Search Lobsterland

Wednesday, March 05, 2014


I have a friend, I'll call him Bob. Both because he made it clear he wished to remain unknown, unseen and anonymous if I was going to blog about his collection, and because Bob is actually his name. I guess it's convenient if you want to be anonymous to have a name like Bob. And what a collection Bob has.

What does he collect? Kitsch, especially kitsch that has a 1950s flavor to it. He's not that much older than me, if at all, I don't think, so this is fueled as far as I can tell by nostalgia for a world he never experienced.

I don't think it's an uncommon impulse. A world we only experienced through imagination and retelling is bound to be far superior to a world we actually inhabit.

Bob's a big fan of estate sales. I think when his marriage broke up, he found estate sales in the same way Ed Norton's character in Fight Club discovers 12-step recovery groups.

This kitsch includes Hawaiian statues sold to the tourist trade, glassware that promotes the booze industry, and crazy exercise devices. But mostly, Bob collects ashtrays.

He doesn't smoke. He did put in a dip while we visited, but if anyone ever collected an item they had no direct personal use for, it's Bob and his ashtrays.

Local interest guides his buys to a great extent. A lot of these things promote businesses that are or were in the Kansas City area back when smoking was so universally accepted that nobody thought twice about using paraphernalia for a deadly drug habit as ad specialties.

I suppose it just depends on the context. These ashtrays were minted in the Mad Men world, and if you can drop Alka-Seltzer into rye whiskey at 10:00 a.m. at work and nobody thinks intervention, well what's an ashtray with your restaurant's logo on it. You're going to have an ashtray on every table in that restaurant, or eventually only the ones in the smoking section, so why not an ashtray that reminds people exactly whose turf they're on?

Bob has a story behind pretty much every purchase. Sometimes it's the thing that distinguishes the ashtray specifically, like it being made to look like a violin or being so large you would only have to dump it after smoking a whole carton. Others, it's the fact that he got it for two bucks and later saw one just like it sell for five or ten, proof that he's made a wise investment.

Ashtray or otherwise, and distinguished or not (he has quite a few plain glass ashtrays which might have been cheap enough but aren't particularly interesting), each one comes with the tag line 'I just couldn't resist.'

I'm not judging, there are plenty of things I can't or don't want to resist, and it's a pretty interesting collection. So much so that at first, I was thinking, I've got to come back sometime and photograph all this kitsch, and that morphed into, why not now?

My product-shot photography skills are lacking, I know. I should go back sometime with my camera and some decent lights, maybe a backdrop.

I thought at first Bob's ashtray collection was inspiring me to want to collect ashtrays myself, but that was wrong. What I think I want to do is develop a website dedicated to the art of the ashtray, start it off with some much better photographs of the cream of Bob's collection, then see where it leads me. Because you can buy an ashtray for $2 at an estate sale, sure, but you can probably get away with photographing it for free.

No comments: