by Kirby Lindsay
Art, especially in Fremont, can take a variety of forms. For instance, take a peek Saturday, February 27, inside the B.F. Day Elementary School gymnasium (3921 Linden Avenue North) from 10a.m. to 1p.m., to catch the 21st Annual Emerald City Insulator/Bottle Collector’s Show, and see old, industrial cast-offs that also resemble the most beautiful art.
Over 100 collectors – from California, Canada, Montana and Eastern Washington – of glass and porcelain insulators, will gather at B.F. Day to show off their finds, sell and trade from their collections and offer free evaluations to walk-ins who wish an identification/price on an insulator from their attic, garage or Uncle Hank’s farmland.
When No Longer Functional
Gil Hedges-Blanquez, one of the event organizers (and School Librarian at B.F. Day), said insulators were, mostly, used on telegraph poles to protect the wires from the rain. Jake Hare, another organizer and a retired civil engineer, explained “they used anything that wouldn’t conduct electricity, including wood,” as an insulator, “to keep the wires from going to ground.”
Hedges-Blanquez compared the insulators they collect, in appearance, to overturned vases. Hare spoke on the diversity of the insulators – made by a variety of companies, over numerous years, and according to ever-changing engineering plans. According to Hare, a single pole could have anywhere from a couple of insulators up to 100, depending on the number of wires and cross-beams the pole supported.
Hare estimated he became interested in insulators “a good thirty years ago,” when he worked on the Skagit River for Seattle City Light. He admired the insulators installed on poles he passed traveling from dam to dam. Today, most people find insulators discarded in their basements or attics – a curious item too lovely to discard but too odd to use.
“Linesmen would throw them down,” Hedges-Blanquez explained, as poles were repaired or removed, and many insulators were broken – or buried. “They can be worth from 5 cents to $1000,” he explained. The value depends on how many were made, where they were located when in use and when they were taken off the pole. In January, in Ohio, someone found two ‘Plutos’ on a building. These would be worth about $25,000, because they are so rare.
Hare couldn’t guess how many different kinds exist but, “I probably have over a hundred different styles in my house.” Some insulator designs have nicknames, according to Hedges-Blanquez, like a ‘Mickey Mouse’ that has a top like a wingnut, or Mickey ears. Insulators come in a variety of colors – clear, purple, amber, green, aqua, etc. – and currently, Hedges-Blanquez admitted, “I do blue porcelain,” he said, although “I used to have a collection of Mexican [insulators].”
“People don’t get started in this hobby hoping to get rich,” Hedges-Blanquez warned. He started in 1976 and, “I like it because it’s social.” Collectors connect through the National Insulator Association, the Insulator Collectors On the Net (ICON) site, and magazines such as Crown Jewels. Also through shows in Ellensburg and Spokane, and the national show held in Ohio.
Considered a “backyard show” Hedges-Blanquez explained, the Emerald City gathering started as a get together held in private homes. As interest has grown, they’ve moved to the school gym. This location better allows the casual, and curious, observer to get a peek. So bring your finds, or simply bring your discerning eye, to B.F. Day on February 27th, 2010.
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.