I have a coffee can I’ve kept my assorted small junk in for years. The printing on the can has a copyright of 1984, which doesn’t accurately date the origin of the collection. I think I started collecting some of the stuff in the can in high school, when I was working at a mexican restaurant in my hometown. As anybody who works in food service knows, lots of money changes hands. (Anybody who still habitually re-arranges a sheaf of singles to all face the same way probably waited tables or worked in a bank.) I started switching out wheat pennies for my own pocket change when I saw them in the bottom of the till. At the bottom of the coffee can, I found 37 total, starting with a banged-up 1919 example and ending with a 1959. The most represented year is 1956 (7). Also from the restaurant days are two 1976 $2 bills, from a freaky guy who used to come in and pay for bowls of chili at lunchtime and try to pick up on me.
I have three 50-cent pieces (not so rare), two buffalo nickels of unknown vintage (everything but the profile of the indian and the word LIBERTY is worn off the front) and my favorite, a 1937 mercury dime. I also have an English five pence and two shilling piece. The shilling is smaller and more fussy, while the design on the back of the shilling is thick and bold, like a manhole cover. The man on the front of my German two-mark coin is pinched and constipated-looking, and his thin hair is combed off the back of his head.
I have a pile of buttons from the various military surplus pants and shorts I’ve owned over the years; one of the issues when owning 30-year-old old clothing is that the thread tends to be brittle and old. I always thought I’d get around to sewing them back on, but usually, I just put a belt on and wore them untill they fell apart.
There’s a quartet of NYC bullseye tokens, from when I was riding the S train between Penn Station and Grand Central on my way to and from college. Along with these I have a single pentagram token from a later era.
I have my father’s ID bracelet from the ’50’s. It has his (our) name engraved in a very elegant script. Unfortunately, it’s about four sizes too large for my wrist, so I look like a mafia goon when I wear it.
I made a silver ring in high school in jewelry class (I was padding out my transcript with as much “art” as I could so that I could get a Regents diploma which ultimately did me no good). We carved the shape from wax, cast it with silver, shaped and polished the result, then added a setting and a stone. The ring is a little too big for my finger and the stone gets in the way of everyday life, so it sits in the can.
My sophomore year, I had a friend in Admissions help me make a fake college ID. My alias is William Edwards, I was born in 1969, and I still have the shitty dork-style glasses from high school—this was right before I finally got a sense of style—but looking at it now, there’s no way I’d pass for a man of 21, let alone 18. There’s also a staff pass from the Cones and Rods show back in ’97 or ’98 (the closest I ever got to VIP anywhere) which I used to wander around during the show and not talk to anybody.
There are two buttons I’ve had for years. One is a shamrock, and I have no idea where it came from. The second is a maroon button that says DUGAN in white letters. My sister found it in the drawer of an antique store in upstate new York years ago. I had it on the lapel of a denim jacket for a while, and then on a hat for a while longer, until I was afraid I’d lose it altogether, so I put it in the can.
I have a bullet that fits the Czechoslovakian army rifle hanging in my father’s gun rack in New York. It’s old, stamped 1951, and is long and sharp.
I have two brass clips from a backpack I bought in Maine in the early 90’s. The backpack (probably) dates back to the first World War, as far as I can figure. It came with two very old and dried out leather straps, adjustable by unclipping each of the two brass clips and moving them up or down the strap and into new holes. I had to take the straps off when they finally broke, and someday I’ll buy the leather to replace them. I’ve used the backpack for years to hold my illustration portfolio.
I have an assortment of seashells from various trips to the beach-mostly scallop shells, mostly black, but there’s one beautiful white shell with flecks of red at the bottom. I don’t know which one came from where.
There’s a turquoise lapel pin from the Cloisters in New York City, someplace my father liked to take us as kids during Christmastime. I loved those trips as a kid. Going into the city always made me feel more grown-up and cosmopolitan, and the exhibits at the museum were beautiful and exotic. Plus, there was a guy in the parking lot who made some of the best chili dogs I’ve ever had.
I have a cap bomb I got from somewhere. It’s a small metal toy in the shape of a bomb, with fins and everything. There’s a weight at the front which is spring-loaded to the back, allowing a kid to put several caps (do they even sell caps anymore? answer: yes) between the weights and throw the bomb in the air. The weight and aerodynamic shape of the bomb ensures it will come down on the front, and fire off the caps—preferrably behind the back of the intended
There’s a bunch of other stuff in there too, but some of it is boring, and some of it I don’t have time to write about. But there’s a look into the brain of your author, and what he finds worth keeping around.