Turning Over New Leaf

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Everybody Collects Something

Everybody Collects Something

Malachite urn and pedestal from the palace of the Russian czar,
circa 1830

For years, I have been a fly fisherman. I lived in New Hampshire most of my adult life, so participation in the sport of fly-fishing was a natural consequence. What I had not anticipated was the collection hobby that would follow.

I began to tie my own flies, and became pretty good at it too. I tied thousands of them, and naturally had to organize my work into lots, which eventually became a collection. That collection led to a greater interest in fly reels, which later became another obsession, a second collection, and eventually an online business.

 As I was cleaning up all my junk for the holidays (my wife's language), I began to reflect on the number and types of collections I have enjoyed over the years. Among the more memorable were books, fly rods, CDs, cigars, wine, canoes, cooking utensils, stamps, coins, art, hats, tee shirts, clocks (and I don't believe in time), Hemingway memorabilia, vintage movies, dog collars, chess sets, Meerschaum pipes, and more!

The other day, my wife and I visited the Lightner Museum here in St. Augustine, Florida. I spent most of the time thinking about how many unusual things people collect. Many collections are fascinating, and I have visited many of the museums that house them.
Courtyard of the Lightner Museum and St. Augustine City Hall complex.

The Lightner Museum is located in the former Hotel Alcazar, built in 1887 in the Spanish Renaissance style by railroad magnate Henry M. Flagler. Chicago publisher, Otto C. Lightner, purchased the building to house his extensive collection of Victoriana in 1946 and opened the museum two years later. He donated the museum to the city of St. Augustine. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The museum displays relics of America's Gilded Age. Elegantly exhibited are costumes, furnishings, mechanical musical instruments and other artifacts, giving visitors a glimpse into 19th century daily life. The museum collection includes beautiful examples of cut glass, Victorian art glass and the stained glass work of Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Columbia, glass piston machine, blown and
drawn glass, Robert Howell, U.S.A., 1892

Grande escritoire made for Louis Bonaparte,
King of Holland, cabinet maker unknown,
Dutch in the French tradition, 1806-1810

The Shelburne Museum, Located in Vermont’s scenic Lake Champlain Valley, is one of the finest, most diverse, and unconventional museums of art and Americana. Over 150,000 works are exhibited in a remarkable setting of 39 exhibition buildings, 25 of which are historic and were relocated to the Museum grounds. It is renowned for its collection of American folk art and quilts. The Museum is also home to holdings of decorative arts, design, decoys, and carriages. The paintings collection includes French Impressionists, as well as over four hundred 18th - 20th century American works.


I particularly like the restored 220-foot steamboat Ticonderoga, a National Historic Landmark and the last walking beam side-wheel passenger steamer in existence. Built in Shelburne in 1906, it operated as a day boat on Lake Champlain serving ports along the New York and Vermont shores until 1953. In 1955, the Ti was moved two miles overland from the lake to Shelburne Museum in a remarkable engineering effort that stands as one of the great feats of maritime preservation. It portrays life on board in 1923. The ship’s carved and varnished woodwork, gilded ceilings, staterooms, grand staircase, and dining room recall the old -fashioned elegance of steamboat travel.
Among the most popular exhibitions at Shelburne are two hand-carved wood circuses: the Roy Arnold Circus Parade and the Kirk Brothers Circus.

The Arnold Circus Parade has nearly 4,000 figures. It was made between 1925-55 and forms a parade over 500 feet long. The one-inch-to-one-foot scale figures include a myriad of clowns, acrobats, animals, and circus wagons that evoke the heyday of the circus era.

The Kirk Bros. Circus is a miniature three-ring circus with audience comprised of over 3,500 pieces. Edgar Kirk (1891-1956) fashioned the figures over 40 years using only a treadle jigsaw and penknife.

In addition, Shelburne Museum has more than 500 circus posters dating from 1870 to 1940. The imaginative, bright-colored posters advertise Barnum and Bailey, Ringling Brothers, and other major shows.

