CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio – Some people collect memorabilia, some collect stamps, others collect souvenirs.
But Dick Horn collects antique toasters. Lots of them. Approximately 100. And his collection isn’t even that large compared to other collections.
Chris Steiner, his friend and fellow toaster buff, has 300. Another collector in California has 1,900.
They have toasters from the early 1900s, nonelectric toasters that sat on a fire, foreign toasters, toasters with windows and the first toasters that popped up on their own.
In addition, they have toasters that sport a coffee pot on top, toasters made specifically for club sandwiches, toasters with flowers, porcelain toasters, and the list goes on.
And out of all these antique toasters, which is their favorite?
You can’t ask that, Horn said.
Steiner agreed. “It’s like your kids; You can’t ask, ‘Which is your favorite kid?'”
A collector is born. Steiner, of Silver Lake, Ohio, was talking with his cousin one day, reminiscing about his grandmother’s old toaster.
It was called a Toast-O-Lator and had a small, circular window so people waiting for their breakfasts could watch their toast go by on a primitive “conveyor-type” belt. It was such a striking memory that Steiner set off on a quest to find a similar toaster.
This journey took him through the doors of many antique shops where he caught a glimpse of the affinity collectors have for this small, everyday appliance.
Early on, rumor had it that Horn’s antique shop in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, had the Toast-O-Lator, however, when Steiner showed up with money in hand, Horn refused to sell it. He said his toaster was part of his personal collection and not for sale.
“The carrot was dangling right in front of my face, and I was on fire,” Steiner said.
It was then his “Holy Grail” to find the elusive toaster.
He even tried to tempt Horn into trading him for the toaster, which was unsuccessful.
Steiner had eight toasters sitting in the kitchen, ready to take to Horn to attempt the swap for the Toast-O-Lator, when Steiner’s wife walked in.
“What if he doesn’t trade you?” she asked.
“Well, I guess I’ll start a toaster collection,” he replied.
Thus, Steiner entered the world of toaster aficionados.
“If only he’d sold me that one in the beginning…” Steiner laughed.
Treasure chest. Horn keeps his toaster treasure trove at his shop, Silver Eagle Antiques, in Cuyahoga Falls, where he also has many other collectibles.
Although most of Horn’s antiques have price stickers, his toasters aren’t for sale. Nevertheless, there is a small stand where he sells a few toasters that are duplicates. If along the way he finds a toaster that he already has but is in better condition, he will buy it and sell the “old” one.
Steiner displays his toasters in his recreation room at home and also sells his duplicates.
He said he would also sell a toaster to an “entry-level collector” because he would like more people to get involved with collecting.
Members unite. Both Horn and Steiner are members of Toaster Collector Association, which has about 50 members. Last year, Steiner was president and Horn was vice president.
Dues are $30 a year, and there is an annual convention that includes toaster exhibits, show and tell, speakers, an auction and a visit to an area member’s toaster collection.
Toaster collectors from California to Connecticut and Canada to Germany attend the conventions, which are held in a different city each year.
In addition to buying toasters at the convention, there are also awards presented.
At the most recent convention in October, Horn won first place in the tipper category with his three-slice toaster from the 1930s or ’40s.
In addition to the tipper category, there are many other groups of antique toasters.
There are floppers, droppers, pop-ups, perchers, pinchers, flat beds, turners and swingers and sliders and drive-throughs.
Most of these categories refer to how the machine operates.
For example, a flopper has vertical doors that “flop” open unless they are pushed shut. Pinchers usually closely resemble a flopper but have a spring that holds the door shut so that it doesn’t “flop” open.
This information, including price information, is in Helen Greguire’s Collector’s Guide to Toasters and Accessories.
Finding the goods. Horn says he’s selective on what he buys and purchases a toaster only if it has already been cleaned. He typically gets his best finds at the convention, auctions and tag sales. Occasionally someone will come in the store with an antique toaster that isn’t already in his collection.
Steiner usually prefers thrift stores and flea markets and doesn’t mind cleaning a toaster.
Steiner had a close call with his collectibles when a fire in his home damaged some of his toasters.
As he was trying to clean them, his wife advised that he should just pack them up and take them to Goodwill.
“I can’t,” he said, “that’s where I got them!”
In addition to thrift stores, Steiner does much of his purchasing through eBay.
The Internet has changed toaster collecting and eBay has a big influence on price, Steiner said.
Toasters that collectors once thought were rare have been proven otherwise through eBay. In fact, the infamous Toast-O-Lator that got Steiner into collecting, is now available online.
Value. Price varies and is often determined by the condition of the toaster; how rare it is; if it has an original box; and if there is an original, unique or color-coordinating cord.
The most expensive toaster purchase Horn and Steiner have made so far was the Blue Willow, a porcelain toaster made in Cleveland in 1928-1929.
It set Horn back $1,600 and Steiner $2,200.
While Steiner and Horn agree that today’s toasters are thought of as disposable, antique toasters were made to last, and many in their collections still work.
Time to munch. So what do these two toaster enthusiasts use to brown their own bread for breakfast?
Well, Horn actually uses a toaster oven instead.
And, Steiner doesn’t even like toast.
For more information about the world of toasters, call Horn at Silver Eagle Antiques, 330-929-0066, or e-mail Steiner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(You can contact Kristy Alger at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
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