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The Gottle O' Geer Collectibles Story

(Article originally printed in City Business, New Orleans, LA)

UNUSUAL OCCUPATIONS

Man Throws Voice; Catches Collectable Treasure
by Sherrill Veaston, Staff Reporter

Edgar Bergen. Paul Winchell. Shari Lewis. Tom Ladshaw. What do they all have in common? They’re all ventriloquists. You know, the folks who steadfastly maintain that vaudeville never died while balancing a wooden puppet on their knee and speaking without moving their lips. You may have heard of the first three...the fourth, perhaps not. But among the cognoscenti of ventrilodom, Tom Ladshaw is a player.

A young man with a ready smile and a razor-sharp wit, Tom Ladshaw has been interested in ventriloquism for more than 30 years. Since 1972, he has actively sought out and purchased “VENTRILOQUIANA” - anything and everything pertaining to ventriloquists and ventriloquism. Today, he is the proud owner of what may well be the largest individually owned collection of ventriloquial ephemera in the world, numbering nearly nine thousand catalogued pieces. From actual ventriloquial figures (dummies) to costumes to toys, games, magazines, books, puppets, photos, posters and more, his collection is — in a word — staggering.

NOT JUST A COLLECTOR

Ladshaw is known as the “Secret Weapon” to many other collectors in the same field. If they’re looking for a particular item and can’t find it, they know who to call. If they find themselves wanting to dispose of their own collection for some reason, they also know who to call.

“I’d guess over the past ten years I’ve probably helped dispose of five or six major collections. And that’s not counting the numerous collections I’ve purchased for myself,” said Ladshaw during a recent visit to his suburban home. “My collection has grown to the point where it’s actually quite difficult to find items I don’t already have. On the other hand, when a complete collection does become available, more often than not there’ll be a piece or two in it that I don’t have and want. So I buy the entire collection to obtain just those few pieces I need for my collection.”

DEALER IN DUMMIES

Ladshaw realized after buying several collections to get only a few particular items from each that he had managed to accumulate many duplicates of certain items. It didn’t take long for him to hang out his shingle: “Gottle O’ Geer Collectibles”.

Gottle O’ Geer? “That’s sort of an in-joke for ventriloquists. One of the classic phrases ventriloquists use to show off to each other is ‘bottle of beer.’ It’s very difficult to say ventriloquially, without moving the lips. When some of the old timers would say it, it came out sounding like, ‘gottle o’ geer.’ So... I thought it was a cute name for a business selling ventriloquism memorabilia. For those in the know, it’s descriptive: I sell ventriloquism stuff, and I have a sense of humor!”

Facing the ever increasing stock of duplicate items in his collection, Ladshaw remarked, “It seemed only natural that if I needed an item or two from a given collection, maybe another collector needed other items from that same collection.” He began issuing lists initially by mail, then later by e-mail.

“It didn’t take long for my collection to begin paying for itself. I’d buy a collection of twenty items to get just one or two specific things. Then I’d have eighteen or nineteen items I didn’t need. So, I’d sell them. And, with any luck, once all of those duplicate items had sold, I’d recouped my initial investment and hopefully made a small profit. More often than not, that was the case!”

ENTERTAINMENT FIRST, COMMERCE SECOND

If Tom Ladshaw’s attitude toward sales of his treasures sounds lax, it may be due to the fact that the buying and selling of ventriloquism memorabilia isn’t his day job (though technically, the majority of his work is at night). Tom Ladshaw is a full-time comedy magician and - naturally enough - a ventriloquist.

“Right...if selling vintage Charlie McCarthy comic books was my sole source of income, I guess I’d have starved by now.” No chance of that... Ladshaw is an in-demand entertainer for a number of corporate entities, including several Fortune 500 companies. He spends weeks each year on the road, though these days, on the road usually means an early morning flight, an evening performance, back to a hotel for a short night’s sleep and a flight home the following morning.

A LIVING ARTFORM

Tom Ladshaw is often asked if ventriloquism is dying. He answers with an emphatic, “No!” He continues, “People think ventriloquists have vanished from the entertainment scene just because they’re not as visible as they used to be. Of course they’re not as visible. There used to be only three television networks; if a ventriloquist was on TV, at least a third of the country saw him. Today, with more than 500 stations, it’s a little tougher to catch a vent in prime-time.”

Ladshaw feels that there are perhaps more vents (short for ventriloquists) working today than ever. It’s the venues that have changed: “Of course you’ve still got the guys headlining comedy clubs...Vegas...cruises. But in addition, today many ventriloquists specialize in educational school shows. There are vents who do corporate work only; naturally, the public at large never sees them. Many vents specialize in retirement communities. You go where the work is.”

DIFFICULT DECISION

When asked whether he prefers performing or selling his collectibles, Ladshaw thinks it over for a moment. “I truly enjoy both. For me personally, the ultimate high is getting on a stage in front of hundreds of people and making them laugh. There’s nothing like it. That said, however, some of the people I’ve met in the ventriloquial community have become my dearest friends. We’re all kindred spirits. The other ventriloquiana collectors I deal with regularly all share the same extremely unusual passion that I do....finding that next, great treasure. Without moving our lips!” Score another laugh for Tom Ladshaw...the “King of Ventriloquiana.

Copyright 2004

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