Columbia collectors appraise items at The Andy Griffith Museum

ccope@thestate.comOctober 13, 2013 

The front door of the Andy Griffith Museum, in Mount Airy, NC

TOWN OF MOUNT AIRY — Town of Mount Airy

The Andy Griffith Show is a classic television series that transcends generations, according to Columbia memorabilia collectors who recently were hired to appraise the contents of The Andy Griffith Museum in Mount Airy, N.C.

“This is America’s hometown up there – this is Mayberry,” said Mike Safran, owner of Safran’s antiques on Whaley Street in Columbia.

Over a decade ago, Safran met Andy Griffith’s childhood friend. Emmett Forrest collected items focused on Griffith, who had a lengthy acting and directing career but is best known for creating the show about small-town life and starring in it as the town’s sheriff. The items were originally displayed in the Mount Airy welcome center but are now housed in the official museum, which opened to the public in 2009.

The collection still belongs to the Forrest family, and out of respect for the contract for the appraisal, the value of the items is not being disclosed.

Safran first appraised the museum about a decade ago. Safran met Forrest at an antiques show in Charlotte when Safran was selling a can of Andy Griffith black-eyed peas.

Forrest bought them to add to his collection of all things Andy Griffith.

Safran said he couldn’t help but be impressed by the Andy Griffith memorabilia “super collector,” who died in January.

“Collectors appreciate other collections,” said Mark Foy, a West Columbia veterinarian who also helped appraise the museum items.

Even though Foy is a toy and comic book collector, he said The Andy Griffith Show has always been one of his favorite.

Another appraiser, Anderson University music professor Doug Norwine, describes himself as a huge fan of the show.

Seeing the icons was a nostalgic experience – Andy’s sheriff shirt, Otis the drunk’s suit and hat and, especially, deputy Barney Fife’s salt-and-pepper suit that he wore on dates with girlfriend Thelma Lou.

“That’s just vividly etched in my childhood memories,” Norwine said.

Norwine is a film and television connoisseur who said he has thousands of autographs, including those of Elvis Presley, Babe Ruth and John Lennon. He also has props from The Exorcist and the laboratory used in the iconic 1931 Frankenstein horror movie.

But he acknowledged Forrest’s collection is special.

“The totality of all the pieces and the fact the public has access is a rare thing nowadays,” Norwine said.

Safran calls his own knack for collecting sports memorabilia “a disease,” which Andy Griffith might have had as well.

“As it turns out, Andy was a bit of a hoarder, too,” Safran said. He kept the keys to the old jail’s cell and his sheriff’s desk’s adornments, the brass eagle and hammer and gavel, all of which were added to the museum.

The process of appraising those items and more was not always simple.

Foy called it educated guesswork.

And it’s hard to put a price tag on some of the items because they are just so valuable, Norwine said.

“It’s a piece of everybody’s past,” he said.

Reach Cope at 803-771-8657 or on Twitter @cassielcope.

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