While looking over my own small collection of vintage beer cans, I wondered what unusual items others in town accumulate.
The Need for Speed
“Side by side racing action,” screamed the tagline on a televisions ad, and people responded. For roughly a decade, from the 1960s into the early 1970s, the hobby for boys was Aurora slot cars. The fact that Aurora manufactured around 300 million cars during that stretch demonstrates exactly how huge it was. “It was the toy to get for Christmas,” says Mark Kaminsky. “It had its moment until trends changed.” Indeed they did; in the toy world, every generation wants their own cool stuff, not their older brother’s toys. By the time Kaminsky latched onto slot cars in the early 1970s, they were on the downside of the curve, replaced by the growing popularity of the early generation of video games.
Like so many of our childhood obsessions, his cars joined other toys in the attic. An ad in Men’s Health in the late 1990s changed everything. “It was for a book called Greenberg’s Guide to Aurora Slot Cars—the same book I had as a kid.” Kaminsky exhumed his slot cars and started his second act with the hobby. An Internet search led to a club of like-minded (not to mention like-aged) slot-car enthusiasts in northeastern Connecticut. He joined, and continues to participate in monthly races.
Today, Aurora slot cars are readily available (and affordable) on eBay, so growing his collection isn’t a hardship. But the best part of collecting them as an adult? Mark’s basement man-cave setup exceeds what he was able to do with the limited resources of a ten year-old. “There were books full of all the really cool stuff, things you weren’t able do as a kid. Fast forward 35 years, and suddenly you can do it.”
The Write Stuff
When starting his legal career with Cummings & Lockwood, Michael Sheehan learned quickly that neatness counts. “As a corporate lawyer, a good deal of time is spent marking up documents, particularly back in the early 1990s, when not everybody had a computer.” He realized sloppy work meant delays and tying up the administrative staff responsible for processing the changes. The best, neatest way to proceed was to use a fountain pen.
Although the modern fountain pen was introduced in the 1800s, its usage peaked in the 1920s. From there it lost favor, replaced by cheaper, more convenient and disposable pens. But the collectible aspect and feel of fountain pens appealed to Sheehan.
And somehow, they seemed to find him. In Germany for business, he picked up a Montblanc. Working at Chubb earned him another one. A job change in Manhattan positioned him near the Montblanc store. Another Manhattan office was close to the renowned Art Brown International Pen Shop.
To find his pens, Sheehan has implemented a DIY approach. He founded the Big Apple Pen Club, whose 70-plus members hold monthly meetings in Manhattan. These usually involve a guest speaker, perhaps a pen company executive or the manufacturer of fine stationery. But the club isn’t necessarily about the hobby itself; it’s more about the people, their stories, and what they do. “Despite being a lawyer, I like unusual and quirky people,” says Sheehan. Members run the employment spectrum from clock-punching Staples employees, to artists and investment bankers. In addition, he launched a Facebook page. “The U.S. is the only culture not into stationery. We’re more of a disposable society.”
Unlike many collectors who maintain a “hands-off” policy, Sheehan uses his collection. However, he notes, some effort is required to be a collector and not a hoarder; he accomplishes this by sticking with iconic models and brands. “There is no one pen that is considered the Holy Grail.”