Feature | You Can’t Take It With You: Legendary eccentric Stan Sanders’ obsession with Utah’s past knew no limits. | Cover Story | Salt Lake City Weekly

November 12, 2008 News » Cover Story

Feature | You Can’t Take It With You: Legendary eccentric Stan Sanders’ obsession with Utah’s past knew no limits. 

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nA life spent catering to fetishes can lead to a dark side, Ken says, especially for the collector’s spouse. Eleanor says her husband’s collecting was a joy for him rather than a mania. “He never made it a financial burden,” she says. “We worked together.” While she hated her lifelong career as an accountant for her husband’s trophy-selling business, she appears happy to have supported him through his half-century of collecting. But even she had limits. After their basement was filled with his collections and dozens of binders, she put her foot down when it came to losing any more of her home. n

Stan Sanders paid the price people asked for the items they brought him—no questions asked, no quibbling. “Dad assumed everyone was as honest as he was,” Ken says. When it came to collecting, he adds, that wasn’t necessarily so. n

Knowing Stan’s enthusiasm for liquor, fellow collectors would bring him booze, Ken says. The bookseller spent two years of Sundays taking inventory of his father’s drugstore-bottle collection. His father did rubbings of all the embossed pieces of his 1,000-piece bottle collection. Ken discovered key pieces were missing. “His buddies screwed him out of them,” he says. Collector Donald Keener questions the story. When Stan was drunk, he says, he acted like any other collector. “He didn’t want to get rid of nothing.”

nNot everyone appreciated Stan’s style. Former South Salt Lake Mayor Jim Davis, Eleanor recalls, once told her husband, “If I want to start a revolution, I’d put you in charge.” n

In 1985, Stan ran for the South Salt Lake City Council. He paid more than $5,000 for 60 30-second political broadcast ads—a fortune at that time, and for such a small race. He paid hundreds more dollars for wooden nickels bearing his bespectacled features to hand out during the campaign. n

With his 35 years living in South S alt Lake and his championing of local issues, particularly his outspoken battles against what he termed “greedy” developers, Stan seemed a natural for councilman. He thought the favors he’d done for local politicians, calling up friends to work the phones when his cronies needed help with a vote, would pay off for him. n

“Dad got people stirred up,” Doug says. “He thought when it was time for him, he would get the kind of support he’d given his neighbors over at City Hall.” The support he anticipated never materialized. In a six-candidate race, Stan Sanders came in dead last. “That hurt him a lot,” Ken says. “He wasn’t used to failing at things.” n

nIn the late 1990s, Ken introduced his father “with some trepidation” to trading on eBay. His father took on the moniker of “Utah Stan” and became, according to Ken, “the king of eBay.” n

For Utah collectors like Donald Keener, the Internet has ruined bottle collecting. Collectors don’t go to bottle shows anymore, even though, he adds, online auctions can often result in collectors “getting screwed.” Stan, however, enjoyed the skirmishing. He’d chant at the computer screen “You’re going down,” as he fought to outbid other collectors. n

In his last years, Stan struggled against bladder cancer. “He’d talk to the cancer, yell at it and cuss at it, ‘Goddamn it, go away,’” Ken says. Stan’s doctor told him the cancer was inoperable. “When he was told he wouldn’t survive the operation, he pretty much lost interest” in life, Ken says. n

Despite Stan’s decade of struggling with illness, he continued collecting. “He couldn’t say no to a good item,” Rick Holt says. “Even until the very end, he was making offers on things he didn’t have.” n

For the last 18 months of his life, Stan’s place at home was a corner of the sofa. He watched back-to-back episodes of Judge Judy, the TV volume turned up so loud it could be heard in the driveway. “I kept waiting for him to get bored,” Doug says, wistfully. n

“I’ve done everything I wanted to do,” Stan told his wife before he died. His only regret was that he didn’t go deep-sea fishing in Australia. “He said, ‘It really doesn’t matter now,’” Eleanor recalls, “so he was happy, I guess.” n

When Stan Sanders finished something, that was it, Ken says. He would turn his back and walk away. When Stan tired of deep-sea fishing, he gave away all of his rods. He approached life in the same fashion. A few days after hospice nurses took over his care, he died. Eleanor wipes away tears. “It’s been hard. I keep thinking he’s on a fishing trip.” n

With his father gone, Ken Sanders is determined his mother reclaim her home from the grip of her husband’s obsessions. “She lived with them long enough,” he says. He plans a sale in the adjacent house [2745 S. Blair St.] of some of his dad’s collections Nov. 22-23, and has been promoting the event on Craigslist. The golf room that once boasted a 19th hole, lawn chair and Astroturf will hold the $1 bargain item room. Then the property will be sold. The bottle museum, he adds, is “permanently closed.” He anticipates selling or auctioning off parts of the bottle collection in the months ahead. n

Doug’s one regret is that he and his brother never built their father a museum for his collections. “People still bug me about that,” Ken says. He points out it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. He picks up an old hairbrush bearing an advertising imprint, one of 50 his father collected. Each item, Ken says, has to be identified and valued before it can be liquidated. “Where’s the army to turn all this into a museum?” he says. n

Doug believes his father “would have made a wonderful curator.” That would have kept Stan going, he believes, cancer or not. He imagines his father stuffed and mounted in the museum’s lobby. Then he envisions a waxwork of his father on guy wires flying around his collections, recorded messages introducing new generations to the wonders of Utah’s bottled past. n

“That,” Doug says with a grin, “I would have absolutely done.” n

Selections from the sale, including the toothed deer butt, can be viewed at Ken Sanders’ Rare Books, 268 S. 200 East, through the Nov. 21 gallery stroll. tttt

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