We all know someone who collects something. Maybe you’re that person. It starts innocently enough—a couple ornate teacups here; several vintage cameras there. Soon enough, friends start to hear about the collection and want to contribute. And yes, sometimes it gets out of hand. But not with these 10 local collectors. Their items are carefully curated—or, in one case, found by fluke—to make up some pretty fascinating accumulations. They share with us what inspired their enthusiasm for these items, how many they’ve got and what motivates them to keep on collecting more.
Photo by David Uhrin
Sean and Robin Brickell
Collection: Lunch boxes
How many: Approx. 250 titles
You could collect books by Sean Brickell, their contents spanning sports to music. Writing The Pages of Rock History sparked his desire for a Beatles lunch box like the one packed with cream cheese and jelly sandwiches he toted to Portlock Elementary.
He scored it from a record store-owning friend, quickening his appetite for his first: Roy Rogers. He and wife Robin scoured flea markets. Soon nostalgia-tinged tins—Scooby Doo, Steve Canyon, Barbie—lined their walls. “We like pop art,” the PR guru says. “So it fit our personality.”
And led to him co-authoring The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Metal Lunch Boxes with Allen Woodall, which led to national media, which led to more boxes. One came from a woman who heard about Sean on Paul Harvey. She had a Campus Queen that once belonged to a neighbor’s daughter, fatally struck by a car. “I promise you it will have a good home,” he told her, tears welling at the memory. It’s now in the Smithsonian with others. When curators came for them, they brandished magnifying glasses, white gloves, acid-free crates: “Like they were dealing with Rembrandts,” recalls Sean.
KISS, Meadowlark Lemon and other metallically-memorialized celebrities cheered the Brickells at a museum party. “Display me between Wonder Woman and Charlie’s Angels,” begged Henry “The Fonz” Winkler.
The Brickells also have extreme collections of Swatches, Grinches, rock and roll buttons … and more. “We take it as far as we can go,” explains Sean.
Photo by Bill Glose
Sentimentalities Of Suffolk
Collection: Ceramic Suffolk Buildings
How Many: 150
“This was my first one,” says Poquoson resident Nancy Glose as she holds up a ceramic house the size of a biscuit. “It was only 50p!” she adds, an amount equivalent to a dollar at the time. In 1972, her Air Force husband had just been reassigned to a base in England, and Glose picked up this memento in a country gift shop. The thatched roof and a timbered frame of the ceramic house was a style distinctive of the Suffolk region where she lived for the next five years. Over that time, she purchased dozens more of the miniature houses, many of them replicas of actual buildings.
“This is the Swan Inn,” she says, pointing to a long, low building. “It was built in 1425. A lot of these, if you flip them over or look on the back, there will be a sticker to tell you what they are. Some of them have names on the front, the pubs especially. I have several pubs.”
After moving back to the States, Glose continued collecting Suffolk houses, mostly picking them up in antique stores. “Of course, by that time, they cost an arm and a leg,” she says. “The houses were an import item, and I only found them in ritzy places. But still.”
Glose expanded the collection to include model houses made into candleholders, piggy banks, teapots, sugar and cream dispensers, paperweights, cookie tins and Christmas tree ornaments. She now has about 150 houses, each one of them sparking a memory.
“You know when you see a picture of someplace you’ve been before?” she asks. “When you look at it, the whole day comes back to you. You remember who you were with, what you did and so on. It’s like that for me with these buildings.”
Bill Glose is Nancy Glose’s son.
Photo by Joe Tennis
2,450 Cans Of Beer On The Wall
Collection: Beer Cans
How many in collection: 2,450
It all started with a 24-ounce Schlitz Malt Liquor Bull can in April 1978 while on a family trip to Atlanta, Ga. From there, young Keith Bryant would learn the definition of cone-tops, flat-tops, pull-tabs, “mystery cans” and "dumping." And his beer can collection would eventually grow to 2,450.
Today, Bryant devotes an entire room to his collection at his Portsmouth home, where neatly-stacked beer cans rise from floor to ceiling on four walls in astonishing alphabetical order. "It beats wallpaper," says Bryant, a 53-year-old electronics technician at the Newport News Shipyard.
Now, these are not just any, old random Budweiser and Coors cans. Yes, Bryant boasts major-label brands on shelves. But his collection also includes Monticello Premium Ale, Tudor Beer, Hoffman House, G.E.X., Esslinger and a rare Buckingham Ale.
"I think it is art,” Bryant says. “Every can has a meaning to it. Every can has a different look to it. They're symmetrical. They have great color. And just seeing the variances in the labels going around, it's awesome to me."
Today, most who know Bryant know he has a craving for cans, especially vintage containers dating to as early as 1935 when the first beer can in the world was sold in Richmond, Va. "They give them to me, sell them to me," he says.
Bryant also adds to his collection by "dumping"—the term for rummaging through decades-old trash dumps with gloves and garden picks. There, Bryant has found "mystery cans" that are later cleaned and soaked in oxalic acid to remove rust.
Primarily, Bryant specializes in collecting cans made in the 1960s or earlier—mostly flat-tops, which required an opener, before the introduction of pull-tabs. He also has a few, bottle-shaped cone-tops, featuring caps at the spout.
Bryant doesn’t know what will eventually happen to his collection. "I've got two girls. And they're not interested in them," Bryant says. "Maybe I’ll take a few to the grave.”