Another interesting collection is found in The Museum of the American Cocktail™ temporarily located on the second floor of the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum in the heart of the French Quarter. The museum takes visitors through the rich and colorful history of the American Cocktail, its ingredients, inventors, and evolution. Graphically presented Vintage cocktail shakers, bottles, Prohibition-era literature and music, tools, and other cocktail memorabilia are on display in a persuasive narrative sequence. The artifacts, covering over 200 years of the cocktail experience, derive from the outstanding collections of museum founders and other contributing experts.

The Singing Bartender
When Leila Cohoon tells people she owns Leila's Hair Museum in Independence, Missouri, they envision old curling irons, hair dyers, and other such tools. However, this is not the case. There are 159 wreaths and over 2,000 pieces of jewelry containing, or made of, human hair dating before 1900. According to Cohoon, "It could possibly be the only hair museum in the United States, maybe the world."
Cohoon began collecting the hair as a hobby when she started the Independence College of Cosmetology 37 years ago. With the completion of their new building, she finally had the space to open the museum. The displayed wreaths, many hanging in their original frames, were considered pieces of art. Families put their hair on the wreath in a horseshoe shape so that more could be added as the family grew. Cohoon has a couple of the hair wreaths from two sisters whose heads were shaved when they entered a convent. She has a homemade family history book dating from 1725 to 1900 that contains samples of the family members' hair, complete with calling cards. The museum contains watch fobs, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, chains, brooches, hatpins, postcards, pictures and many other interesting items.

For several centuries, artists have depicted human figures. One subject, however, has been widely neglected all those years: Micro-organisms! The Micropolitan Museum online exhibits these often- overlooked works of art, which are only visible with the aid of the microscope. Curator Wim van Egmond has collected the finest microscopic masterpieces nature has ever produced during eons of natural selection.

© Wim van Egmond

The National Mustard Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of mustards and mustard memorabilia.

According to Barry Levenson, founder & curator, you can blame it all on the Boston Red Sox. In the wee hours of October 28, 1986, after his favorite baseball team had just lost the World Series, Barry was wandering an all-night supermarket looking for the meaning of life. As he passed the mustards, he heard a voice: If you collect us, they will come. He did and they have. In 1992, Barry left his job as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Wisconsin to open this most improbable museum, now one of Wisconsin’s most popular attractions. The Mustard Museum has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, the popular game show To Tell the Truth, as well as countless features on other national television and radio shows, and in major newspapers everywhere.
The Toilet Seat Art Museum
This museum located in Alamo Heights, a suburb of San Antonio, Texas, consists mostly of toilet seat lids decorated by Barney Smith, a retired master plumber now in his eighties. Smith has nearly 700 toilet seats and lids in his garage. Each item has a different theme, such as the Columbia space shuttle, deceased hornets glued to a toilet seat and lid combination, and a photo of Miss America. There are dog tag seats, swizzle stick seats, and motifs connected to the plumbing business. Should you choose to visit, please note that since it is a garage museum, there is no bathroom.

For some fun in Boston, Massachusetts, visit The Museum Of Bad Art. It is the world's only museum dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and celebration of bad art in all its forms. The pieces in the MOBA collection range from the work of talented artists that have gone awry to works of exuberant, although crude, execution by artists barely in control of the brush. What they all have in common is a special quality that sets them apart in one way or another from the merely incompetent.

Woman Riding Crustacean (MOBA)

The International Vinegar Museum located in Roslyn, South Dakota, specializes in vinegars from all over the world. Museum patrons may taste vinegars made from all kinds of plants, and learn about paper made from vinegar. Visitors see how vinegar is made in factories, villages and homes all over the world. This museum also features unusual vinegars, and the mother of all vinegar contests, The Vinegar Connoisseurs International Recipe Contest. My favorites are Balsamic.

Balsamic Vinegar

My personal collections pale in comparison to those mentioned above, but it does get me thinking. What can I collect that might some day form the foundation of a popular museum? What about you?


