiny totems became more collectible than ever! Today, she has hundreds of them, and sometimes on a visit to the museum she sticks a bunch on the front of her overalls as a kind of quiet protest.
Mary Stufano shows off her favorite collection of metal admission tags from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. They switched to paper in 2013
Mary also collects beads. She finds them everywhere—in her apartment and on the streets. She’s always got her eye out for more. There are also her toy collections—little wooden train engines she’s been collecting since she was 2, toy horses, her eyeglass collection (she guesses they probably don’t count since they’re ones she has worn, but still she saves them). She’s never been to a tag sale or flea market. Well, maybe once or twice with her family, but she promises one day soon she’ll go with me. Why does she collect? “It makes me feel good.” And isn’t that the very best reason of all?
Mary’s toy train engines collected since she was 2 and a handful of tiny pumpkins
Today, at age 12, Mary is still at it, and a lot of those collections she started out with—the shells, rocks, and sea glass—she’s now putting to use in her handmade arts and crafts projects. Over the last weeks since schools closed down, she’s been busier than ever creating things like sea glass–studded bowls and miniature environments with the wonderful found detritus of those early hunts.
HOW TO COLLECT WITH KIDS
Free souvenirs gathered from walks along the beach
Most kids are natural collectors. Like Mary Stufano, they start off finding things in their backyards or on hikes or walks along the beach, but when they’re ready to take the leap to hunt at a real flea market (with you in the lead), they needed to be prepped for the experience. Looking back on my own junking days with two young sons, here are some thoughts to consider:
• Give them a choice: Come to the flea market with Mom or stay home with Dad and watch the Yankees (for example!). Or if Dad’s driving, stay in the car where it’s cool and listen to the Yankees!
• But, if want to go hunting/junking with Mom, here is $5 (or less) to find some cool things and maybe start a little collection. Better they have their own money so they have to budget, rather than letting them ask you to buy them things.
• Give them a little junker’s bag to carry things in.
• Watch your pace. Their legs are shorter.
• Teach them how to haggle. A “can you do better?” from a child should definitely melt even the hardest-nosed dealer. (Oh, and don’t have your children haggle for you. Not that you would ever consider something like that!)
• Suggest something you think they might be interested in, but again it has to be their discovery, not yours. Just because you loved Mickey Mouse when you were little, doesn’t mean they do!
• When you get home, let them share their finds with you.
• Help them find a spot to display their collections.
• If it’s multiples like rocks, sea glass, shells, or beads, offer some containers to store them in. Next time you can try to find them at the flea!
• Have fun!!
A collection of rocks and crystals provided by Mother Nature
Excerpted from The Joy of Junk, by Mary Randolph Carter (Rizzoli).
A longtime executive with the company, MARY RANDOLPH CARTER currently oversees Ralph Lauren publishing and is the author of several books.
- PHOTOGRAPHS BY CARTER BERG; COURTESY OF RIZZOLI