In South Philly, a depository for a lifetime of collecting

Retired teacher Jerry Silverman, here with his 17-year-old dog Shayna Punim, has decorated his remodeled South Philadelphia home with collectibles, such as the giant classroom demonstration slide rule on the staircase wall.

One step inside the South Philadelphia home of Jerry Silverman, and you know instantly that this is way out of the ordinary.

It’s instant visual overload. There’s so much to take in, so much to learn about, and just so much fun about the place.

Silverman is a serious collector of ephemera — yet one with a wry sense of humor. He’s been at his passion for as long as he can remember and has much to show for it.

Going back to when Silverman was about 8  — 60 years ago — he saw possibilities in what others might dismiss as “stuff.”  And he dragged it home to patient parents who recognized (and, yes, even encouraged) his curious streak.

Take that, you adults who insist that the kids “clean the junk in their rooms.”

Camera icon TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Jerry Silverman holds a model of a “transportation apparatus” he made in 1964 that was granted U.S. Patent No. 3125964, which is hanging on the wall. Above the patent is a certificate Silverman received Feb. 15, 1969, when he was one of the first passengers to ride the new PATCO High Speedline on its debut trip from Lindenwold to Philadelphia. At left is a destination sign from the Market-Frankford El that includes the Rhawn station as an inside SEPTA joke, because the terminal station was never built.

By the time he was 14, Silverman had earned a U.S. patent for a magnetic train he had created.

“I was lucky,” he says, as he looks around his home with a smile. “My whims and finds were the source of pride, not annoyance, to my parents. And they went way beyond bubble gum cards, although I collected those, too.”

There was, for example, the young Silverman’s passion for all things related to transportation, especially when they had something to do with Philadelphia’s transit system. Among his treasures are old signs, maps, and visual references to the way we move from here to there.

Along the way, a fascination also developed with math and science, which led him to his professional life. As so often happens, one very dynamic algebra teacher inspired Silverman to become a math teacher himself. One indication of that passion is a giant slide rule hanging on a stair wall on the first floor of his trinity.

Camera icon TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
A staircase in the kitchen of Jerry Silverman’s remodeled South Philadelphia trinity serves as a display for some of his ephemera.

“I found the home’s design interesting, but in 2004, after living in it awhile, I realized it was not very livable,” Silverman said. Once a “wannabe” architect, he had plenty of input into the home’s three-year renovation. It involved condensing five floors into four and moving the kitchen from the basement to the first floor.

But he insisted on keeping the very angled wooden staircase, which has become a gallery for a personal history of pop culture. A vintage book cover of Lucy and Desi is displayed with such items as an old adding machine, an original Mac computer, and a vintage toaster.

Even as this Philadelphia native morphed from a classroom teacher to a supervisor for local colleges of student and first- and second-year teachers, he has looked homeward, creating spaces and collecting curious objects, some of which chronicle his extensive world travels. Among the most recent acquisitions tacked to a wall are Inka Corn and Coca Leaf candy from a trip to South America.

The state of Silverman’s office makes even him smile. Papers are everywhere and surfaces laden with all manner of notes, but he insists he can find whatever he needs.

Sentiment also has its place. A prominently displayed, framed wall hanging from an old South Philadelphia synagogue lists his grandmother among its Sisterhood members and his grandfather as synagogue president. Their commitment was a touchstone to Silverman’s own abiding interest in Judaism, which has included being principal of several Hebrew schools in the region and helping to found a synagogue for the LGBTQ community.

Camera icon TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
A Hebrew typewriter given to Jerry Silverman after Congregation Beth Ahavah, an LGBTQ synagogue, merged with Congregation Rodeph Shalom in 2015.

Other meaningful activities are his participation in Philadelphia’s “Host for Hospitals” program, which offers home hospitality for families with loved ones in local hospitals. Silverman also does tours for the city’s Preservation Alliance, which advocates to protect historic buildings.

He shares his own home with canine companion Shayna Punim, a 17-year-old part-Parson Russell Terrier.

“I’m a lucky man to live in a neighborhood I love, and in a 1,500-square-foot home that is never dull and works for me,” Silverman says.

Is he still seeking the quirky, the offbeat, the unexpected for his one-of-a-kind home?

Silverman’s “pleasure in the hunt” expression — and wide smile — say it all.

Camera icon TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Silverman’s collection includes acquisitions from his extensive travels. Here, from a recent trip to South America, are “Inka Corn” and Coca Leaf Candy.

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