  1. Vinegar, Mustard & toilet seat Museums... a little odd but each to their own I guess. I'm not really a collector of the following but I do love romance & feel good reads! I also love aromatic candles but always burn them so that's not really a collection either. I do however have a love of photography and have an ever growing amount of photos maybe that's my own personal collection.
    Oh my goodness JJ after I read your post a did a google search of the strange things people collect & the first thing that came up was "Graham Barkers Navel Fluff Collection"... Oh my Lord, you have got to be kidding. Icky!!
    Have a great day JJ :)

  2. Katherine: I forgot my photo collection! I, too, was amazed to see how many odd things are collected by people.

  3. Dear JJ,
    Thanks for this great post! I also collect some odd things, after reading your post I realized it better. And my wife, who is a much more organized person than me, is always reemembering it to me.
    I did not know about the existance of a Museum of Bad Art in Boston. If and when I will go there again, I will do my best to visit it. Must be very interesting.

  4. Wow, those are some pretty crazy collections, pretty sure I'll never get there. Rooster stuff isn't all that noteworthy I'm thinking.

  5. I've been to Lightner museum. I enjoyed going through it.I am glad to see men collectors. That hair thing is kind of creepy yet interesting. I had a vintage hair keeper once. I even had my first look at a flower vase and flowers made from hair. It was pretty but kind of creepy. Especially since the people that the hair came from are dead. ~Ames

  6. FanaticoUm: I love the concept of collecting odd things. There are so many things that are meaningful to people, and some folks just throw them away because they are not valuable. However, they are pieces of life.

  7. Donna: Never say never. In any event, rooster things sound so interesting. There are over six billion people on the planet. Many of us think that rooster things are fascinating. Please tell us more! And thanks for stopping by my blog.

  8. Ames: The hair thing is creepy, but not more so than a mummy or a cemetary. Fascinating!

  9. Just out Showing More Love on Monday, getting an ealy start!


    Anna, The Pilot's Wife
    Follow My Blog At:
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  10. Love the info and pics. I used to collect stamps when I was younger. Now I collect dust.

  11. Wow! You have so many interesting collections! I love collectiong things as well. Collections give me somethign to be interested in (near obsession) and are great for building an identity for yourself (Hey! There's that girl that loves...???). Also, TIS THE SEASON!, people always know what you'll love as a gift!

    I know so many people that just seem to be interested in NOTHING other than viable air to breathe. And it's not because they have chosen to live without material things or have found a higher plane in nature. They literally live aloof, lost, and unpassionate lives. It's sad.

    However, I have hobbies, collections, passions, interests, et cetera. I love books, writing, and movies! I love drawing, painting, potery, and jewelry making. I enjoy music and so much more.

    I think it really says something to dedicate a part of yourself to your interest. They give you a drive, something to make the day worth experiencing.

    I'm glad you've found passions in collecting.

    AubrieAnne @

  12. i'm following back :)

  13. Thanks so much for all your comments.

    The Pilot's Wife: Thanks for joining. I am following you as well.

    KB: Lady, you have much more than dust. Whitesnake alone is worth his weight in gold. There is nothing more valuable than love.

    AubrieAnne: We could be friends! Thanks for following. I am now following you as well.

  14. Those collections are pretty interesting :). Well, I inherited a beautiful nativity set my grandmother made and so my husband got the idea to buy me a unique and/or pretty nativity set every year since. I think a museum could easily be made out of nativity sets, there are so many different kinds! Have a wonderful day! Miriam@Meatless Meals For Meat Eaters

  15. Thanks for following me. I am following you back.

  16. Brooke Anna and Judy: Thank you for following back. Have a great holiday season!

  17. Miriam: Actually, I believe there is one. I am pretty sure it is in New England. I will ask my wife and if I find out where it is, I'll give you the scoop.

  18. Great Post and good research. I used to think I collected but I guess it was just a "depression baby syndrome." Now I'm in the "Get rid of the crap before my kids have to deal with it."
    Have a great holiday with your family.

