How we hold on to the past: A conversation with a treasure hunter

by | Dec 15, 2023 | Arts & Life

In my room, there is a shelf full of items from the past. It displays several Playstation 2 games that I have no way to play, but I hold on to because 15 years ago I enjoyed them. On the end, taking up the remainder of the shelf, sits a few funeral cards of the family I’ve lost in the past 10 years. It’s my own little shrine of nostalgia. Besides sentimentality, I’m unsure of why I hold on to these items, and even more so why I choose to display them. I know I’m not alone; many people hold on to collections of different size and value, and everyone has their own idea of what makes an object a “treasure.”

With this thought in my head, I walked into the West Edmonton Mall location of Beck’s Antiques & Jewelry to find out more about the philosophy of keeping treasure. Beck’s Antiques & Jewelry specializes in buying and selling antiques or “treasures,” while also offering many other services. The company’s CEO, appraiser, auctioneer and namesake, Clinton Beck, started from humble beginnings. He started treasure hunting as a young boy growing up in Surrey, BC. 

Coming from a poor family, he had to find ways to make money. He would spend days digging in the garbage dump looking for bottles to fill his wagon and take to the depot for five cents each. One day, Beck was dragging his wagon past an antique shop. A man smoking outside stopped him, looked in his wagon, and offered five dollars for one of his five cent bottles. 

To Beck, we don’t really own these treasures; we “babysit” them. We take care of them for a short while, but it is the responsibility of the treasure holder to maintain them to pass on to the next person. 

“That was like winning the lottery,” Beck said of his young self. It was here Beck realized that real treasure hunting is about “finding treasures and then finding the real collector that really wants that treasure.”

Beck sees being a treasure hunter as a responsibility, one he particularly enjoys. For him, it’s about preservation of history. “It’s important for us as proprietors of these antique stores to be able to pass them on to the right hand so that these objects will be cared for eternity,” he explained. He joked that his house is like a museum—a collection of treasures he’s been curating since he was 13 years old. After 43 years, the items he’s collected between his two stores and his home are there for a reason. No item is out of place. “All objects in my stores are treasures,” Beck said.

During this lifelong hunt for treasure, Beck has recognized a finality to his collection and journey. It’s something he didn’t think about in his 30s, but has started to consider now that he’s reaching his 60s. 

Nick’s shelf, featuring photos of family members and PlayStation 2 games. Photo supplied

“You realize your time is running out and you have to deal with these objects to get them onto the next treasured home,” he said. To Beck, we don’t really own these treasures; we “babysit” them. We take care of them for a short while, but it is the responsibility of the treasure holder to maintain them to pass on to the next person. “When I can no longer take care of the treasure anymore, the right thing for me to do is to find someone who can take care of the treasure and value it and babysit it and take care of it,” Beck mused. Ultimately, as Beck has come to realize after his lifelong journey, while our time on this earth is finite, “good treasure will last forever.” 

Beck sees more than financial value in these objects; for him, having a collection of treasures can do wonders for your own well-being. He’s not a fan of minimalism as he feels sitting in an empty room devoid of “beautiful things” will cause your mental health to slip away. 

To Beck, the COVID-19 pandemic enforced this. He believes the people who were surrounded by “that type of beauty and things that will elevate [them]” during their time in isolation were better off. “Collect what your passion is,” he urged. Collecting shouldn’t be about attaching a dollar sign to everything we have. Objects that bring us passion and joy, take us to moments in our lives, take our minds on a journey,or expand our minds should always be collected, according to Beck.

After my conversation, I thought back to that shelf in my room. I thought about each individual item there. I will never be that 12-year-old boy playing Resident Evil 4 again, trying to process all the changes in my life, but it’s still on my shelf. I’ll never be able to play Ludo marbles with my Gido again, but his funeral card sits on that shelf. 

Instead, I look at these items for a moment and take my mind on a journey. I’m that 12-year-old boy again, experiencing the horrors of Resident Evil for the first time, or I’m sitting at a table locked in an intense match of marbles with my Gido. Clinton Beck helped me realize these are my own personal treasures. As he said, “If they talk to you and if they bring you to a space and time, then you should collect those items always. Because if it brings you joy, then that’s what life is about.

Cover Photo by Beck Antiques

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