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Off the Cuff

Greg Schaber

“I’m not a cufflink collector,” Jim McCoy says with a wry smile. “I’m a cufflink user.” The line is a fine one. Over the past 20-plus years, McCoy’s accumulated—and worn —900 pairs.

Like many hobbies, McCoy’s started with a simple act of self-defense. He and his wife, Jane, were at a Pennsylvania flea market. She was shopping for covered casserole dishes; he was realizing there were many flea markets in his future. To get with the program, McCoy decided to start his own collection. After considering several options, he noticed a pair of cufflinks in a display case. “I said, ‘From this day forward, I’m going to wear French-cuff shirts and cufflinks,’ ” he recalls.

With this decision came self-imposed ground rules: McCoy’s cufflinks had to be previously owned and couldn’t cost more than $5. Although that figure slowly went up over time, he has typically avoided expensive models. And his initial goal was to have enough cufflinks to wear each pair only once a year. “I passed that very quickly,” he says. “One thing led to another, and I started getting sort of serious about it.” Tightening his focus, McCoy, the University’s associate vice president for enrollment management, began concentrating on political cufflinks, advertising cufflinks and cufflinks with moving parts. He also began making cufflinks from foreign coins. Some of his more exotic pieces include mink cufflinks, miniature-pocketknife cufflinks, Peter Max psychedelic cufflinks, Egyptian scarab cufflinks and cufflinks made from acorn caps.

“For Arbor Day,” he says. To keep track of them all, McCoy purchased an antique chest with 12 drawers, each divided into 100 small square compartments. Each pair of links gets its own compartment.

Of course, such collections often take on a life of their own, and in their way, McCoy’s treasures are building a link to the future: They often wind up on the cuffs of up-and-coming administrators—both men and women—and other promising young people. “I give them a pair of cufflinks to get them started,” he says. To be sure, there’s nothing off-the-cuff about that.

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