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Mountain Folklore: Collecting instruments, jars, bottles and such

I wouldn’t consider myself an antiques collector, but there are certain things that I tend to accumulate.

Old instruments seem to find their way into my life and home and, as if they’re alive, I have a hard time turning them back into what could be a cold, uncaring world where they might be unwanted, neglected and trashed.

If you’re like me, be aware that the Reading Musical Foundation manages a program called Operation Replay. The RMF takes in used instruments (except pianos, because they’re just too darned big to be practically stored), invests in having them refurbished, then provides them to Berks County music students who want to learn music but can’t afford an instrument. This is a wonderful program for the students and the instruments.

If you have an unwanted musical instrument gathering dust somewhere in your home, please consider donating it to Operation Replay. You’ll get documentation for your charitable gift, which you may be able to use for a tax deduction, and you’ll be playing your part so the instrument and the music it makes can live on. The RMF’s phone number is 610-376-3395.

Being a veteran of events like the Kutztown Folk Festival and things like estate auctions, I’ve always marveled at the verbal skills of the auctioneers. In 1956, in his song “The Auctioneer,” Leroy Van Dyke wrote about the rhythmic patter of an auctioneer’s voice.

Now an antique itself, this song is still played at fairs, festivals and gatherings around the world and is considered a classic country music song. Here are some of the lyrics. Try to sing them fast and in an even cadence.

“45 dollar bid it now a 50 dollar 50

Will you gimmie 50 make it 50

Bidin’ it on a 50 dollar will you gimmie 50

Who’ll bid a 50 dollar bid?

50 dollar bid it now, 55, will you gimmie 55

To make it a 55 to bid at 55

Sold that hog for a 50 dollar bill

Hey, well, alright sir

Open the gate and let ’em out and walk ’em boys

Here we come a lot number 29 in

What are you gonna give for ’em?

I have a 25, I oughta get 35 and now a 50 make it

50 bid it along at 50, now 60 will ya’ give me 60

Now 75 and now 85 and now 95 and a 100 and now 25

And now it’s at 75 and a two and a three and a four and a five and a six

Now seven, now 800 dollars and a buy ’em there”

Each day at the Kutztown Folk Festival, I watch and admire auctioneers Woody Zettlemoyer and Bill Meck as they rattle through dozens of lines of sing-song auctioneering.

Drawing the crowd in, exciting potential buyers and getting the audience to cheer reflect the skill with which these men convey their craft and trade. To me, as they whip up the audience and potential buyers into what amounts to a sort of feeding frenzy, they’ve developed the art of being a cross between entertainers, musicians and highly skilled orators.

I’ve gone to the festival many times, not intending to buy a thing at the auction, only to end up coming home with some sort of stoneware or metal trivet. Among the many interesting antiques and artifacts they sell lots of are original Mason jars with zinc lids. When a Mason jar has the original zinc lid, it is considered an item for a collector because John Landis Mason patented the first such jar-lid combo in 1858, and this marked the start of the popularity of home canning and such food preservation in the United States.

Unfortunately, Mason’s zinc lids weren’t so good when they came in contact with food, so in 1869 he sold his patents to the creator of glass lidded milk containers, Lewis Boyd. The screw-on Mason jar style combined with the flavor-saving Boyd lid combination went on to become the number one choice of home canners from then to now.

In July at the Kutztown Folk Festival, after watching him sell a remarkable number of interesting glass bottles and Mason jars, I asked Zettlemoyer what the appeal is, and he replied: “Folks like to have the original zinc-lid Mason jars for displays in their kitchens or dining rooms. Sometimes they fill the jars with dry goods like beans and grains to add extra effect. It makes a room appear more rustic and appealing.”

As far as bottles go, I know collectors who derive great joy in taking field trips to old dump sites for the purpose of digging around to see if they can unearth an unbroken prize. I have been hiking on Neversink Mountain and Mount Penn, off the usual trails, and have come across what appear to be old dump sites. A little bit of digging has many times revealed a prize glass bottle, which I take home and give to friends who I know value and collect these remnants from days gone by.

I get a little exercise, and a friend gets something new for their collection. It’s a fun way to keep my now antique body moving while having a purpose and mission so it doesn’t seem like exercise.

Dave Kline is an award-winning writer, photographer, show host and producer, singer-songwriter, travel guide and community advocate. Reach him at

Source: Berkshire mont

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