Jan 31, 2020
(January 25, 2020) Where do you start in describing a staggering collection of hundreds of rare items of Indianapolis memorabilia and ephemera?
A private collection owned by antiques dealer Charles Alexander includes miniature models of iconic structures like the Soldiers and Sailors Monument; he owns two replicas created as the landmark was being constructed during the 1880s and '90s. The historic models differ in appearance because the monument's design was still evolving.
His private collection also includes historic photos and postcards depicting the Woodruff Place neighborhood and bygone Riverside Amusement Park; architectural sketches of the Murat Shrine Temple (now the Murat Theatre at the Old National Centre) and the World War Memorial; embossed silverware from the long-demolished Claypool and Lincoln hotels; Amaco art pottery made in Speedway during the Great Depression; and yearbooks from Shortridge and Arsenal Tech high schools.
Although Charles owns a booth at Midland Arts & Antiques Market, none of his rare Indianapolis memorabilia and ephemera is for sale there. Or anywhere else.
"I love the Indianapolis collection too much to sell any of it," says Charles, 63, who began collecting artifacts related to his hometown's heritage as a teenager in the early 1970s.
In addition to describing cherished items in his vast collection (it includes 150 dinner spoons from the Indianapolis Athletic Club, long before it was converted into luxury condos), during our show Charles offers advice for folks who enjoy hunting at garage sales, flea markets, antique booths, auctions and estate sales.
He's been a full-time antiques dealer for more than 35 years. At Midland, he primarily sells china, silverware and vintage furnishings not made in Indianapolis. He also has moonlighted at auction houses including Christy's of Indiana in Indianapolis, Heimel's Auction in Beech Grove and Burgess Auctions in Knightstown. Those gigs often enable him to get first dibs on rare Indy memorabilia to add to his ever-expanding collection.
Some listeners may recall Charles from his memorable appearance on the PBS series Antiques Roadshow when the program was filmed at the Indiana Convention Center in 2000. Charles, who emphasizes that he's not an appraiser, showed up with a rare World War I poster for which he had paid $35. It turned out to be worth an amount that Charles describes as "far, far more than that."
Fortunately, his Arts & Crafts-style house, which was built in 1917 in the Meridian Park neighborhood, has an attic, a basement and spare bedrooms for storage of his Indianapolis memorabilia and ephemera.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Charles has won the History Mystery prize several times on Hoosier History Live, sometimes drawing on knowledge gleaned while finding local treasures.
He also has put his knowledge to use at the Indiana State Fair, where he has judged 18 categories, primarily pottery and china. In addition, Charles has taught classes in antique china, pottery, glass and silver at various auction houses.
He offers up this tidbit of advice for collectors, using the popular Woodruff Place Flea Market as an example:
"Don't go expecting to find a specific item or treasure. Go to Woodruff Place to enjoy the historic neighborhood that it is. If you find something wonderful, that will be the icing."