By Jessica Stephen
Ken DePratt didn’t plan to fill his basement with Japanese cat-eye marbles and Wild Bill Hickok cap guns. It just happened.
His hobby of collecting childhood memorabilia began about 20 years ago, when DePratt, owner of KD Poolscapes, a specialty design-build remodeling company in Franksville, went to an estate sale for his wife’s grandmother, an antique dealer.
“There were three glasses of marbles,” he said. “I hadn’t seen cat-eye marbles and regular marbles since I was a kid.”
Ten years later, DePratt owned so many marbles “it was nuts,” he admits.
“Me and my wife go to every antique show,” he said. “We go all over the country to marble shows. I never knew anything about that world 20 years ago, that people were congregating for items that on the surface don’t make any sense.”
Decades ago, DePratt, 56, never would have considered flying from Wisconsin to California to buy a marble, he said, but now it doesn’t seem so crazy.
“The older you are, the more you convince yourself that your childhood was so cool,” he said in defense of his passion. “And when you walk into my basement, into my marble room, it takes you back to that.”
Marbles aren’t the only collectibles in DePratt’s extensive homage to childhood. He also has a large collection of cap guns and other toys.
DePratt’s cap guns were another “accidental collection,” which started at a marble show in Elkhorn, he said.
Instead of marbles, DePratt found some “?The Rifleman” television show-era pieces that brought him back to his days as a young boy.
“I said, ‘Man, those things are cool!’” he said. “Now, I’ve got about 400. That’s just as goofy as the marbles are.”
DePratt’s appreciation of each item is part of the passion, he said.
“The quality of my cap guns — it’s almost unbelievable they were manufactured for children,” he said, “because they are exact replicas down to every detail, works of art in some cases.
“And the marbles are even more significant because they can’t be made again with lead and glass and the brilliant colors that came out of the 1950s and ’60s. That’s gone.”
Most of the marbles in DePratt’s collection cost about a quarter of a cent to make, he said. Today, dealers get thousands of dollars for certain collections, such as DePratt’s box of 15 Popeye marbles — tri-color, onyx creations packaged for marble shooters in the 1940s in a rectangular box with “I am what I am” on it.
“I’ve spent 1,500 bucks on a box of marbles,” DePratt said. “Everyone places a different value on everything.
And that speaks loud and clear through collectors.”
DePratt said he isn’t sure what will become of his collection, some of which he is now selling.
“I think it’s a dying passion,” he said. “Although there is a new generation of marble collectors, believe it or not. Mostly nieces and nephews or kids of people like me.”