If you have an offbeat collection, and you’re willing to talk about what you collect and why, Bob Ridgley may want to talk to you.
Ridgley, who has operated Binary Recording Studio in Whatcom County since 1989, is beginning work on a documentary about collectors, their collections, and the psychology of collecting.
If you show him yours, he’ll show you his. He has a collection of more than 1,000 vintage plaster nodder and bobbing heads from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.
Ridgley, a graduate in music education from Western Washington University, is known as “Binary Bob” because of his experience in audio and visual recording techniques. He received the Mary Pickford Award in 2005 from the Whatcom Film Association for his work in motivating local independent filmmakers.
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Question: Before we talk about your collecting project, aren’t you also involved in two projects of timely social significance?
Answer: I am. One is a documentary entitled, “Every Daddy Has a Story” by Julia Clifford from Bellingham. It’s a story about the longest non-violent demonstration in the history of America. For a year starting in 1957, NAACP leaders negotiated with business owners to desegregate restaurants in downtown Oklahoma City, but negotiations failed. In 1958, Julia’s father, a white man with a great conscience, helped to organize a group of 13 children ages 6 to 17. They sat peacefully at Katz Drugstore’s fountain and asked to be served for months. They turned it around!
Q: What’s your other project?
A: It’s called “Eagle or Ostrich.” I’m the sound engineer for this project for Unity Productions. It’s the story of an American Muslim who sets out to achieve his dream — a pilot’s license — in the aftermath of 9/11. In the face of America’s security culture, will the land of opportunity allow him to soar like an eagle, or …
Q: How did you start your own unusual hobby?
A: I was on a film shoot in Portland in the 1980s and we had a lot of down time, so I would cruise the antique shops. There it was — a Hawaiian nodder! I bought it for a couple of bucks and I soon became fascinated by the huge variety of nodders. I have Castro, Krushchev, The Beatles, Kennedy, and more than a thousand others. A lot of them were sold as novelty items and made a political statement. I’m one of four people in the country who have the Fab Four in a box!
Q: What’s your favorite bobbing head?
A: One of my favorites is Reddy Kilowatt (an electrical industry cartoon character). There are only a few left on Earth, and it’s worth $2,000 to $3,000. These plaster nodders are becoming very scarce and they can break so easily, there aren’t many of them left. It’s just addictive and fascinating. But I’m not interested in the more recent plastic ones — they have to be plaster.
Q: So you must feel you really understand collectors.
A: I do. I feel I can relate to these people. What I’m seeking is people with out-of-the-ordinary collections who are really willing to talk about why they collect. For example, I know of somebody who collects unsharpened pencils. Now why would anyone collect them? That’s what I want to talk about about. People who pursue the eccentric and the offbeat.
Q: So you aren’t interested in talking with people with mainstream collections such as stamps and coins?
A: Right. I’m looking for people who love everything from exotic sports cars to the lowly old bottle cap. Who are these people? What drives them? How did they get started? When do they have enough in their collections? Some are pathological, obsessive and calculating.
Q: I remember collecting matchbook covers when I was in second grade or so, and my parents hated it because I’d sometimes have to pick them up off the street!
A: That was during the smokers’ era, in the 1950s, right? There are people who collect bottle caps from that era. What I’m really looking for is people willing to talk about why they feel they need to collect something unusual.
Q: So many things collectors seek are no longer with us. I can remember hunting for soda bottles that could be redeemed for three cents and being real happy to find one of the giant bottles worth five cents! You could make good money for a little kid.
A: Yes, things like ashtrays are now collectible because so few of them are being made. Remember Bakelite? Early Bakelite jewelry, radios and so on are highly desirable.
Q: Are you getting help from local antique dealers?
A: Yes, some of them think this documentary is a cool idea. Terri Krantz, a local antique dealer, is instrumental in helping me. In addition to talking with local people, I plan to interview collectors all over America. Some collectors are shy and some don’t really like talking about what they collect. Some don’t communicate well. I think it all goes back to the cavemen who collected rocks.