My dad and my best friend growing up were coin collectors. In both cases, it started when they were young paper boys, dealing day to day with small change. They never rolled coins without first checking to see if any of the coins were collectible.
I was a paper boy too. Collecting never really caught on with me beyond keeping the wheat pennies and buffalo nickels. But because of my dad and my friend, I knew about some of the esoterica that surrounded collecting. I knew some of the language: 1909 S VDB, Steel pennies, Silver certificates, Mercury dimes.
But to me perhaps the most intriguing of all that esoterica was the "1955 Double-Die Penny". The 1955 Double-Die Penny is one of the most valuable collectible coins out there -- a "Holy Grail" for the coin finder (the mythical paper boy who finds one in his change purse), and the most expensive to trade from collector to collector.
And why? Because the 1955 Double-Die penny was a mistake. The machinery slipped up. The imprint in the copper got pressed in twice, side-by-side, creating a doubling effect on all the letters and numbers.
But, again, why does that make it the most valuable?
Because the mistake that caused its production made it rare. It was created by accident. That accident created an incredibly short run of those particular pennies. And because they were created by mistake, they will never be duplicated. The mistake was corrected. The faulty pennies are inherently rare.
And "rare" is -- or always has been -- a principle determinant of value.
See, even when we acknowledge that enhanced value, we cannot, then, simply create more Double Die pennies so that more people could own them. For one thing, intention was not what created them in the first place. But, again, even if it were possible to recreate them, they then would no longer have the very value for which we went about duplicating them.
Sort of a value "Catch 22".
So the Double Die penny will always be valuable.
Hand made pottery is also inherently rare. The output of one potter will always be inhibited by human limitation. So, in addition to the value contained in the creative and individual ideas communicated by a given potter, value is also implied by the potter's limited output.
Brian Beam will only make so many tree jars in his lifetime. Kristy Jo Beber will only produce so many whimsical landscape plates. Same with Joe Pelka's sculptural pots. Mike Taylor will create only a limited number of clay baskets in his lifetime. And Michael Kifer's clay-as-canvas paintings will be limited in the same way.
But you know what's even more rare than Brian's, and Kristy Jo's, and Joe's, and Mike's, and Michael's award-winning, eye-popping, show-stopping, artistry?
What is even more rare is the work they put into the kiln in their ambitious, unrelenting quest to develop that excellent work by which they are so regionally and nationally known. The "error" part of the trial-and-error method that got them all to the top of their game -- that is what is even more rare. And sometimes quite interesting. And usually quite un-duplicatable.
And, if you like to collect pottery, these rarities are among the most fun as conversation pieces to own. Those rare and one-off pieces often tell us more than words can about what it really takes to get to that level -- the pinnacle of pottery proficiency -- of a Beam, a Beeber, a Pelka, a Taylor, or a Kifer.
And like those Double-Die pennies, these potters are not going to backtrack, retrace their steps, and re-create the works along the way -- the works they learned from -- their means to an end. They've moved on.
But they are going to sell those rarities. I am too.
The Garage Sale Art Fair is happening this Saturday, Feb 24th. Some of the best potters in the Midwest will be there with varying arrays and numbers of pots (my selection will be quite limited this year).
You could go to the St Croix Valley Pottery Festival or the Old Church Pottery Festival or any number of the other fine pottery festivals that are popping up around the country, and you might find a gathering of different fine potters who may be just as good as the potters you'll see at the Garage Sale Art Fair....
....but you won't find an array of potters any better.
Come to Kalamazoo. You won't regret it if you love pottery.