A Boy Scouts of America lightbulb. A tin of Jamboree sardines. Live horned lizards.
At one time or another, all of these items have been traded by youth at National Scout Jamborees who are eager to connect with their counterparts from across the country and grow their collections of Boy Scout-related ephemera.
“There’s all kinds of goofy stuff out there,” says John Pleasants, a lifelong collector of Boy Scout patches and memorabilia.
Jamborees, turns out, aren’t just for showing off outdoorsmanship. There’s also an obsessive subculture of people — adults and youth alike — who buy, barter and trade Boy Scout-related items on a collectors market, and the Jamboree offers fertile ground for such pursuits.
At this year’s Jamboree, the hub of collecting activities will be Mount Hope, site of the Trade-O-Ree and Memorabilia Show, which runs July 13-21 at a large tent in Municipal Stadium.
In addition, a temporary Scouting Museum, set up in a rented commercial building on Main Street, will feature one of the most outstanding collections of Jamboree memorabilia in the country.
“You’ll be able to really get a historical view of all the Jamborees that have been held in the United States, including items from this Jamboree that aren’t even available to the general public to buy,” says Richard Mori, organizer of the Mount Hope Trade-O-Ree, who hosts similar events across the region.
Dealers and collectors will gather at the Trade-O-Ree to trade and sell Boy Scout and Girl Scout items like books, uniforms, patches, tins and puzzles dating all the way back to 1910. Such buying and trading will also take place at the Jamboree itself, but in a more controlled way, and supervised by adults.
The items range from 50 cents to hundreds of dollars, depending on scarcity and demand.
Take, for example, a patch from the first National Scout Jamboree, scheduled for 1935 in Washington, D.C. Three weeks prior to the event, President Franklin Roosevelt called it off due to a polio epidemic.
“Patches and memorabilia from that event has become scarcer because there wasn’t any product sold at the Jamboree. The only product let out was the items that had been pre-purchased and shipped. So now those are very collectible and desirable,” says Mori.
“So when you’re collecting, you need to know the history and how it all relates together. That’s what patch collecting is all about.”
Collectors often have distinct specializations. Some people collect only patches with certain images, like a bear. Others are looking for any patch with a certain word, like “Trade-O-Ree” itself.
Those sorts of collections are perhaps less valuable but more historically interesting, because they show how images and language have been used and altered by the Boy Scouts of America organization over the years.
Pleasants, 57, hasn’t missed a Jamboree since he was 13 years old and is now on the board of the International Scout Collectors Association.
That year, 1969, began a lifelong passion for trading Boy Scout memorabilia. He met kids from California, Alaska and all parts in between. He kept up with them and traded through the mail.
“I’d write 20 to 30 letters a week after the Jamboree about trading,” he says. “Some are even trading with me today.”
His list of trading contacts numbers roughly 4,000.
“I could basically break down anywhere in the country and open up my database and probably have the car towed, a place to stay and dinner served,” says Pleasants. “That actually happened one time.”
An office supply salesman by day, Pleasants runs patchprotection.com, a side business that sells sleeves that preserve the collectible patches.
People sometimes contact him with a garage’s worth of Boy Scout memorabilia from a collection once treasured and now simply taking up space. He’ll pick and choose the few things he wants to keep for his own collection and all the extra, he sells.
Any money he makes basically funds his own personal collecting habit, which focuses on merit badges.
He has reserved five tables at the Mount Hope Trade-O-Ree and will be driving up from Siler City, N.C., for the event.
The Trade-O-Ree and the Scouting Museum might be Mount Hope’s best shot at diverting some of the Summit traffic into the town for economic benefit.
The Trade-O-Ree has a built-in audience who have already heard about it by word of mouth. But signage and publicity within the BSA will help draw more people there.
“It’s going to give them something to do in Mount Hope,” says Mori. “And if this is successful, we will obviously repeat it.”
Mori expects to bring in anywhere from 500 to 1,000 people to the 100-odd tables of vendors.
“The big unknown for us is how much of the traffic coming off the Summit at the end of the day will pull off and come to Mount Hope,” he says. “We’re working to make that happen, but it’s still an unknown.”
Pleasants says he’s particularly looking forward to being in the mountains for this, the Boy Scouts’ first Jamboree in West Virginia.
“I want to learn more about the town and the people in the area,” he says. “I hope to come back and bring our Venture crew and my family.
“AP Hill (the former Jamboree site) was real interesting, but it wasn’t an outdoor kind of thing. I think this is going to be really neat because it’s going to be like the Philmont of the East, a national camping area for the whole country in the mountains.”
Mori says he’s looking forward to meeting more people in the community, and that those he’s already gotten to know have been welcoming.
“I’ve been so pleased and impressed with the hospitality we’ve received from the people of West Virginia in the Beckley and Mount Hope area,” he says. “I think the best experiences the kids are going to have from the Trade-O-Ree and the Jamboree are meeting people from the local area.”
The Trade-O-Ree and Memorabilia Show hours are from roughly noon to 10 p.m. The Scouting Museum, located across from Giuseppe’s Pizza, will keep similar hours and can be entered for a small fee.
Mori is still looking for a few local volunteers to staff the museum. He can be reached at 603-732-0258.
— E-mail: email@example.com
A Boy Scouts of America lightbulb. A tin of Jamboree sardines. Live horned lizards.
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