Between the 1930s and 1970s, employees at Merriam-Webster created a massive "backward index." It was a card catalog, containing all the words in its dictionary typed backwards. It eventually included around 315,000 index cards.
The reason for creating this thing was to allow the company to find words with similar endings. Such as all words ending in 'ological'. It also helped them create a rhyming dictionary.
Computers made the backward index obsolete, but it still sits in the basement of the company's headquarters.
In 1994, Jennifer Bornstein appeared on a local LA cable access program that featured ordinary people and their collections. Bornstein showed off her collection of zip-lock bags, coffee bar merchandise, fast-food containers, potato chips, and breath mints. She had carefully framed and archived all of it.
It would have been funnier if it was a genuine collection, but I think it was actually intended as an artistic statement on how "any worthless mass-market products can be turned into coveted objects via absurd relations and vice versa" (according to Kadist.org). So she was essentially pranking the show.
Although she looks quite young in the pictures, Bornstein was at the time a 24-year-old grad student at UCLA. And she's still an LA-based artist.
November 1999: After filing for divorce, Frances and Harold Mountain proved unable to agree on how to split up their Beanie Baby collection. So Family Court Judge Gerald Hardcastle instructed them to bring the entire collection into the courtroom, spread them out on the floor, and pick one each until they were gone.
The judge remarked, "This isn't about toys. It's about control. Because you folks can't solve it, it takes the services of a District Court judge, a bailiff and a court reporter."
Frances Mountain said, "I don't agree with the judge's decision to do this. It's ridiculous and embarrassing." Nevertheless, she got down on her hands and knees and started picking out Beanie Babies.
Byron Randall (1918-1999) was an American West Coast artist, but he also received recognition as a collector of potato mashers.
He told a UPI reporter in 1984 that he started his collection not because of any special connection to potato mashers, but simply because he wanted to have a "unique collection." But he gave a more detailed explanation of the origin of his hobby in an interview with Wesley Joost and Jon Randall:
One of my skills is cooking so I had a normal interest in potato mashers as a tool. Every one was different in some way, and they were all designed by someone who had a different idea about what was the best way to arrange the wire striking face and wooden handle. That intrigued me. When I was furnishing the guest house I frequented the markets and Salvation Army. Nearly all of them would have some kitchen gear. I was attracted to them because they were all beautifully functional and simple and never had been standardized like the Dover Eggbeater.
Randall also admitted that he didn't like potatoes themselves — just the mashers.
As of 1984, he had collected 384 mashers. I don't know how many he owned by the time he died. But he claimed that this was the biggest collection of potato mashers in the world.
The Idaho Potato Museum also has a large potato masher collection, which they acquired as a result of a Boy Scout's Eagle Project. So I emailed them to ask how big their collection is. A representative (Tish Dahmen) responded that they have "280 mashers on display then another box full."
She reckons that Randall's collection was larger, and unfortunately she has no idea what became of his mashers. But she added: "if you discover its whereabouts, please know that we’d be happy to house and exhibit it if his family or estate wants to donate to us … we will be happy to accept it!"
Finding a permanent home for a potato masher collection seems like a worthy project, so I'm working on it. There was once a Byron Randall Museum in Tomales, CA, where Randall lived and ran a bed-and-breakfast. Perhaps the museum acquired his collection. However, the museum doesn't have a website. So I don't know if it's still in existence.
Albert Blaustein had an impressive resume. He was a constitutional law expert who consulted on the national constitutions for over 14 countries. According to his wikipedia page, he was also editor of the 20-volume work Constitutions of the Countries of the World.
But in his personal life, he pursued a more eccentric passion. He collected hotel soap. He started collecting it in 1942, and by 1988 he had some 1400 bars of soap from different hotels. (See the article below.) By the time of his death in 1994, he had amassed around 2500 hotel soap bars. Following his death, the entire collection was (according to the Philadelphia Inquirer) bought by a Ripley's museum in Texas for around $1500.
Back in 1936, Patricia Salter had an unusual hobby for a 12-year-old girl. She collected dirt. Whenever I come across stories like this, it always makes me wonder what became of the collection. I'm guessing that at some point it must have been tossed in the trash, or dumped outside.
But it looks like there are some like-minded dirt enthusiasts in the present day, over at the Museum of Dirt.
Vincent Schaefer had a rather unusual hobby. He collected snowflakes. In order to do so, he invented (around 1941) a way of making plastic casts of snowflakes, by sitting outside on winter nights while it was snowing, and then dropping the flakes onto a thin film of formvar, which was a kind of plastic resin.
Schaefer also later invented the technique of cloud seeding. And he did all this with hardly any formal education, never having graduated from high school. Definitely an interesting character.
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