Drunk History: The Rise, Fall, and Revival of All-American Whiskey

At a time when obscure new whiskeys are appearing on cocktail menus from Savannah to Seattle, it’s hard to imagine the American whiskey industry was ever under threat. For starters, the grain-based spirit is as American as apple pie, or at least George Washington—in fact, the first president’s Mount Vernon estate was once the site of the country’s largest distillery, specializing in the Mid-Atlantic region’s famous rye whiskey. But despite its noble foundations, … (continue reading)

Funny Money: When Mangled Coins and Defaced Currency Become Works of Art

Harley J. Spiller is one of the most voracious collectors in the United States, but you won’t find him wandering around the tony galleries of Christie’s in New York or tromping through the antiques-strewn fields of Brimfield, Massachusetts. That’s because Spiller collects things like seashells, bottle caps, Chinese menus, paperclips, photographs of corn, and … (continue reading)

Campy Couture: Barbie’s ’70s Rivals Flaunted the Fashions We’d Love to Forget

The words “authentic” and “Barbie” are not typically used in the same sentence, Barbie being one of the most famous symbols of fake femininity, and one of the main reasons why millions of little girls grow up to be women waging a constant battle to achieve a physically impossible body type. Compared, though, to the Barbie knockoffs in “Doll Junk: Collectible & Crazy Fashions … (continue reading)

From Donation Bin to Sotheby’s: How a Rare 19th-Century Bible Almost Got Away

On his first day as a volunteer for the Friends of Knight Memorial Library, in March of 2014, John Marks (no relation) was asked to help finalize prices for 200 books and sets that had been selected and pre-priced for one of the library’s twice-annual, vintage-book sales. One of these was a five-volume, 19th-century Torah, grandly titled “The Law of God” and edited and translated by Isaac Leeser. … (continue reading)

How a Colorado Family Built a Home for the World’s Weirdest, Most Beautiful Bugs

Driving along a nondescript section of Highway 115 a few miles south of Colorado Springs, it’s hard not to swerve at the sight of a gigantic Hercules beetle, its horns as tall as a house, standing beside a sign for the May Natural History Museum. But this monstrous beetle isn’t advertising some two-bit roadside attraction: If you continue another mile down Rock Creek Canyon Road, you’ll find yourself at a small … (continue reading)

Quest for the Pez Holy Grail: International Smuggling Meets Father-Son Bonding

How sordid could the Pez-dispenser underworld be? That question was probably running through the mind of movie producer David Klawans when he noticed a curious item on eBay in the summer of 2014. It seems a guy named Steven Glew was offering the book and movie rights to his life story as the world’s most notorious and successful Pez-dispenser smuggler. The price tag for this exclusive peek into … (continue reading)

Darling, Can You Spare a Dime? How Victorians Fell in Love With Pocket Change

A young Victorian woman stands on a beach and stares out past the crashing waves, far out into the ocean, wondering where her sweetheart is now. His ship sailed months ago, and he’s not due to return for years. She has no way to hear his voice saying he loves her. The only comfort she has is the coin in her hand. She runs her fingertips over his … (continue reading)

When Ice Was Hot: A Skater Shares His Lifelong Love for Ice Show Razzle-Dazzle

At last count, there were no less than six Disney on Ice shows touring the United States. In “Worlds of Fantasy,” costumed cartoon characters from “Toy Story,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “Cars” glide across the ice via skates strapped to their feet, fins, and tires. “Passport to Adventure” promises an icy escapade starring Pumbaa and Timon from “The Lion King” and Lilo and Stitch from their eponymous animated feature. … (continue reading)

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)