While stamps, coins, and comic books are some of the most popular items to collect, there’s a whole other world of collectibles out there – from vintage ukuleles to banana peels.

Here are four unique collectors who share their stories about the stuff that drives them, as they offer strategies for displaying and keeping their collections safe.

Vintage Ukeleles

Collector: Nate Westgor

Occupation:  Owner of American Willie’s Guitars in St. Paul, MN.

How he started his collection:

“Ukuleles are cute, small, a great study in detail, easy to play — and don’t take up room,” said Westgor, whose store has made a name for itself by supplying guitars, ukes and equipment to famous musicians. (“Willie” was Westgor’s stage name).

“I’ve sold a few ukes to George Harrison,” Westgor said. “One of my old ones is now in a Harrison museum. Green Day, Eddie Vedder, Sheryl Crow and Nicolas Sarkozy (past president of France) are some of my past uke customers. I’ve been collecting ukes for 30 years — long before they were cool. Tiny Tim kinda ruined it back then.”

Westgor said as with many collectors, he purchased items rather indiscriminately at first.

“Then after you’ve seen and studied a few hundred, you ‘thin the herd’ and groom your collection,” he explained. “I have about three dozen colorful ‘wall hangers’ and a couple dozen high-level, hard-to-find gems. Some will be part of my estate planning, so I can leave behind a little joy to those I’ve loved.”

Favorite item(s):

“My ‘best’ uke I got was from Bruce Springsteen’s roadie, an old buddy of mine,” Westgor said. “He bought it at a garage sale for $4. Fifteen years ago, I gave him $4,000, because Bruce and the band were not working. He needed to sell his Harley or his Uke. I’ve turned down offers of $25,000. It’s a pre-war Martin Model 5K Tenor—one of nine Tenor 5Ks ever made (pictured above). I’m proud to be caring for it at this time.”

While that’s his most valuable and rarest, it’s not Westgor’s favorite. “One day I will sell it,” he said. “As a collector and musician, I have a few I would never sell for [their] tone, and a few that are just odd and cool that will be with me all my life.”

How/where he displays his collection:

He displays them at his store and home basement. “Being able to enjoy them is very important,” Westgor said. “I love guitars and cute little ukuleles. As long as my fingers and eyes work, my instruments bring me joy.”

Storage strategy:

“Every collector should be mindful of storage,” Westgor said. “Sunlight is bad. Humidity is a worry, too.  Acoustic guitars and violins can crack unless humidified.”

In cold climates like Minnesota, he said the basement is a good place for storage. “Hot air rises and the moisture in basements helps humidify. I say store in a place that you would be comfortable… Otherwise, closets are nice, neutral locations for long-term storage.” 

Pez Dispensers

Collector: Ron Hood

Occupation: Director of owner services for Owner Media Group in Lewiston, ME.

The collection: More than 9,000 Pez dispensers and licensed items

How he started his collection:

“I love the pop culture history behind Pez, but it’s not how my collection started,” Hood said.

His son started collecting Pez dispensers in the 1980s. Hood mentioned it to a friend, and shortly after, the friend said his mother was cleaning out the attic and found a Pez to donate to their collection.”

“It ends up that we were given a Pez nurse on a baby blue stem,” Hood said, adding that it was considered a “vintage Pez.” “We were thrilled to have it.”

Soon after, the Hoods saw their first Pez dispensers packaged on cards at Walmart.

“I loved the graphics and colorful history,” Hood said. “I was immediately in love with the carded Pez…  My son stopped collecting Pez in his early 20s, and I found that I loved it more than he did, so it has been my adventure ever since.”

Favorite item(s):

“The Pez nurse because it was my first official vintage Pez dispenser,” Hood said. “Captain Hook because it belonged to a Pez collector friend, who has since passed away. And the Ron Hood ‘Fantasy Pez’ because it was given to me by volunteers in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program,” where Hood previously served as program director. The group raised money to commission an artist to make a PEZ dispenser in Hood’s likeness.

How/where he displays his collection:

“My whole basement was designed with Pez in mind,” Hood said. “The wall, baseboard and trim colors were the original Pez pastel colors. The stairs matched the Pez light switch wall plate. Everything in that room had a purpose for being there.”

However, Hood’s basement flooded several years ago. Luckily, the collection wasn’t damaged, but just packing up the Pez into plastic totes was a huge feat in itself and emotional, he said.

