Cat trash and hideous rhinosExhibit satisfies collective need to find "Rosebud'
"We're all collectors," said Eva Peterson, collections exhibit coordinator at the Del Mar Fair for 15 years. "Go home, and see if you have five or more of any one thing. Even pencils or pens. Why do we keep them? I've got a jillion of them, and I only need a few."
This year's exhibit did include an extensive pencil collection-plus snow globes, kitchen utensils, matchbooks, handmade bows, light-switch plates, political badges and ribbons, free-AOL-offer discs, hair accessories, doughbread from christenings and weddings, flying saucers and rockets and empty soda bottles, to name a few.
Roughly 200 San Diego county collectors put their obsessions on display. Del Mar is one of the few California fairs featuring such an exhibit and top prizes don't exceed $25, but most competitors didn't seem especially motivated to win. Some were first-time entrants, while others were "perpetual enterers," bringing in different portions of massive collections every year. Because of the limited space allotted to each exhibitor, for virtually all collections "you're not seeing the whole thing," Peterson said.
Some collections included written information. One ladybug collector described her "ongoing attempt to make the entire world red with black spots."
A 43-year-old biology professor, describing his dinosaur collection, said that at age 6, "I would bite toast to form the shape of pterodactyls."
Another woman wrote about attending an estate sale several years ago and coming across a rhinoceros figurine. "I had no intention of buying the hideous rhino," she explained, "but for $7 I thought it would be a fun joke on my [pre-teen daughter. It's now] prominently located in a place of honor at our house.... In a few years, my collection has grown to over 75 rhinos."
Best in Show winner, a meerkat-inspired collection, demonstrated what the judges look for: presentation, information and uniqueness. Accompanying a pair of small plastic meerkats found in European-produced "Kinder Surprise" chocolate eggs was this tidbit: "Adult collectors who rattle eggs in stores seeking the best toys are said to suffer from egg shaking disease."
Many described a collection's nascence as being beyond their control.
"My collection started accidentally," an antenna-ball collector recalled. "My husband got me the [Jack in the Box] antenna ball.... When we went on vacation, we tied a ribbon below Jack so that it looked like he had a scarf blowing in the wind." The woman added a collection wish list that included "Wilson" the volleyball from the film Cast Away.
Others described how childhood memories triggered a Citizen Kane-like obsession to collect.
One man wrote that his collection began when a jigsaw puzzle depicting Pez dispensers "appeared at my home. I worked on the puzzle with my grandchildren and remembered having Pez as a child. I told my family that I was going to collect Pez dispensers."
Wanderlust inspired one of this year's crowd favorites: toilet paper from around the world. Specimens from the former East and West Berlins (East more closely resembled postal wrap) lay in all their splendor alongside vividly yellow Venetian and cerulean blue Kenyan samples. The most luxurious-looking was a hot pink three-ply from Peru. An otherwise nondescript group of white folds hailed from "Boat Ushuia, Argentina, "end of the world.'"
Peterson observed that a collection's popularity could be gauged by the amount of fingerprints covering a display case. This was true of "Cat Trash," a collection spawned by an entrant's cat who, two years ago, began bringing home daily tokens, depleting a neighborhood store's supply of potted plant markers. Among other things the cat dragged in: a greeting card envelope addressed to "Heriberto," a child's drawing ("To Dad"), an INS uniform order application, newspaper cartoons, a Starbuck's receipt (grande mocha), a $5 bill and a plastic Easter egg. Despite purchasing a mini wireless spy camera, the woman hadn't yet caught the feline in the act of procuring debris.
Some collections defied rational thought. In about a year, one collector had amassed 454 return-mail enclosures from marketers or nonprofits, all weighing a total 6.88 pounds. Designating an American Lung Association envelope with a tear-out voucher "most unique," the man reported, "I found it interesting to collect all of these considering I would never use a single one of them and would normally just throw them away."
When asked about the most unusual entries over the years, Peterson recalled an array of horses' gallstones collected by a veterinarian and one lady who displayed her children's scabs in little bottles. During Peterson's tenure, only one collection has been refused entry: books with cover art deemed too gory for family consumption.
And the most frequent comment from fairgoers viewing the collections? "I have more than that-I could do that-I should enter."