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    From Christmas trees to conjoined food, Wisconsin collectors find joy in hunt for unique items

    By Duke Behnke, Appleton Post-Crescent,


    When I wrote about my German beer stein collection and asked readers to share stories about their collections, I was hoping for a robust response.

    Never, though, did I expect the deluge of telephone calls and emails that came my way after the column was published.

    Wisconsin residents collect far more than I realized, and the collectibles go well beyond beer steins, coins and stamps.

    Here's just a sampling of what readers collect:

    • Christmas trees
    • Eggcups
    • Antique scales
    • Typewriters
    • Lego board games
    • Salt and pepper shakers
    • Department 56 Snowbabies
    • Tree knots
    • Conjoined food
    • Glass milk bottles
    • Barn pulleys
    • Pens that don't look like pens
    • German incense smokers
    • Buttons
    • Recipe books

    Bonnie Beverstock of Stevens Point collects whistles shaped like birds.

    "They are devilishly hard to find, usually at museum gift shops or international events," Beverstock told me. "The owl hoots. The little birds whistle. Some make a burbling sound when you put water in them. One you can play tunes on. They are colorful and musical, and they amuse me to no end."

    Linda Kalpinski of Wisconsin Rapids doesn't limit herself to one collection. Her treasures include bowls, crocks and pitchers; Cat's Meow Amish shelf sitters; Jim Shore figurines; Vera Bradley purses; wooden Santas; and large-print books.

    Kalpinski has been diagnosed with macular degeneration, so her library of large-print books — she has more than 100 — has a practical application, though she hasn't read any of them yet.

    "I'm saving them for when my macular degeneration really kicks in," she said.

    Kalpinski shops thrift stores, garage sales and antique malls to expand her collections.

    "I do not pay high prices for my purchases," she said, "but I love everything I buy and will keep them for years."

    Well, almost everything. As every collector will attest, there's a learning curve to collecting. The first time Kalpinski bought a Vera Bradley handbag at Goodwill, she was thrilled. She showed it to her daughters, who promptly told her it wasn't a purse, as she thought, but a diaper bag.

    "They sold it on eBay for me," she said.

    Below I've highlighted a series of collections that I thought readers might find interesting. In most cases, the owners didn't start out to amass a collection. Rather, they purchased a few items they liked, and the hobby grew from there.

    O Christmas trees, O Christmas trees

    Three years ago Lee and Joy Hillstrom of Neenah started buying decorative Christmas trees that range from 6 to 24 inches tall. Their collection now totals 78 trees, not counting three that are 6 feet tall. The trees are on display throughout their house during the holidays.

    "None of them have much value," Lee Hillstrom said. "We just enjoy the variety and look. It has been fun collecting, but we are running out of place for them, so going forward we will be more selective in what we purchase."

    Hillstrom grew up in Manitowoc, which was home to the Evergleam aluminum Christmas trees that were wildly popular in the 1960s. His parents had a flat version of the Evergleam that they displayed on the porch of their house each year.

    On a return trip to Manitowoc this year, Hillstrom bought a plastic replica of the Evergleam to add to their collection. The 24-inch tree cost $25.

    "That is the one tree we have that brings back memories of my childhood from a long, long time ago," he said.

    Others are made of ceramics, fabric, resin or wood.

    Grandma's dippy eggs inspire eggcup collection

    Whenever Susie Beverstein of Green Bay welcomes guests to her home, the conversation undoubtedly leads to her collection of eggcups. She has 650 of them on display.

    Her interest in eggcups dates to her childhood. When she would stay overnight at her grandmother's house, they would have soft-boiled eggs with toast for breakfast.

    "My grandfather was from England, and it's a very English tradition to have dippy eggs, or we called it egg-to-dip," she said. "We always had breakfast by candlelight with a four-minute egg."

    The egg stood in an eggcup. After the cap was removed with the whack of a table knife, strips of toast — called soldiers — were dipped into the runny yolk.

    Beverstein said eggcups are ideal for collecting because they are small and inexpensive and come in a variety of styles and materials, including porcelain, glass, metal and wood. She buys them at gift shops and antique malls or on eBay.

    "I do like the hunt," she said. "It's just fun."

    Collecting eggcups, I learned, is called pocillovy.

    Richter's scales measure weight — not strength of earthquakes

    Appleton's Jim Richter worked for decades as the city's sealer of weights and measures, so he collects, naturally, antique scales. He started his collection shortly after beginning his career in 1974.

    "I now have over 100 of all varieties," he said. "I've got store scales that were used to weigh seed. I have a number of the Hauerts Pet & Garden scales. I've got candy scales. I have pharmacy balances, even have some laboratory stuff."

    The scales date to the 1890s. He recently bought a portable platform beam scale from the Courtney Woolen Mill in Appleton.

    "I'm not aware of too many people in the area who collect scales," he said. "In the International Society of Antique Scale Collectors, there aren't that many. I think we have 292 members."

    When the time comes, Richter plans to donate his collection to the Appleton Historical Society, which operates a museum and research center at 128 N. Durkee St.

    Wisconsin Rapids man acquires typewriters from 12 decades

    Bob Walker of Wisconsin Rapids told me about his collection of typewriters. He has at least one from every decade from the 1890s to the 2000s.

    "Some of them came to me in pretty good shape; others were rescued from garages and cellars and restored to a functional state," he said. "All of mine actually work."

    Walker bought his first typewriter, a used 1940s Royal, in 1974 when he was a college freshman majoring in English. He purchased his first new typewriter, a 1970s electric Smith Corona 2200, a few years later as he set his sights on a career in journalism.

    Typewriters were common in newspaper work until the early 1980s, when computers replaced them.

