Central States Archaeological Societies
Central States Archaeological Societies
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Appreciating the Old Time Collectors

by John M. Selmer

Central States Archaeological Societies 2019 July Journal

Herndon, Virginia

This is an excerpt from "Appreciating the Old Time Collectors".

Read the complete 2 page column in the Central States Archaeological Societies 2019 July Journal which can be purchased on-line after March 2020

Figure 1.


Collecting artifacts from well-known, old time collectors is very rewarding for me. They tended to keep better records than many of todays collectors. They also were very willing to share their collections with others by regularly attending artifact shows as well as writing about and picturing their collections in archaeological journals and collector books. I try to capture as much provenance information as possible in my collection catalog including everywhere one of my collection pieces has been pictured. When I acquire an old time collector artifact, I check the older volumes of Who’s Who in Indian Relics and both volumes of Bobby Onken’s Legends of Prehistoric Art. Next I look through my old journals and other archaeology books. I’m amazed how often I’ve found artifacts pictured, although that fact was not passed along by the seller when I acquired the piece.

One of the collectors I’m especially fond of collecting is B.W. Stephens (1897 - 1971). An artist, he owned a commercial sign company and lived in Quincy, Illinois. His friends called him “Steve.” It took me over 20 years to find out his first name was Beverly. Every time I saw his name in archaeological journals or Indian artifact collector books it was always “B.W.” He amassed two large Indian artifact collections during his lifetime. He put together his first from the 1910s to the early 1950s. It was one of the finest collections ever assembled in Illinois. He sold this first collection in 1953 when he received a large monetary offer from Dr. T. Hugh Young of Nashville, Tennessee that he didn’t think he could refuse. He put together his second collection from the mid-1950s until his death.

Stephens was meticulous in for both collections. On each artifact he placed a distinctive 5/8 inch round white label handwritten in India ink which included his collection index number and the county/state information where the artifact was found. He also kept a detailed catalog on everything he collected. Even copies of his catalog are collectible now because of the history he captured, including: when he acquired the piece; from whom he purchased it; where it was found; the type of artifact and material it was made from; its dimensions; the previous owner(s); how much he spent; and if he subsequently traded or sold the piece. He often included a small hand drawn outline of the artifact. Today’s collectors should take a lesson from Stephens and try to capture as much information and history as they can for their collections. You might not get all of the information for every artifact and that is okay. Get as much as you can and save it in your catalog. If you don’t capture the history now, it will only get harder or even impossible for the next collector. Lastly, you need to make sure the history is passed along to the next collector when the artifact leaves your collection.

I tell people I am NOT a pottery collector but that hasn’t stopped me from “accumulating” around 200 ancient and historic pottery pieces over the years. The six ancient pots in Figure 1 were previously in one of Stephens’ collections and now reside in the Selmer collection. From left to right:

• The superb red painted Quapaw water bottle is 7-1/4 inches tall and was found at Carden Bottoms in Yell County, Arkansas. It was in Stephens’ first collection (his original collection label PO-100 is still affixed) and is finely made.

Read the complete column in the Central States Archaeological Societies 2019 July Journal which can be purchased on-line after March 2020