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All About Collecting
Retired teacher amasses memorabilia to preserve history of city public schools
by Dorothy Callaci | September 6, 2017 New York Teacher issue
Jonathan Fickies Retiree Marty Raskin is a one-man “Antiques Roadshow” specializing in New York City public school memorabilia.
Along with his collection of the once-familiar speckled notebooks, autograph books and class photos spanning decades are grand reminders of another age — a weight-driven classroom Regulator clock, intricately carved brass classroom doorknobs, a glass classroom ceiling light, a window pole and a wall-mounted ruler to measure student height.
Raskin’s most unusual memento is the accident report, dated Friday, March 13, 1942, and filed by Principal Dr. Charles Eichel of Brooklyn’s PS 202, which notes: ”Sat down in my office chair — 258 — splinter entered my buttocks — cleaned it with yellow soap and applied iodine.” And in the envelope is the very same splinter Eichel complained about.
But most iconic of all the items he has lovingly collected is the time-worn wooden desk, with an inkwell in the upper right-hand corner, mounted on heavy wrought-iron legs that once upon a time were attached to the desk in front and the one behind. In their day, desks like it stood row upon row in every classroom throughout the city. And, as with the stately red-brick school buildings that kept rising at the turn of the century to meet the needs of the city’s growing U.S.-born and immigrant populations, the Board of Education built those furnishings to last.
A public school proud New Yorker, Raskin said, “I’m determined to preserve the history and artifacts of a school system that has given so much to this city and to our country.” Among the system’s contributions, he notes, are the 42 Nobel laureates who graduated from New York City public schools.
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Raskin’s mini museum, housed in a bedroom of his Upper East Side apartment and highlighted in a 2010 feature in The New York Times, has grown out of his continued attachment to PS 202, his alma mater in East New York, where he has kept close ties. He delivered the graduation address at the school the past two years and presented stipends to noteworthy graduates with funds raised from ongoing contact with other alumni.
“Marty has always maintained an interest in 202,” explained Eileen Ballin, a retiree from the school. “He’s the glue that holds us all together. When I see his fabulous collection, especially the old nailed-down desk, my heart starts to flutter. ... We all have our memories.”
During the early 1970s when he was a business education teacher at Canarsie HS, Raskin developed a course, the Business of Antiques, based on his earlier experience as a porcelain and antique-clock collector. He later became a special education teacher and a career education coordinator. In 1998, he retired from the Queens School for Career Development.
Today Raskin is on a mission to save the “hidden treasures” that will keep the history of the city’s public schools alive. “I’m willing to do the legwork,” he said, “to go anywhere to check out any possible finds.”
The famous “splinter” discovery was made when a custodian at PS 202 led him to a cache of discarded furniture and other items at the school. The rest Raskin has purchased on eBay or uncovered in antique shops.
He asks anyone who might have a lead on school memorabilia — including papers, records or furnishings — to contact him at email@example.com. He promises to check it out.
Raskin is working with the city Department of Education on a plan to set up a model classroom at a still undetermined site. He has promised to donate his entire collection to the project — all except the iconic desk that is being used at the moment by his granddaughter.
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