    Several years ago, Walker developed a nostalgia for typewriters. His older sister gave him a 1967 Olympia SM-9, which she received as a high school graduation present from their parents. He then obtained two machines tied to his college years: a 1946 Royal Quiet Deluxe and a Smith Corona 2200.

    "That start in collecting led me into many estate sales and the mysteries of eBay and Facebook Marketplace, where other treasures awaited discovery," he said. He currently owns 20 typewriters.

    Walker said 2023 marks the 150th anniversary of the first commercially successful typewriter with a QWERTY keyboard. The invention is credited, in part, to Christopher Latham Sholes of Milwaukee.

    Lego board games arrive from around the world

    Jason Brozek of Appleton said he and his 10-year-old son, Ben, have tracked down every Lego board game from a "tragically discontinued line."

    They have 45 games in all, including a tiny set that was sold only at Canadian Toys R Us stores and obscure items like a promotional golden die that was exclusive to Lego shops in Germany for two weeks in 2010.

    Brozek said Lego board games were produced between 2009 and 2012. They acquired their first — a Harry Potter Hogwarts edition — in 2018, and they were hooked.

    "The whole thing was so thoughtfully designed and creative and fun for little kids but also entertaining enough for parents that you genuinely could play together," Brozek said.

    The Brozeks created a Google spreadsheet to tabulate all of the Lego board games. One their biggest challenges was a third of the line wasn't released in the U.S. They scoured international eBay sites and Lego collector forums to complete their collection. One purchase from Hungary took a month to arrive.

    The quest for information about Lego's foray into board games led them to Cephas Howard, the designer behind the games. The Brozeks sent him a letter to express their appreciation of the games, and Howard wrote back.

    Salt and pepper shakers resemble Betty Boop, Marilyn Monroe

    Rita Schiller of Pittsville has accrued more than 2,000 sets of salt and pepper shakers.

    Among her collection are shakers in the shape of Betty Boop, Cinderella, Marilyn Monroe, a bride and groom, angels, Easter eggs, guitars, outhouses, silos, snowmen and tractors. Others resemble animals: bears, chickens, cows, dogs, rabbits, songbirds, squirrels, etc.

    She received her first shakers as a gift in the late 1960s from a co-worker who had bought them while on vacation.

    "As soon as people found out that I liked them, I was getting them from my kids for Christmas and birthdays or whatever," she said. "They just added up. So many are beautiful. I love all of them."

    Schiller has thought about setting up a free museum to display her collection.

    "I could probably advertise and tell people they can just come and look at them," she said. "They don't have to pay me anything."

    Department 56 Snowbabies bring winter alive

    Marcia McDonald of Stevens Point believes she has the world's largest collection of Department 56 Snowbabies, which are bisque figurines introduced in 1986. She recently began cataloging her Snowbabies and estimates she has 750.

    In her search for Snowbabies, she's encountered other collectors, but not on her scale.

    "They'll say, 'Oh, I have a huge collection. I have 30,'" McDonald said, "and I'm like, 'Oh, my gosh, you don't even know.'"

    McDonald acquired her first Snowbabies figurine in 1989. "Getting a Snowbaby was quite something because they'd be $45 to $50," she recalled. "I would get one for Christmas and possibly for my birthday."

    She likes Snowbabies for their beauty and for bringing winter alive. She met the artist behind Snowbabies, Kristi Jensen Pierro, during a visit to Appleton and has several signed pieces. Her collection is displayed in nine large hutches.

    "Our home is a Snowbaby resort," McDonald said.

    'I'm a strange collector, I guess'

    Tim Arnoldussen of the town of Neenah claims to possess the "world's largest knot collection." He's referring to the darker imperfections in lumber, not to twisted rope or string.

    Arnoldussen estimates he has 3,000 to 4,000 knots in his collection. He distinguishes them primarily by shape, whether they look like fish, the state of Wisconsin or something else.

    "Some look like ears," he said. "Some are like deer hooves. I have one shaped like an airplane propeller. Some are shaped like spear points. One looks like a great white shark leaping out of the water — you know, the mouth."

    Arnoldussen started keeping the knots in a large brandy snifter that's the size of a basketball. Once that got full, he began storing them in bags, boxes and buckets.

    When he visits Las Vegas later this year, Arnoldussen plans to take his knot collection to the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, where the reality TV show "Pawn Stars" is filmed, to see if it generates any offers.

    "I'm sure they'll say no," he said, "but at least I can say I was there and tried to sell them something."

    If Arnoldussen's assortment of knots isn't unusual enough, he also has a collection of conjoined food, which are products that got stuck together during the manufacturing process. He has conjoined pretzels, jelly beans and Frosted Mini-Wheats. He kept two Triscuit crackers that were attached at a 90-degree angle.

    "I'm a strange collector, I guess," he said.

    Hunt for items reflects love of Appleton

    John Marx of Appleton comes from a family of collectors. His parents were rock collectors, and he's continued the tradition.

    "From a young age I started collecting anything from Appleton," he said. "My very first collection was Appleton tokens. My very first token was the (1957) Centennial Wooden Nickel. From there it grew and grew and grew."

    Marx's collection of Appleton tokens totals about 600. He subsequently focused on collecting Appleton postcards and accumulated more than 2,000 of them. He also has a collection of glass milk bottles. It consists of 250 bottles from 82 different Appleton dairies, such as DeWitt, Hietpas, Timmers and Utschig.

    His guideline on collecting is pretty broad, as long as it pertains to Appleton.

    "When I find something and it looks interesting, I will pick it up," he said. "I was born and raised here."

    He, too, plans to donate his collections to the Appleton Historical Society.

    Contact Duke Behnke at 920-993-7176 or Follow him on Twitter at @DukeBehnke.

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