Wednesday, March 4, 2015

On Membership into the Wood Collectors Society...and on Being the Ideal Collector

In May, 1949 (Volume 2. Number 5) newly-sworn IWCS president Henry J. Dentzman responded (interestingly enough, in all capital letters) to an issue that still remains relevant today...membership in the Society.

WORD COMES TO ME THAT A FEW MEMBERS BELIEVE WE SHOULD GO SLOW IN TAKING IN NEW MEMBERS. MY ANSWER TO THAT IS ** I INTEND TO ADHERE CLOSELY TO OUR CONSTITUTION AND BY-LAWS. ARTICLE 1., PARAGRAPH C. IS CLEAR AS TO APPLICATIONS FOR MEMBERSHIP AND TO MY MIND COVERS. THE APPLICATION MUST BE APPROVED BY THE PRESIDENT, VICE-PRESIDENT, AND THE SECRETARY OR TREASURER. IF, THEREFORE, ANY MEMBER IS DISSATISFIED WITH CONDITIONS, THERE CAN BE BUT ONE ANSWER. SOME OF OUR MEMBERS, WHO DO NOT HAVE LARGE COLLECTIONS ARE HIGHLY INTERESTED, AND FULLY COOPERATIVE. DO ANY OF YOU THINK THEY SHOULD BE BARRED? FOR SHAME! WE HAVE A FINE ORGANIZATION? BECOMING WIDELY KNOWN AND THOSE (IF ANY) WHO HAVE JOINED OUT OF CURIOSITY OR OTHER REASONS? PERHAPS WILL RETIRE. BUT I VIEW WITH UTTER SCORN ANYONE WHO WOULD CLOSE THE DOOR TO SOME FINE FOLKS. I COULD GO ON AND TELL YOU OF SOME FINE LETTERS I'VE READ. BUT PLEASE REMEMBER "WE WERE ALL BEGINNERS ONCE".

SINCERELY
(Signed)"Henry J. Dentzman".

Also included in this issue was an interesting letter from a Dr. Wolfgang Mautz of Germany, who offered a treatise entitled "My Conception of an Ideal Wood Collection." Although somewhat narrow in scope compared to the wide range of wood collections in existence today, it offered some pretty sound advice to beginning collectors.


"MY CONCEPTION OF AN IDEAL WOOD COLLECTION"
By. Dr. Wolfgang Mautz.

"According to my experience-which I admit is based exclusively on observations of European conditions- most collections of woods can be classified in two general types. One which might be called the "Botanical type" and which is usually to be seen in museums of natural history or institutions of forestral botany, is formed by scientifically trained botanists and is founded exclusively on scientific grounds. The other which we can term the "commercial type" is brought together by craftsmen, men of the wood producing industry and teachers of wood-working or technology, i.e. by men of more practical training; consequently, the principle aim of this type of collection is to display specimens from a purely commercial and practical viewpoint.

Naturally both types - besides certain merits - have their definite disadvantages which shall be discussed in the following chapters. Since the principal purpose of the botanical type of a wood collection is the exact determination of the botanical origin of each specimen, little value is place on appearances. The samples are generally not at all uniform in size, the surface finishing is of subordinate importance. Proper coloring, display of sapwood, difference between plain and quarter-sawed grain and observation of other details which are of fundamental interest to the craftsman and artisan are usually neglected.

The scientist, who determines his specimens first of all according to the structural details as seen under the microscope, does not discriminate between a sample coming from the trunk of a fully grown, healthy tree, properly felled and sawed, or from the branch of a dead one. It matters little to him if the color of the specimen is in accordance with the coloring of properly cured, sound timber or whether it is marred by streaks and blotches due to the fact that the sample was derived from a tree which had been standing dead in the forest for an indeterminable time or because the log was not sawed immediately after felling causing a stagnation of the sap to take place.

Furthermore, in some collections of this type only cross-sections are shown. Although of considerable scientific interest these samples can never satisfy the craftsman nor, for example, the designer of the furniture who wants to know the general appearance of the wood and to observe the beauties of the figure of grain as seen in practical examples of wood-work.

In comparison to the "botanical type", the "commercial" collection is just about the opposite. The designation of the specimens is usually merely based on current trade names, whereas the botanical origin, i.e. the Latin or scientific name is mostly omitted or at least inexact to a large extent. As far as the trade names or common names are concerned, these are not only lacking in correctness but often utterly misleading. As a typical example I can state that in Germany the well known American red gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) is known commercially only as "satin walnut", causing the general public and all craftsmen without botanical knowledge to believe this wood to be a species of exotic walnut.

Apart from this drawback the specimens are mostly shown with a polished or waxed surface not allowing a close examination of the structural details with a magnifying glass. With a few exceptions the samples of all species the sapwood of which is without commercial value (for instance Brasilian Rosewood and ebony) do not display any sapwood, whereas specimens of numerous coniferous trees sometimes show the sapwood alone without calling attention to the fact.

On the grounds of these observations which I have made in the course of nearly 30 years experience in the hobby of wood collecting I have lain down for myself seven basic points which should be closely observed in the attempt to reach the utmost perfection and to achieve an ideal wood collection.

Naturally the private collector, unless he had unlimited financial means, will never be able to achieve this ideal but he can always strive at least to come as near to it as possible within the limits of his collection, be it comparatively small or extensive. The faults and drawbacks of the aforementioned "botanical" and "commercial" types should be avoided, whereas the collector should try to combine their desirable qualities. The chief points to be observed are as follows, -

1 Exact determination of botanical origin.
2 Precise labeling.
3 Proper choice of specimens.
4 Perfect uniformity of size to insure interchangeability.
5 Ideal surface finish.
6 Arrangement of specimens.
7 Consideration of variability; demonstration by a series of specimens.

...

And from there, Dr. Mautz goes on to elaborate on the seven qualities above. Safe to say these standards have changed over the years in their definition, but I would say that his list is a pretty good general list of objectives each collector should strive for to gain the maximum enjoyment and satisfaction from his or her collection.





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