The Relic Hunters Who Saved American History

Before souvenirs became synonymous with cheap, mass-produced tchotchkes and T-shirts, they were more akin to holy relics—a lock of hair cut from the head of a former president, a chunk of carved wood taken from the construction of an impressive building. These artifacts acted as primary documents, proof of a holder’s connection to a celebrated person, place, or event. “I was here; I touched this,” early souvenirs seem to say.

“They’re … (continue reading)

Fun With Guns: The Art of the Arcade Target

It used to be that if you felt the sudden urge to shoot something but found yourself without a gun, all you had to do was hop a streetcar to the local amusement park, stroll over to the midway, and toss a coin into the sweaty palm of a cigar-puffing carny. In return, he’d hand you a loaded .22 caliber rifle and wish you … (continue reading)

Manning Up: How ‘Mantiques’ Make It Cool for Average Joes to Shop and Decorate

When you talk to Eric Bradley, he sounds like absolutely the last person you’d expect to put out a swaggering book titled Mantiques: A Manly Guide to Cool Stuff. Bradley, a public-relations associate at Heritage Auctions in Dallas, comes across not at all like a dude-bro, but more like a character from “Fargo,” soft-spoken and unfailingly thoughtful and polite. A portmanteau … (continue reading)

World’s Foremost Bedpan Collector Celebrates Objects Most People Pooh-Pooh

How many bedpans is too many? 10? 50? Try 250. That’s about how many bedpans and items of bedpan memorabilia Eric Eakin has collected thus far. “I have bedpan greeting cards, bedpan poems, bedpan jewelry, and bedpan salt-and-pepper shakers,” he says. Eakin’s also got plenty of vintage and antique bedpans, each one clean enough to eat out of, should you be so inclined.

“It’s about saving things that … (continue reading)

Cache of Historic Newspapers Unveils the Mysteries of Old New Orleans

Whether you’re into comic books, antique jewelry, or vintage motorcycles, it typically takes a lifetime to build an admirable collection, years spent scouring flea markets, garage sales, and auction houses for each new addition. But for Joseph Makkos, a writer with a passion for antiquated printing techniques, his prized collection appeared all at once—in the form of a Craigslist ad offering thousands of historic New Orleans … (continue reading)

Women Who Conquered the Comics World

The day after she returns from the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con International, comics icon Trina Robbins sits down with me outside at a café just around the corner from her home in San Francisco’s Castro District. As we talk and eat, trains from the Muni Metro railway come thundering by. Robbins’ partner, Steve Leialoha, a comic artist for Marvel and an inker for the DC/Vertigo series … (continue reading)

When Postcards Made Every Town Seem Glamorous, From Asbury Park to Zanesville

From the 1930s through the 1950s, tourists taking their first road trips in their newfangled automobiles would frequently stop along the way to pick up a few colorful postcards to mail to the folks back home. The most popular form of eat-your-heart-out greeting was the large-letter postcard, which had been around since the first part of the 20th century but whose heyday was during what we know … (continue reading)

These People Love to Collect Radioactive Glass. Are They Nuts?

For many glass collectors, the only color that matters is Vaseline. That’s the catch-all word describing pressed, pattern, and blown glass in shades ranging from canary yellow to avocado green. Vaseline glass gets its oddly urinous color from radioactive uranium, which causes it to glow under a black light. Everyone who collects Vaseline glass knows it’s got uranium in it, which means everyone who comes in … (continue reading)

The Waiting Game: What It Really Takes to Get on ‘Antiques Roadshow’

At the Convention Center in Santa Clara, California, ticket holders waiting to get into “Antiques Roadshow” stand into a long line folded onto itself like a dense square. The hopefuls are toting their most prized possessions—a vase lovingly wrapped in a towel and riding in a laundry basket on a wagon; a carousel deer with real antlers and a chunk missing from its head; a 4-foot-tall painting … (continue reading)

Skeletons in Our Closets: Will the Private Market for Dinosaur Bones Destroy Us All?

When it comes to collecting, there’s old, and then there’s old. We’re not talking Mid-Century Modern old, or Victorian old, or Colonial American old, or even ancient Chinese or Egyptian old. No, we’re talking prehistory old, from the Pleistocene (11,000 to 2.5 million years ago), to the Cretaceous (66 to 145 million years ago), to the Permian (250 to 300 million years ago).

“If you were … (continue reading)

Medicinal Soft Drinks and Coca-Cola Fiends: The Toxic History of Soda Pop

Soda’s reputation has fallen a bit flat lately: The all-American beverage most recently made headlines due to an FDA investigation of a potential carcinogen, commonly called “caramel coloring,” used in many soft-drink recipes. This bit of drama follows other recent stories that paint an unflattering picture of the soda industry, including New York’s attempt to ban super-sized drinks, the eviction of soda machines from many public schools, and … (continue reading)

Beer Money and Babe Ruth: Why the Yankees Triumphed During Prohibition

Baseball season is upon us, so naturally our thoughts turn to beer. Yes beer, the social lubricant that transforms even the most taciturn fans into long-lost brothers and sisters—when it isn’t serving as the catalyst for countless post-game brawls in countless parking lots and bars.

“Ruth responded to the writer’s hyperbole by swatting a three-run homer.”
We all have our beer-and-baseball stories, whether it’s the salving … (continue reading)

Awkward! 28 Cringe-Worthy Vintage Product Endorsements

There’s a moment in your typical advertising brainstorm when the people charged with wrestling the creative elements to the ground cry uncle, settling on a clumsy compromise for the sake of getting on with the really important business—billing their clients. Or so these advertisements fronted by some rather improbable pitchmen and women would suggest. Is a clown really going to convince us to buy tires for our cars? Did … (continue reading)

Good, Clean Fun: This Rock Star Parties Hard (with Hot Wheels and Wacky Packs)

Dave Schools is not your typical Hot Wheels collector. Certainly, his passion for toy cars was not why I called him up last fall, when I was writing a story about a new book called “Poster Children,” which covers 25 years of concert posters produced by the band Schools co-founded, … (continue reading)

Losing Ourselves in Holiday Windows

As the deadline approaches for ordering last-minute gifts online, most of us must finish our Christmas shopping the analog way—walking into stores and picking things out by hand. If you’re lucky enough to live in a city with an old-fashioned department store, you might get a glimpse of their fantastic holiday displays, packed full of animated elves and artfully piled gifts. But in most places, such scenes … (continue reading)