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Collector goes for the unusual

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SUN CITY CENTER- It started with a fan from a pen pal in Japan when she was 13. Now, collections of rare fans, hatpins, beaded purses, wooden Japanese Kokeshi dolls, perfume bottles and kaleidoscopes are interspersed throughout her home.

“My first collection was antique fans,” said Francine Webb, a Sun City Center resident who says she just collects what pleases her, never buying anything for value, investment or resale profit.

The Canadian citizen, raised in Ontario, Canada, and her husband David have been residents of Florida since 2004 having come from Detroit where they met and married 10 years ago.

Windsor, Ontario where I grew up is practically right across the border from Detroit,” Francine told me. “That’s where David lived and where we met.”

Together they have three children and three grandchildren.

While David is busy with his love of boating, volunteering as treasurer for the Tampa Bay Sailing Squadron in Apollo Beach and sailing whenever he gets the chance, Francine serves as a volunteer on the State Board of Directors for The Questers, a large national antique collector’s club.

Although she’s picked up a few things here and there since pen-paling with kids from foreign countries while in her teens- first Japan and then Korea and Spain- she started collecting in earnest around 2000, about four years before moving to Sun City Center.

Retired from careers in both media and tourism, she said she missed the skiing in “snow country” and was spending more time now with her collections.

The tri-lingual resident has a collection of antique beaded purses hanging on a kitchen door and in her bedroom, some going back to stagecoach days.

The purses are made of varied materials from feathers to metal beads, having been sewn by hand by unnamed women who have long-since passed away.

“In the 1800s this was a cottage industry for women,” she told me. “They would sit in their rocking chairs after they’d finished their chores and design these intricate patterns.”

The purses and fans began to take up too much room, so for awhile, she concentrated on extra-long hand-painted hatpins. In 1908 various states started making laws to limit their length to 9-inches and by 1910 some states had declared them illegal altogether because they could be used as weapons.

Francine also became intrigued by Japanese Kokeshi dolls because she said that in Japan, little girls aren’t allowed to play with most of their dolls because they’re very fancy and put on shelves to look at. So the little wooden dolls were devised for play, their trademark being that they have no arms or legs, just torsos and heads with painted faces.

She has a few antique perfume bottles too.

But the most unusual collection is her small but interestingly varied collection of kaleidoscopes.

One beautiful wood-and-metal kaleidoscope is also a music box; and another just looks like a plain piece of round, shined wood until you see what’s inside.

She also has a small gold-colored one that’s been made into a necklace.

Francine was so fascinated by how the different patterns are made she purchased a cheap one just to take it apart and examine the way the mirrors and colored materials are placed inside.

“They’re so relaxing you sometimes find them in medical offices,” she told me. “I know some children get to make them in school, but I never did, yet I was always fascinated by them.”

Her kaleidoscope collection isn’t nearly as large as some of her other collections, but the pieces are all made with different colored materials inside. Some are beads, others pearls. One has patterns made with feathers and another with oil-filled glass.

Then there’s one that’s different from all the rest in that instead of bright geometric patterns, when you turn it the designs form ever so slowly in a lacey way, almost like snow.

“It is said that early Egyptians placed two or three slabs of polished stone at various angles and watched as circular designs formed. Centuries later, this optical marvel took shape in a small tube called the kaleidoscope invented by Sir David Brewster in 1816,” the history brochure Francine gave me says.

“You really start studying these things when you collect,” Francine explained.

She’s looking forward to the 2012 Quester’s national convention because it will be held in Baltimore which is in the same state as Bethesda, Md., where author Cozy Baker, who writes about kaleidoscopes, has turned her home into a museum.

“I know I’ll rent a car and drive there just to see it,” she said, showing me a brightly illustrated book written by Baker.

“A nostalgic need for calming beauty has made kaleidoscopes more popular again,” Francine said. “I love the feeling of surprise, because you never know what you’ll see.




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