Florida Doctor Collects Yo-Yos

Americana, Odd Collections, People, Traditions
on November 12, 2009
David Mudd John Meisenheimer's fascination with yo-yos began in the early 1980s while he was attending the University of Kentucky School of Medicine, where he practiced tricks between classes.

It's not unusual for John "Doc Lucky" Meisenheimer, 51, to pull a yo-yo from his pocket and perform a trick or two while standing in the supermarket checkout line or mingling with guests at a party. Sometimes the Orlando, Fla., dermatologist even yo-yos while conferring with patients.

But as much as he loves "walking the dog" and "rocking the cradle," the easygoing doctor loves collecting yo-yos even more. With nearly 6,000, Meisenheimer owns the largest yo-yo collection in the world.

He displays his prized possessions-row after row of colorful Duncans, Yomegas and other popular yo-yo brandsin floor-to-ceiling glass cases encircling the loft of his home library.

Meisenheimer even created a whimsical work of art, a yo-yo-headed mannequin covered with 603 yo-yos, all part of his ever-expanding collection.

Some of his yo-yos are antiques, including a circa 1790s brass toy from England; a few are rare, like a wooden prototypeone of only six known to existmade around 1955 by the Duncan Toy Co. for Coca-Cola; and others are quirky, like the ones that blow bubbles, generate sparks or emit scents.

One of Meisenheimer's most unusual findsand definitely his largestis a 6-foot-tall, 820-pound yo-yo made in 1990 by a woodworking class at Shakamak High School in Jasonville, Ind. (pop. 2,448). When he spotted the super-sized toy on eBay, it was being stored at a Florida fairground.

"I was the only person to bid on it," says Meisenheimer, who keeps the wooden giant in a backyard shed. "You can imagine the logistics; we had to get a flatbed truck and a forklift to move it," he recalls. "It is operational, and I keep threatening to get a crane and launch it."

His wife, Jacquie, 47, takes her husband's antics in stride. Before the couple married 14 years ago, many dates were spent shopping for yo-yos. "I sort of knew what I was getting into," she says, laughing.

Meisenheimer's fascination began while attending the University of Kentucky in Lexington in the early 1980s. Rather than standing around doing nothing in between classes, he bought a yo-yo and practiced tricks. As his skills improved, so did his interest. Soon he was scouting antique malls and flea markets, buying armloads of vintage yo-yos and learning everything he could about them.

"It is the history that fuels my passion," he says. "Finding an unusual yo-yo is like finding a new piece of history."

When Meisenheimer was unable to find a definitive guidebook on the subject, he spent four years researching and writing Lucky's Collectors Guide to 20th Century Yo-Yos, published in 1999.

Children have played with yo-yos since ancient times, but America's love affair with the timeless toy began in the 1930s after marketing genius Donald F. Duncan Sr. hired salesmen to demonstrate yo-yo tricks across the country. He also partnered with newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst to sponsor yo-yo contests that people could enter by selling newspaper subscriptions.

Over the years, the toy's popularity has fluctuated, but the yo-yo remains a part of Americana. "Who didn't have a yo-yo growing up?" Meisenheimer asks.

Bob Malowney, director of the National Yo-Yo Museum in Chico, Calif., calls Meisenheimer the dean of yo-yo collectors. "He has dug deeper into the history of the yo-yo than anyone," he says. "He shares his knowledge unselfishly, and his collection is a cause of admiration."

Meisenheimer's impressive collection continues to grow. He buys and trades yo-yos online; patients bring him yo-yos from around the world; and, any time he unwraps a giftwell, he's pretty sure what's inside. "It's usually a yo-yo that's kind of neat, or maybe one I don't have, and that's perfect," he says.