When I think about a county fair, images of the midway, corn dogs, blue ribbons and cute farm animals come to mind -- not antiques and collectibles.

A recent experience, however, changed my mind.

In early May, I was invited to be one of the judges for the 2013 Alameda County Fair Exhibits Committee. I must confess that I didn't know what I was getting into, but it sounded like a cool experience.

Well, once I saw the scores of neatly arranged cases of fabulous collections amassed by hobbyists, I nearly flew into orbit.

The first display I examined was a marvelous selection of Blue Willow china. These wares first came into vogue in England about 1790, and they have remained a favorite with collectors for more than two centuries.

A collection of Old Willow china on exhibit at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton.
A collection of Old Willow china on exhibit at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton. (Alameda County Fair photo.)

As per contest rules, all of the objects on parade had to be neatly labeled. The entrants also had to explain the reason they collected the artifacts they so love. And this participant did so in spades. In fact, there were two cases full of the precious cargo.

Other cases protected amazing collections such as fountain pens, Christmas décor, old kitchen gadgets, Disney paraphernalia and a super selection of Jadeite.

Jadeite is that nifty milky-green glassware first made in the 1940s. A number of years ago, Martha Stewart, that arbiter of good taste, touted it in her magazine and on TV. Soon afterward, the glassware soared in interest, as well as price.


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Visitors also will see dolls, whimsical salt and pepper shakers, a lovely assemblage of perfume bottles, plus a fantastic collection of carved wooden cookie stamps, or molds.

I was delighted to see how some of the exhibitors went beyond the basic guidelines to inform viewers of books, websites, even collector club news. The exhibits were both attractive and educational. And I'm proud to have been a tiny part of the event.

Check it out for yourself at the 101st Alameda County Fair, which runs daily except Mondays until July 7. The fairgrounds are located in Pleasanton just off Interstate 680. Take the Bernal Road exit. Head east to Valley Avenue. Enter through Gate 8 or Gate 12. The exhibits are in Building O, the Mineral/Gem/Hobby Building.

Details: Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Sunday. Admission: $10 adults; $8 seniors; $6 children ages 6-12. General parking: $10. Preferred parking: $15 $20. Details: 925-426-7600 or www.alamedacountyfair.com.

A honey of a show

Several impressive Pez dispenser collections are among the displays in the Mineral, Gems and Hobbies hall at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton, Calif.
Several impressive Pez dispenser collections are among the displays in the Mineral, Gems and Hobbies hall at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton, Calif. on Thursday, June 20, 2013. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

Summer is an ideal time to pause and study the great state we inhabit. One of best spots to make that happen is History San Jose.

The latest exhibition, "Bear in Mind: The Story of the California Grizzly," explains our age-old relationship with this fearsome yet majestic animal that, unfortunately, is now extinct in our region.

The display, replete with some awesome images, is at the Leonard and David McKay Gallery inside the Pasetta House. The presentation was developed with help from the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley.

If you get hungry during your stay, indulge in a snack at O'Brien's Candy Store and Ice Cream Parlor.

And be sure to check out the gift boutique's interesting finds. I always come away with a purchase.

Details: History San Jose is at 635 Phelan Ave. Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. Admission is free, except for family events and special days. Parking is $6. 408-287-2290, or www.historysanjose.org.

Reader's pick

I always enjoy hearing from readers. Most of my mail now comes via the Internet, but I still receive notes and letters sent via the post office.

Reader Ann Getsla wrote to say that any doll aficionado needs to know about a shop she is wild about: Twice Nice Dolls, located at 253 E. Campbell Ave., in the heart of bustling downtown Campbell. Getsla says store owner Bonnie Peterson is "a real sweetheart and knows her dolls."

Getsla has been a patron for years. And she isn't alone. Betty Barnacle, a very dear friend and former Mercury News reporter, is another huge fan.

Barnacle adores Madame Alexander dolls -- this brand has been around since 1923 and is a favorite with legions of collectors. She makes a point of inspecting the store's stock as often as she can.

For specifics, including business hours, call 408-379-9599.

A place to hunt

I have heard from several readers about Harry Costa's legendary emporium in San Bruno called Just Things. It's jam-packed with goodies.

Costa, who turns 84 in August, has 10,000 Hot Wheels and Matchbox toys in stock. He's known for his selection of choice toy trains, and he currently offers a superb medley of early Disney tin toys.

The store is open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday, and on weekends by appointment. Details: 650-871-9425.

Contact Steven Yvaska at steve.yvaska@sbcglobal.net or 750 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, CA 95190.