Not all artifacts were created equal.
Not all artifacts were created equal. Some have artistic, anthropological or historical significance, but often our most valued artifacts are items that are only important to you.
Souvenirs, keepsakes and memorabilia.
Souvenirs are markers. There are mass produced souvenirs like tiny pewter Eiffel Towers or spoons with country flags and tiny illustrations and place names on them. There are bigger souvenirs like T-shirts and hats, velvet paintings and hand carved masks and figurines.
The most common, personal and valuable souvenirs are often photographs that you took yourself – they’re generally not very original – with loved ones standing in front of historical monuments or graduating, getting married, holding a new baby; or simply doing something that is typical and reminiscent of them. People create scrapbooks, photo albums, and Facebook profiles full of these. Most of our vacation photos are not valuable to anyone but us.
If you are a professional or dedicated amateur photographer, you may take vacation photos of exceptional beauty or intrigue that may end up getting published in professional venues, being sold in art shows; or just hanging on the living room walls of friends or relatives. Some photos of significant events or celebrities even have historical significance.
More importantly, all the photos that you deem worthy of keeping or mounting are meaningful to you. They commemorate a moment in time, often a joyous one. When you look at them, they stir those memories and bring those feelings back to the surface, however fleetingly. They help you remember the faces of friends or loved ones who have died or who you haven’t seen in a long time.
Souvenirs can be almost anything – a pebble or seashell, a pack of matches or a pen with a hotel logo. You may not even have intended them as souvenirs when you picked them up, but as the longer they survive, the more likely they are to gain significance. A cheap plastic hairclip that your mother gave you, can be modified over the course of time. The type of plastic becomes celebrated as “French ivory,” the person who gave it to you passes away, and before you know it, it has become an artifact of considerable personal import.
Time can turn sows’ ears into silk purses. And conversely, it can steal the meaning or importance from objects that once meant something. If you collect a hundred items over the course of twenty years, all but a few of them will lose significance by the end of that time.
Who among us hasn’t at some point asked themselves, “Why was I keeping that?”
Other times, you’ll know full well why you kept it, but find that those reasons have become less important. If you keep ten souvenirs from an old job, or ten paintings you were once proud of having created, or ten craft items that your children made while they were in school, you’ll find yourself winnowing down that collection. It just takes one item to perform the function you require of it (like jogging your memory or reigniting your sense of pride). So you end up keeping only the most durable, or the most special of those items, and all the rest get reluctantly thrown away or sold, passed along or donated.
Very few items have an intrinsic value that translates to cash in pocket. If you own an original Fabergé egg, chances are the sentimental value will be secondary to the investment value. You may love it because it’s beautiful, but its financial value is always the most important consideration. A Fabergé egg may be a keepsake – and is certainly an artifact – but is probably one that has its own shrine and should be ethically donated to a museum.
I have a collection of ticket stubs from concerts I attended. Other popular music lovers may be quite intrigued by my collection, but no-one is likely to pay me for them.
In a world that is growing increasingly virtual and transient, people tend to collect fewer artifacts – which makes the ones that are saved all the more significant and valuable. Once they're gone, it's incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to get them back.