Pack-rat heaven

Wendell P. Hammon

Photo by Larry Dalton

Hammon’s Archives & Artifacts has been an institution in Old Sacramento since 1975. While the Front Street store seems out of place amid the endless establishments in Old Town that cater to tourists—like the candy and T-shirt stores—Hammon’s has soldiered on by selling memorabilia and historical artifacts to collectors and the curious alike. Looking for that 1956 Adlai Stevenson for President button? You’re likely to find it at Hammon’s, along with old maps, photos, menus, books and other memorabilia from California’s past and beyond. Hammon’s was founded by now 83-year-old Wendell P. Hammon, who is, sadly, after 25 years, being forced to close the store because of economics. Hammon’s close friend and store manager, Bill Stritzel, chatted with the News & Review about the business. For the next 60 days, you can check out Hammon’s on 1115 Front Street in Old Sac.

If someone came up to you on the street and asked what you do for a living, what do you tell them?

It’s very hard but I always say I’m in one of the most interesting businesses you can get involved with. I work at this seven days a week and I’ve been doing it for several years now. You’re always coming up with something new, in terms of material, information and contacts with people who are seeking something. Some haven’t received a lot of assistance at a public institution so they think, well, “Maybe you can help me a little more.” So you never know. Every day when we open that door and start the day’s routine, we never know what’s going to happen, someone will walk in the door with something like a batch of material from the Gold Rush era or material from a noted photographer from Life Magazine, which has happened. It’s an endless scavenger hunt and every day is an adventure.

How’d you get into this business?

Back in 1977 I got involved in a historical research project and I just kind of wandered in here one day. I met Wendell and established a friendship and that’s sort of the point where all this began. I went from being an active, involved historian into developing a business based on historic preservation and that’s twofold: that means the involvement with this shop and also a business out of my home. It’s a full-time and lifetime pursuit.

Do you have to be a pack rat to be in this business?

Yes. Not only to be in the business but to make the business prosper as well. You target pack rats because that’s where you get your source of material. It’s a matter of being in a public setting where people recognize you and what you’re involved with and will come to you at times with material. It’s also about maintaining contacts with people who are involved in similar pursuits, other dealers, collectors, historians and institutions as well. There’s hardly a course you can attend that will give you the insight on how to do this. You have to learn as you go along.

Who is your clientele?

We will have people who possess Ph.D.s all the way down to somebody who simply wants some background on a family member that resided here in Northern California 100 years ago.

What is the most interesting and/or valuable item you’ve come across?

The old “California as an island” maps. (In the 1600s European cartographers thought California floated off the North American coast, and mapped it thusly.) Also, maps of California towns during the Gold Rush era in the early 1850s, illustrations, correspondence, documents, it just goes on and on.

Being in Old Sac, you probably get a lot of people in here who are tourists. Do they find the store interesting?

They think we’re part of the exhibit. You’ll get some interesting questions like, “Is this a museum?” or “Are these things for sale?” or “Can you check these books out?”

Do city officials ever utilize your store?

We’ve dealt with Harvard University, all the way down to the Sacramento Museum Archives Collection Center, the California State Railroad Museum, the California State Library and various public and private institutions, including Stanford and Berkeley.

What is the most valuable thing you’ve personally gained from this business?

A deep appreciation of historic preservation. You want to get outside of the basic presentations that you receive in the classroom or in the mass media. When you really get down to it, you’ll discover in this business the really important role in our society of historic preservation and historic research.