Cool, Crazy and Uncommon Collections

Featured Article, Odd Collections, People, Traditions
on January 1, 2009

Americans love to collect things: barbed wire and baseball caps, cookie cutters and comic books, marbles and matchbooks, Teddy bears and toilet seats. Some collections are large, some are rare, some are old, some are silly, a few bizarre. Here are a few cool, crazy and uncommon objects of someone's obsession.

Looney over Cartoons
Jim and Karen Peyton don't mind if you laugh at the comical décor that dominates their home in Shady Cove, Ore. (pop. 2,307). Thufferin Thuccotash! They're surrounded by 7,000 objects decorated with Sylvester the Cat, Betty Boop, Mickey Mouse and dozens of other classic cartoon characters.

"It's a challenge to find something we don't have," says Jim, 60, whose wardrobe includes 50 cartoon T-shirts, and whose legs, arms and shoulders are tattooed with Daffy Duck, Speedy Gonzales, Road Runner and 38 other cartoon characters from the 1920s to 1970s.

"I was going to get a big tattoo of 'That's All, Folks,'" Jim says, referring to Porky Pig's trademark farewell at the close of the Looney Tunes cartoons, "but I had a heart attack three years ago and take a blood thinner now, which could hinder clotting."

So, while "that's all" for Jim's tattoos, it's full speed ahead with his zany collection, which includes coffee mugs, refrigerator magnets, salt and pepper shakers, teapots and telephones emblazoned with cartoon characters.

"We purposely built a huge room in back for the collection and we've totally filled it," says Karen, 57, adding that the room resembles a department store with shelves and display cases chockfull of merchandise, including 500 cookie jars.

While Jim no longer tunes into cartoons, he loves living with Snoopy, Pepe Le Pew and the crew. "You can't get depressed when you're surrounded by things that are smiling at you and are so colorful," he says.

Becky's Gone Bananas
Becky Martz, 59, dashes into Fiesta Supermarket in Houston, Texas, her 12th supermarket in three hours, and makes a beeline for the bananas. She inspects them not for ripeness, but for their dinky peel-off labels.

"They're tiny little works of art," says Martz, who's plumb bananas about collecting the colorful stickers. She has 7,725 different banana labels gleaned from the 25 grocery stores she visits each week, and swapped with collectors worldwide. "I like it that these little things are something that most people don't even notice."

Martz first noticed banana stickers in 1991 while filling a fruit bowl and seeing two different Dole labels on her bananas. Not long after, she bought a bunch of Chiquitas that sported stickers billing themselves as "The Perfect Stocking Stuffer." Martz peeled one label off, stuck it on a sheet of plastic and began adding new labels as she found them.

"A year or so later, I had 17 labels and thought, 'Wow. Thats quite a collection of labels,'" Martz recalls. "I thought I was the only person in the world who collected banana labels." Then, in 1996, Martz discovered via the Internet a whole world of banana-label lovers eager to swap stories and stickers.

No one knows how many different banana brand labels have been designed since they became popular as advertisements in the 1960s, but Martz estimates 20,000. One of her favorites and oldest is a 1960s Jacko brand from Sweden, which pictures an angelic blond boy.

Martz has found old banana labels stuck in cookbooks, kitchen cabinets, sheds and lockers. She's plucked them from bananas on hospital trays and rotting banana peels on parking lots.

To display her thumbnail-sized treasures, Martz removes their original glue with paint thinner, lightly reglues them onto graph paper, and stores the whole bunch in three notebooks.

Her obsession, not surprisingly, has created a quandary about what to do with all those bananas. "I make a lot of banana bread," Martz says, "but sometimes I buy the bananas, take off the labels, and hand the bananas right back to the clerk."

A Deluge of Nozzles
If his garden-hose nozzle ever breaks, Vic Eichler, of Three Rivers, Mich. (pop. 7,328), won't need to visit a hardware store for a replacement. Lined up in racks on his basement walls are more than 600 antique brass hose nozzles.

"This may be the world's largest collection," says Eichler, 67, about the 3.5-inch to 4.5-inch nozzles, which to an untrained eye all look alike. Most of the nozzles are beautifully engineered with different arrangements of knurled rings. They represent an era when quality was put into the manufacturing.

About 15 years ago, a friend gave Eichler a pile of old hose nozzles stashed in his barn. Intrigued by the many different manufacturers of the devices, Eichler began searching for more nozzles at garage sales, flea markets and antique stores. He asked friends, farmers and plumbers for their unwanted nozzles.

"The saddest thing I come across is when someone says, 'Oh, yes. I had a bushel of those and took them to the dump.'"

Eichler has paid a dime or a quarter for most of the treasures in his collection, which represents 83 domestic and foreign manufacturers, and dates from 1876. He polishes and tags each nozzle with the historical information he uncovers during his research.

"Unlike building a collection that has a known number of items in a series, like stamp collecting, my search for different nozzles is never-ending," Eichler says.

Crazy about Cuckoos
Time never passes quietly at Jim and Jane Klingensmith's home in Lake Placid, Fla. (pop. 1,668). Every 30 minutes, birds sing, dancers clack, carousels twirl and music plays from their wall-to-wall cuckoo clocks.

"It's rhythmic and soothing," says Jane, 69, who has grown accustomed to living round-the-clock with more than 300 cuckoos, including nine in their bedroom.

The Klingensmiths bought their first clock in 1964, but they didnt get crazy about cuckoos until 1992 when Jane bought a second one for $8 during a visit to Mashpee, Mass. (pop. 12,946). The first clock needed repairs and Jane decided she could fix it by studying one that worked.

In record time, Jane repaired the first clock and began scouring flea markets, yard sales and antique shops for cuckoos in any condition. She taught herself to carve wooden acorns, squirrels and other decorations for the clock boxes.

"I've always been fascinated with timepieces, even as a little kid," she says. "The cuckoo clock was a novelty and the collection just sort of exploded."

Most of the Klingensmiths' cuckoos are from Germany, Switzerland and Korea, and were made in the 1950s, though one is from the late 1800s. Most are one-day clocks, which require pulling their chains daily to keep them ticking. Jim, 80, is the official timekeeper, though the quirky clocks thwart synchronization.

"If we have company, I don't wind them up," he says.

The Klingensmiths have nicknames for many of their cuckoos, such as Betty, Inez and Wolfie, after the people who gave or sold them the animated clocks. One of Jim's favorites creates a humorous scene in which a farmer's daughter pops her head out of the clock window as her boyfriend scurries up a ladder, chased by her father with a pitchfork.

"We enjoy them," Jim says, his voice overwhelmed by a chorus of chirping cuckoos.