When I was attending UT Austin back in the early 1970s I was the father of two young boys. Naturally, I was always looking for ways to entertain them while at the same time helping them to develop motor skills and a sense of curiosity.
One day while browsing a second-hand store near where we lived in Austin, I came across an ancient Underwood typewriter that was in perfect working condition. When I asked the proprietor the price he said, “Oh, I’ll let you have that for five dollars.” I took the machine home and decided that since I had bought it so cheap, I would give each of my two boys a screwdriver and let them dismantle it. “That ought to keep them busy for a while,” I thought. I still have a box full of screws, typewriter keys and other various and sundry parts from that old typewriter.
It wasn’t long after the machine’s demise that I was, again, browsing through a bunch of old stuff—but this time in an antique store. There on a shelf was a typewriter almost identical to the one my boys had taken apart. Only this one had a price tag of $235.00! I was shocked. I can’t help but think now, with some remorse, what a beautiful old curiosity that typewriter would be if it were sitting on the desk in my office and was actually put to use occasionally.
In April of 2012 Beth Feeback of North Carolina bought a painting for $9.99 from a Goodwill store. She bought the painting, “Vertical Diamond” by Ilya Bolotowsky, with the intent of reusing the canvas to paint cat portraits, which were her specialty. She wasn’t attracted to the style at all. A friend cautioned her to check out the labels on the painting before she put paintbrush to canvas, and after months during which the painting languished on the floor of her art studio, she did.
She saw the painting auctioned off by Sotheby’s for $34,375.00! Now, Feeback has a whole new appreciation for Bolotowsky and his work. “The first time I Googled that artist’s name, I was like, ‘this is the most beautiful damned painting I’ve ever seen in my life,” she said, tongue in cheek. (abc News, by Susan Clark)
So, what is it that makes the difference in the perceived value of an object or even of a person?
While living in Mexico I was always amazed when I would discover someone who had all the outward appearances of a poor, uneducated peon but who would astound me by demonstrating some skill or knowledge that was far above anything I could boast even after attaining a couple of college degrees. That happened a lot.
I think much of the answer can be found in Myra Brooks Welch’s famous poem, “The Touch of the Master’s Hand”:
“It was battered and scarred, And the auctioneer thought it hardly worth his while To waste his time on the old violin, but he held it up with a smile.
“What am I bid, good people”, he cried, “Who starts the bidding for me?” “One dollar, one dollar, Do I hear two?” “Two dollars, who makes it three?” “Three dollars once, three dollars twice, going for three,”
But, No, From the room far back a gray bearded man Came forward and picked up the bow, Then wiping the dust from the old violin And tightening up the strings, He played a melody, pure and sweet As sweet as the angel sings.
The music ceased and the auctioneer With a voice that was quiet and low, Said, “What now am I bid for this old violin?” As he held it aloft with its’ bow.
“One thousand, one thousand, Do I hear two?” “Two thousand, Who makes it three?” Three thousand once, three thousand twice, Going and gone” said he.
The audience cheered, But some of them cried, “We just don’t understand.” “What changed its’ worth?” Swift came the reply. “The Touch of the Master’s Hand.”
And many a man with life out of tune All battered with bourbon and gin Is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd Much like that old violin.
A mess of pottage, a glass of wine, A game and he travels on. He is going once, he is going twice, He is going and almost gone.
But the Master comes, And the foolish crowd never can quite understand, The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought By the Touch of the Master’s Hand.”
Aw, yes. How I would have enjoyed pecking out a Mustard Seeds article on that cheap old five-dollar typewriter!