“The new dilemma became, ‘do I rebuild the Pez room for the collection?’” Hood added. “If I had the money, I definitely would, but it was a forced opportunity to look deeper into the future where this Pez collection is concerned.”

Hood decided not to recreate the Pez room due to the cost and huge burden that the collection would be for his children when he passes. He’s now creating two small Pez displays with the pieces that mean the most and will slowly sell his collection.

“My basement is still in construction,” Hood said. “The Pez are in the basement in their totes from floor to ceiling and slowly I will sell Pez tote by tote… It still hurts to see them go.”

Storage strategy

“Plastic totes,” he said. “I like the ones that are box-shaped as they hold the carded Pez nicely. I kept everything in the basement for the constant temperature, which means less damage over time.”

Banana Labels

Collector: Becky Martz 

Occupation: Homemaker in Orlando, FL

 The collection: Nearly 18,500 banana labels

How she started her collection:

Martz started paying attention to banana labels in 1991 when filling her fruit bowl and noticed two different labels on the bananas.

“The stickers were exactly the same, but one said Honduras and the other Guatemala,” Martz said. “I wondered how many different countries are on banana labels.”

Shortly after, Chiquita’s holiday label was “The perfect stocking stuffer.” “I don’t think my kids would be impressed with a banana in their stocking,” she laughed. “That was the first one I took with the idea of keeping and getting more. I thought I was the only banana label collector in the world – until the internet.”

Via the internet, Martz found a whole bunch of banana sticker collectors worldwide excited to trade stories and labels. She has scoured countless chain and ethnic grocery stores, searched for labels while traveling to places like India, and begged other people traveling abroad to check the markets.

Of course, she’s always asked what she does with the bananas.

“I make a lot of banana bread and banana muffins,” Martz said.

Favorite item(s):

“My favorite – and probably my most rare – is a 1960s Jacko brand from Sweden,” Martz said. It was a gift from a friend in Sweden and is a picture of a little boy’s face with his hair made of tiny bananas.

“It’s everything a collector wants – it’s cute. It’s clever. It’s rare. It’s old,” she said.

How/where she displays her collection:

“I have six large notebooks,” Martz said. “I remove the original glue [on the labels] with paint thinner. That allows me to use a repositionable glue stick to adhere them to the page. I put them on graph paper and into the notebooks.

“One of the reasons I really like banana labels is I can clear my notebooks and put them away in my desk shelf, and I don’t have to dust them. I don’t have to worry about the grandchildren knocking them off the shelf.”

Winnie the Pooh

Collector: Deb Hoffman 

Occupation:  Website designer in Waukesha, WI.

The collection:  16,851 Winnie the Pooh-themed items (Hoffman is the Guinness World Book of Records holder for Pooh and Friends memorabilia)

How she started her collection:

“As a child, your parents give you a toy and for me it was Winnie the Pooh. I dragged my first Winnie the Pooh with me all over the place,” Hoffman said. “It was so tattered that my mother had to put a new skin on it…. As a normal child, I grew out of Winnie the Pooh.”

However, in her 20s, the bug to collect them started up again.

Favorite item(s):

“There was a gentleman working for Disney helping them to open up Shanghai Disney, and he actually purchased the very first item that was sold in the stores at Shanghai Disney and gave it to me,” Hoffman said. “It’s a Winnie the Pooh pen.”

How/where she displays her collection:

“I do have one room in our house,” Hoffman said. “And I have some curios and a couple of bookshelves… But here’s where things went sideways. [My husband Gary and I] own our own business, and we bought a second house next door and use that as our office.”

Her husband asked if she wanted to display her collection in some of the unused bedrooms.

“That was all I needed to hear,” Hoffman said. “I just snuck into the third room. Somebody actually donated 1,500 items to me so I needed a little extra room.”

Storage strategies

“The only things I don’t have out right now are some backpacks,” Hoffman said. “I have about 200 and did not have room to display them so they’re in a box in the closet.”

As far as keeping the collection clean, Hoffman said, “Twice a year it’s a very, very long weekend because we pull out everything. We vacuum it, clean it, dust it, Febreze it and put it back. It’s an amazing amount of work.”

 

Additional reading:

5 Signs You Might Be an Extreme Collector

Tales of Extreme Collectors: From Barf Bags to Keychains

 

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Liz Wolf
  • Storage Depot

    Interesting read. This sounds like a second job. Great insight into the collectors mind.