If the maxim “the heart sees better than the eye” is true, then Dr. Renato Ramos, the owner of more than 200 hearts, must have laser vision.
And he has to have a good eye to spot unusual tickers for his collection.
Granted, his hearts aren’t of the anatomical variety, but Ramos, a cardiologist, collects only the most unusual and exquisite ones. Several are antiques; if they’re not one-of-a kind, they’re extremely rare. Others are not necessarily valuable, but their uniqueness, Ramos says, trumps cost.
“The No. 1 criteria, of course, is shape, then how unique it is, what it’s made of, and whether I already have one like it in my collection,” Ramos says in his private Troy office.
A native of the Philippines, Ramos immigrated to the United States with his wife, Daisy, a dermatologist, in 1963. By the early ’70s, they were bitten by the antique-collecting bug.
His heart aggregation, which began about 15 years ago, is housed in an antique English mahogany cabinet with glass doors.
“My wife and I love antiques,” he says. “Her passion is Chinese porcelain and furniture. I used to collect antique corkscrews because of my love for food and drink, but I was getting tired of that. I have about 250 of them in my wine cellar at home. I said, ‘Maybe I can start collecting something else now.’ ”
The English cabinet provided the answer.
“I bought it at a Birmingham antiques shop. It was empty, so I thought: ‘I’m a cardiologist; why not collect hearts? I can put them in it.’ ”
That formerly empty cabinet is anything but today.
When asked how many hearts he has, Ramos shrugs and says, “I stopped counting,” but he reckons it’s teetering around 250. Many are acquired during his travels — “France and Italy are two of my favorite countries” — in antiques shops, or sometimes on local shopping trips. One heart still has a Saks Fifth Avenue sticker on the bottom.
“The heart is such a universal symbol of love throughout history, in religion, art, and literature,” Ramos explains while surveying his collection.
There are crystal hearts made by Baccarat and Waterford; some are hand-painted Limoges creations, one of which opens to reveal a tiny perfume bottle; a mahogany heart as smooth as a pebble; an exquisitely carved tiny coral heart; a fragile-looking one created from seashell; exquisite Wedgwood and Belleek hearts; a heart-shaped glass paperweight with a yellow flower trapped in it; a silver heart-shaped box studded with colorful stones.
There are also heart-shaped spoons, an inkwell, a candleholder, and a marmalade container. There are a few with clocks embedded into the hearts, including one that’s also a ring.
There’s even a heart made by Judith Leiber, the handbag designer. “It’s a pillbox,” Ramos says, as he gently opens it.
“Oh, would you like a drink?” the doctor jokes, reaching for a silver heart-shaped flask. He unscrews the top, which produces a small cup. “It’s one of my oldest, he says of it. “It’s probably English, from the 1800s. I can tell by the design in the silver.”
Then he gingerly lifts a gold heart with a hand-painted portrait of a woman’s face on ivory affixed to the top. Ramos opens it, exposing a green-velvet interior, as well as a folded, yellowing bill of sale from an antiques store in Indiana, identifying the piece as a “dresser box.”
“That could be the oldest in my collection,” he notes, “maybe 18th century.”
Moving from that delicate creation, he hands his visitor a “heavy heart” made of iron.
Ramos knows the provenance of many of his hearts, but draws a blank on some.
“I really should have written down where they came from,” he says, “but when I travel, I just buy them and drop them in my briefcase.”
After all these years, Ramos hasn’t tired of acquiring hearts. A rarity can still make his pulse quicken.
“If I find something really interesting,” he says, “I’ll buy it.”
Ramos says few of his patients or friends know of his collection because he keeps it in his private office.
“But if I put it out in the waiting area, that would be a different story.” h