Cool and Collected: an off-the-cuff connoisseur | Calendar | Chicago Reader

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Cool and Collected: an off-the-cuff connoisseur

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Eugene R. Klompus has been collecting cuff links since the day his adolescent eye was smitten by a pair of marcasite sparklers dancing on the sleeves of a favorite uncle. After 40 years, he owns a mind-boggling 30,000 pairs, thousands of singles, and uncounted related trappings like tie bars, money clips, and detachable collars.

Klompus can explain all this before the word "obsessive" even slips from your lips. Cuff links are the perfect collectible, he says. They're around in bunches, most of them are dirt cheap, and you don't need to rent a garage for storage--and there's always the chance you might find a valuable pair at your neighbor's garage sale. Once you're addicted, any buy is a high. They're wearable art, and they're therapeutic. Come home bedeviled by stress, kick your shoes off, spread 'em out. For collectors, Klompus says, "Even a few pairs of cuff links on the table in front of us are enough to take our minds off the problems of the day."

Klompus looks to the misty dawn of prehistory for cuff-link origins. Caveman wore his animal-skin sleeves long, to keep his fingers warm. But sometimes he needed to get the sleeves out of the way. When he turned them back, the cuff was born. When he fastened them with animal sinew or vine--well, you get the idea.

In fact, Klompus says, cuff links are a little pair of windows to history. They get bigger and flashier when times are prosperous and shrink when things are tough. To the cognoscenti, their backs and closing mechanisms--the toggle, loop, and snapper (there are 200 varieties)--are as interesting as their faces.

In this century, Klompus says, the decade from 1950 to 1960 was the golden era of cuff-link design. Companies used them to advertise their products, politicians gave them away as keepsakes. They were a staple of every male gifting occasion, and became progressively more innovative and quirky. Klompus's collection includes links that are working watches, slide rules, and music boxes, along with more strictly artistic endeavors like a rendering of Marilyn Monroe in her calendar pose.

When he retired from his public relations job five years ago, Klompus founded the National Cuff Link Society (he's president), which he runs from his northwest suburban home. Even though cuff links were effectively done in 30 years ago by a nasty alliance of hippies and buttons, the NCLS has grown to more than 8,000 members. They pay $25 per year for benefits that include six free appraisals and a subscription to a giant 24-page quarterly newsletter, featuring cuff-link lore, Cuff-Toons, and the occasional cuff-inspired verse: "I wish I knew who made this pair / Its quality and style so rare / And what inspired him to start / This pair with which I'll never part?"

The second annual NCLS convention will be held Saturday from 8:30 AM to 6 PM and Sunday from 8:30 AM to 3 PM at the Ramada Hotel O'Hare, Mannheim and Higgins roads. (Mayor Richard M. Daley has proclaimed this weekend "Cuff Link Convention Days in Chicago" in its honor.) Experts will be speaking on cuff-link subjects, and members will show and trade their collections; it's open to the public. Admission and appraisals are free. Call 708-816-0035 for more information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Armando Villa.

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