Byron Randall, collector of potato mashers

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.

I've contacted the Tomales Regional History Center to ask if they know where Randall's potato mashers are.

Idaho Potato Museum Masher Collection — via California or Bust!

Milwaukee Sentinel - May 4, 1984

The Pittsburgh Press - May 3, 1984

     Posted By: Alex - Tue Aug 16, 2016
     Category: Hobbies and DIY | Collectors

Gee, Alex, that's a really noble task you have set for yourself. My mother would pick up old kitchen utensils from yard sales, Goodwill and Salvation Army stores. I still have some of those items and a few of them are potato mashers. Using the masher gives one a connection with the food preparation that's missing when one pours dried potato flakes into hot water. Good luck on your hunt.
Posted by KDP on 08/16/16 at 08:39 AM
Did either Mr. Randall or the Idaho museum have any German 'potato mashers' in their collections? This was the name given German hand grenades, much like American grenades being called 'pineapples'.
Posted by Phred22 on 08/16/16 at 12:52 PM
I checked but couldn't find a Guinness World Record for most potato mashers. It looks like someone could make a road trip, hitting every thrift store and old hardware store they can find, and get the record and probably hold it for a long time with as few as 500.
Posted by Phideaux on 08/17/16 at 12:25 AM
Update: I heard back from the Tomales Regional History Center. They didn't know what became of Randall's potato masher collection (though they had heard a rumor it might have been broken up after his death). They suggested I try contacting his relatives.

So then I found "The Byron Randall Project" facebook page, which appears to be maintained by Randall's granddaughter. Posted a note there. And I figure that's about all I can do to solve the mystery of the missing potato mashers. So I'll wait and see what happens.
Posted by Alex on 08/17/16 at 06:46 AM
Alex, preserving the historic value of such antiques is certainly a noble task. I have no doubt it rests in able hands my friend.
Posted by Patty in Ohio, USA on 08/17/16 at 12:24 PM
I'm Byron Randall's granddaughter, responsible for the FaceBook page on the Byron Randall Project. I sadly confirm that Byron's amazing potato masher collection was indeed dissolved upon his death. I don't know what became of the mashers and suspect that they were donated to Goodwill.
Posted by Laura Chrisman on 08/31/16 at 07:34 PM
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