With glittering eye, Valerie Kurokawa roams the Sherman Oaks Antique Mall, in search of reamers.
You and I may have a vague notion that reamers, or juicers, are those venerable kitchen thingies on which the housewives of yesteryear twisted half an orange or grapefruit in order to produce a bit of home-squeezed juice.
But for Kurokawa, who lives in Sherman Oaks, an antique reamer is a prize, especially if the orange is meant to be squeezed, not on a glass dome of some sort, as is the norm, but on something that looks like the head of a dog or clown.
Kurokawa has reamers in which the juice-extraction part resembles a leaf or a small duck. Indeed, her house is filling up with her collection of some 75 vintage juicers. Some are on display in a greenhouse window. There are more in her kitchen, and they have begun to spill over into her living room as well.
"They're taking over," confides Kurokawa's mother and fellow collector, Gladys Moore. "She has them all earthquaked down with that earthquake stuff."
Like many other collectors, Kurokawa doesn't fully understand her obsession, but she makes no apology for it.
"I don't know why I collect them," she says. "I just like them."
Collecting is one of the things she and her mom relish doing together. The Cranberry House, an antique mall in nearby Studio City, is another favorite spot. Moore's passion are the turn-of-the-century prints originally published in Godey's Ladies Book, a forerunner of today's fashion and shelter magazines.
"It's entertainment," Moore says of their mother-daughter visits to antique malls. Moore has been collecting "forever," she confides--40 years anyway. And she admits that she loves both the hunt and clinching the deal. Collectors vary in how they broach the crucial question of whether the dealer will drop the price on an object of a collector's lust.
Moore's favorite gambit: "Is this price firm?"
"They always give you 10%, and sometimes more," she says.
As she and her daughter wander through the malls, Moore points to items that she once owned but cavalierly threw away, never dreaming they would be valuable. Sometimes the women will come upon some 40-year-old serving plate or other familiar-looking piece and Moore will ask her daughter, "Did I give that to you already?"
As those who antique (yes, it is a verb) know, collecting allows you to be both a hunter and a gatherer. We have genes for seeking out this stuff.
It is also a sure-fire way to bring a certain order out of chaos. There is nothing more disorienting than finding yourself in a city where you know no one. But people who collect know that every new town means a new antique district, which is why you find collectors turning immediately to the Yellow Pages, often while they are still in the airport.
Antiquing is one of those activities, like scuba diving, that turns strange places into potential treasure-troves.
Collecting is always a complex emotional activity. The first antique collector I ever knew was my mother. She had a wonderfully refined eye and could spot a fine piece of furniture or an elegant accessory in the most squalid thrift shop or at the most mundane garage sale. But what drove her collecting was not her eye, but her hunger.
She used the antiques she bought for a pittance to invent an imaginary past for herself. Abandoned at age 2, raised in brutal orphanages and indifferent, or abusive, foster homes, she chose to live among the cherry sideboards and silver-plated serving pieces of a better world than the one she was born into. She collected her way, spoon by spoon, end table by end table, into the middle class.
Having a collection is like having more than two children--space is always a problem. Almost invariably, antique dealers are collectors who have decided that they must divest themselves of some of the beloved objects they have accumulated. All that dusting gets to be onerous.
Gail Pierson of Burbank has a display case at the Sherman Oaks Antique Mall. For a living, she works in the music industry, but selling antiques and collectibles is a rewarding sideline.
Personally, she collects objects made of celluloid, including Victorian photo albums and trays and other dresser items. As she upgraded her personal collection, she decided to sell off some of the pieces she could bear to part with.
As a dealer, she says, she does especially well selling vintage perfume bottles. Right now, she has several choice Czech pieces in stock that date from the 1930s and command as much as $350.
Like other dealers who collect, she doesn't mind selling the perfume bottles, because it doesn't break her heart to see them go.
As she confessed: "They're something I can appreciate, but I don't have a personal interest in them, so they are easier to sell."