April H. Henderson
Alfa Agent Gary Chinberg doesn't live in the past, but he sure likes to visit there every time he gets the chance.
|Chinberg, left, and his friend Joey Gibson spend countless hours digging and sifting through mud to find 4- to 5-inch Megladon shark teeth.|
Indian arrowheads, large chunks of quartz and prehistoric sharks' teeth are a sharp contrast to the computers, phones and other modern office equipment found in his Troy office. His unique office décor is tied directly to an extensive collection of thousands of artifacts he has collected since childhood. For Chinberg, the collection keeps his attitude bright and positive, and he loves to share his knowledge of quartz, gems, Indian artifacts, shark teeth, sand, fossils, rocks and minerals with prospective customers.
It all began when he was a 10-year-old Boy Scout exploring the wilderness around Huntsville. There he found rocks that began his vast collection and lifelong hobby. He soon found himself saving money from mowing lawns to buy more rocks from a local rock and gem shop. Since then, he's tied the collection into his routine as an insurance agent. He has thousands of collectibles to display and talk about in his office and in his home.
"Word of mouth gets people interested enough to come by my office," he said. "Those visits often turn into conversations about insurance."
Not only is his office decorated with his prized possessions, open for anyone to come view, but he also takes his collection into the community to share with schoolchildren to raise their awareness of the world around them.
"I enjoy sharing the natural beauty of the crystals and answering questions about the fossils," Chinberg said. "I like watching the children's eyes light up when they see the 4- to 5-inch Megladon shark teeth and I tell them that those sharks were as large as a school bus and swam with the dinosaurs."
One of Chinberg's favorite partner to accompany him on dig adventures for shark teeth is Joey Gibson of Brundidge.
"Joey will stay out in the water with me all day even though most people stay a couple of hours and are ready to go," Chinberg said. "He's a very special guy, and it's always a good idea to take someone with you because you never know when a snake will float down the river or you could twist an ankle and need help."
Chinberg regularly visits rock and gem shows that travel from city to city. He buys some of his collectibles at these shows, but others he finds himself. Last October, he attended the 20th Annual Quartz Crystal Dig in Mount Ida, Ark., where he dug in working quartz crystal mines to find some of his beloved crystals.
"Hundreds of people participate in this three-day event," he said. "It's an amazing feeling to unearth these beautiful formations yourself."
Though he does buy some of his gems, he has never bought any of his Indian artifacts. He has more than 3,000 arrowheads and numerous other tools he found while walking and carefully exploring fields (with permission on private land) all over Alabama, and along the Tennessee and Warrior Rivers.
"It's incredible to reach into the dirt, thinking you are going to pick up a tiny arrowhead then it just keeps coming and coming until you realize you have discovered a seven-inch spear," he said.
Other agents are aware of Chinberg's passion, and some even contribute to his collection. Agent Steve Bullington of Montgomery, while on a trip to Ireland, brought Chinberg a Connemara marble that is found only in the mountains of Galway, Ireland.
Other collectibles have come from Africa, Alaska, Brazil and Mexico.
Shark teeth are another item Chinberg loves to collect. The Daleville area and Gantt are Chinberg's favorite places to hunt shark teeth. Many of these finds serve as gifts for schoolchildren.
Next, Chinberg would love to find a complete Indian pot. He also would like to go on a pyrite (fool's gold) hunt in South Carolina.
"Having an interesting hobby can open a lot of doors for you," he said, "especially if you're an Alfa agent.
"It's amazing to realize that you're holding a piece of history in your hands."