  19. What fun! I don't think my collection is museum worthy, but I collect contracts. (This is related to my teaching courses about contracts.) I have everything from satellite communications contracts to horse breeding contracts. I have a copy of the Baby M surrogacy contract, Paula Abdul's perfomance contract, NFL athlete endrosement contracts, and Sarah Palin's speaking contract.

    But my very favorite is a contract offered by a group of enterprising atheists to care for the pets left behind by Christians who get taken in the Rapture. Of course, there are two problems with this contract. First, the Christians won't be around to enforce the contract if it is breached. More importlantly, all the pets will get taken, too. In fact, I suspect many pets would make it to heaven before their owners would!

  20. Thanks for stopping by A CREATIVE SPIRIT. Following you back and looking forward to getting to know you.

  21. Friends: Thank you all for your comments, and have a terrific holiday season!

  22. Stopping by as part of the blog hop. Thanks for visiting my blog :o)

    Considering the hoarding tendency some of my family members have, I can't say what strange collections we've got going. There are just too many. Mine would be books and family movies. Hubby...animal skulls and other things associated with outdoors/hunting/fishing.

  23. Laura O: Like I said, everybody collects something. Thanks for stopping by. I hope you will follow.

  24. Thanks for stopping by my blog... I am already a follower :-)

  25. hi , thank you for stopping by following you now

    hugs n love

  26. Thanks for stopping by my blog earlier, I am following back. Happy Christmas. Mich x

  27. Thanks so much for popping over to my blog. I really enjoyed this collector's edition blog entry. (And the Christmas music too). I'm feeling a little bit more Christmassy than I did yesterday. Thanks for the help. xx

  28. Thank you all for your terrific comments. Have a wonderful holiday season!

  29. What a great collection of collections you've gathered here JJ. Your final question reminded me of another great American collector whose collection became the foundation of one of the world's greatest libraries (I'd say it's tied in first place with the Library of the British Museum).

    I'm talking of course about Thomas Jefferson's own personal collection of books which became the foundation for the Library of Congress.

  30. LOL Collections come and go, but the memories of enjoyment are forever!

    The first collection to annoy: shells picked up at the beach.
    Current collection that annoys: print outs of what I want to do, laying in piles. LOL

    Merry Christmas, JJ. Merry Christmas, all readers!

  31. Akseli: Great point! I forgot all about TJ.

    A-M: "Collections come and go, but the memories of enjoyment are forever!" This sums it all up. Thanks.

    Merry Christmas to both of you, and everyone else too!

  32. Thanks JJ and have a Merry Christmas!

  33. the hair museum is something! how odd it sounds - family wreaths - and yet pre photography how interesting - well rendered paintings were likely to be costly and paint materials expensive - so perhaps in context not as odd as it sounds.
    Was somewhat surprised by your comment and tried to answer the best I could - other than noting a source, which I'm a bit narotic about, I did not intend to speak for you or assign interpretations to you. Sorry if it came across that way.

  34. CailinMarie: I think you are correct. In context, it sounds a little less odd. As for my rant on your blog, it was not aimed at you. I actually agree with you, and I believe your opinions to be well-founded. It is I that should apologize.

  35. Hi! Thanks for the birthday wishes & for the Christmas wishes. This post is very interesting. Buon Natale to you too!

  36. Wow I didn't realize there was so many different kinds of museum collections. Some of them are rather odd in my opinion, but I guess someone must be visiting them.

    I used to collect antique china, but sold in all in my divorse from my first marriage. The collection that I still have from collecting back in the early 90's is my Antique "Pepsi" collection. I haven't added anything new to it in years. After the kids came, other things got more inportant. Some of the collection is out, but most of it is packed away, but I do plan on having it out some day, when we get our rec room finished.

    Take care and Merry Christmas!

  37. Jen: An Antique "Pepsi" collection is a little different. Maybe a museum someday? Have a Merry Christmas!

  38. I collect nothing. However, I like purchasing paintings.
    I wish you a Merry Christmas!

  39. lotus-eater: There you go! You need not have many items. A few paintings will do. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you!


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