Sunday, 1 April 2012

The Bagatelle Theory

Thing Detective Field Guide #1: Try to work out where 'the thing' might come to rest.

Most things bounce.
I don’t mean ‘when dropped from a great height’ but rather from one owner to the next. A comic printed in 1939 bounces from the press to the newsstand, then to the pocket of little Billy’s shorts in exchange for a nickel, then to a box under his bed and finally into an auction house in New York 75 years later. This is a real example and Billy’s comic, bought for 10 cents, finally sold for $523,000!

A bagatelle. A metal ball bounces between the pins.
It's a bit like pinball without the flippers.
The world of collecting things, finding things, rooting around and rummaging is quite logical. The item is either in the place you look, or it isn’t. The trick is to focus on the resting place – can you work it out from what you know?

Just as a metal ball bounces around the pins on a bagatelle in a predictable way and a river bend is the place to look for silt flecked with gold,  the passage of time often deposits comics or mahogany tables or tomato boxes in predictable places too.

Sebaskachu River in central Labrador.
Predictable silt deposits on the bends.
For the Magician’s postcard case this Bagatelle theory helped us a great deal:
There are so many ways that a flimsy piece of card could be lost or destroyed, we thought, that to make it to the present day would require safety...
Assume that a travelling magician doing a residency at a large theatre might leave some promotional material behind...
Assume that this was quite safe until the theatre closed down in the 1970s...
Where would the postcard bounce on to next after nearly 60 years in one place?
A local antiques shop!

So ask yourself “Where might my long-sought-after gold-plated wotsit end up?”

Do you know where it was made? Where it was sold? Where might it be stored? Just remember – it’s out there somewhere!