Photo by Bill Glose
Safety First In A Collection That Lasts
Dr. Deborah Remchuk
Collection: Medical Tins
How Many: 30
Displayed on the wall and shelves of Dr. Deborah Remchuk’s Sentara office in Port Warwick in Newport News is an old collection of medical tins, some of them dating back to the 1930s. She’s collected about 30 first aid tins and keeps half of them at home. Most are American, but some are British, Spanish or German.
“What these tins mean to me is the care and aid of people and the history of first aid,” she says. “When I look at a tin, I think of all the people who’ve used it in their care of other people. So there’s a kind of nostalgic element to the tins for me”
Dr. Remchuk became a physician late in life, after spending 11 years overseas with her Air Force husband. Part of that time she served as a Red Cross nurse and started collecting Red Cross memorabilia. “I have a large Red Cross flag from World War II,” she says, “and I have a collection of International Red Cross pins [in a case]. At some point, it branched out into first aid tins.”
Many of the first aid tins come packed with their original supplies, but Dr. Remchuk tends to get rid of those since the potions are seldom tightly sealed and the various oils and medications are often spilled or spoiled. “I don’t keep the actual medicines, but I keep some bottles and boxes that I think are neat. … I’ve found a lot of weird things over the years, snakebite serum, that sort of thing. A couple of times I found books that showed some of the techniques of first aid back in the early 1900s. That was very interesting. They didn’t have thousands of drugs; they had five! And a lot of the ‘care’ they provided was simply applying pressure and watching.”
Although Dr. Remchuk’s collection reminds her of her position in the white-coated line of healers, she believes it also has a message for everyone else. “Everybody should have a first aid box in the car and at home!”
Made To Be Played
Collection: Pinball machines
How many: 140
There’s the nostalgic clackety-clack of 1970s classic pinballs like the billiard-themed Eight Ball and the original Kiss, complete with a fire-breathing Gene Simmons on the back glass. Then there are fan favorites like Addams Family and Twilight Zone from the 1990s.
But it’s the new machines that attract the aficionados, says David Shields, owner of Flippers Arcade & LaserTag in Grandy, N.C., about 10 minutes from the Wright Memorial Bridge. These include games like the recently released Star Wars, Aerosmith, Batman 66 and Dialed In.
Shields knows pinballs, and he should. He has been working in the amusement business for 40 years. About 60 of the pinballs in his 140-machine collection are available for public play at Flippers. The others are stored in a nearby warehouse or in use at restaurants and businesses in the Outer Banks.
Pinball machines aren’t exactly go-to moneymakers in Shields’ line of work, unlike popular arcade or ticket-redemption games. A level of affection for the machines—some would call them works of art—is required to be in this deep.
“It’s definitely a certain crowd that really loves them and will search them out,” Shields says. “I seldom get rid of a pinball. I am probably one of the few operators who still operates a lot of pins.”
Perhaps the most valuable machine in his collection is the racy, spacey Bing Bang Bar. Less than 200 were made, and there are around a half dozen in public play in the world: “There’s kind of a crazy story behind that pinball.”
Unlike many collections, this one is made to be played with. Flippers is open year-round and hosts regular pinball tournaments including a bi-annual event associated with the Professional and Amateur Pinball Association.
Photo by Joe Tennis
Right Round Like A Record, Baby
How many in collection: 100,000
Bob Jones spins his wheels—like a record, baby—to flea markets, auctions and thrift stores, seeking both LPs and 45s. Be it The Beatles, Beach Boys, Chicago or The Rolling Stones, Jones has it all. And his music collection totals a staggering 100,000, though it was recently twice that—until a fire hit a storage unit behind his Virginia Beach home in March.
“I collect for different purposes,” says Jones, a retired social studies teacher. “In my personal collection, it’s probably about 10,000. I also furnish records for Birdland Music.”
On Tuesday nights, you can often find Jones at Birdland in Virginia Beach, where the Norfolk native sells many of his recent finds—from Adam & the Ants to Frank Zappa.
“Records are like any other collectible,” he says. “What makes things valuable is how many of them there are, and how many people want it.”
Jones is more than a record collector. This father of four also once made records. He sang lead for New Directions in the late 1960s and scored a local hit with "Springtime Lady." In later years, Jones played music with The Stingrays. "My mom and dad bought me a record player at age 2,” he says. “And, according to them, I began singing along with the records right away.”
Now in his late 60s, Jones says the fire—leaving "tons of melted vinyl"—may have changed how he sees his record collection. "I wouldn't have had time to sell all that, what I wanted to sell," he says. "And the fire made me realize that."
Valentines For Loved Ones Now Hold Loved Things
Collection: Sailors’ Valentines
How Many: At highest point: 25; currently about a dozen
Ellen McBride is a garage “sailor” from way back. But this marketing communications director at Red Chalk Studios and EMT with the Virginia Beach Volunteer Rescue Squad is also a thrifter and antiques aficionado who is undeterred by her husband’s common refrain of, “Where are you going to put that?”
Though she has impressive collections of Bakelite and 1930s and ’40s paintings of women, McBride began collecting Sailor’s Valentines some 20 years ago, around the time she moved into her beach house. They seemed thematically appropriate without being kitschy. The romantic lore surrounding these octagonal shadowbox frames and boxes encrusted with intricate shell designs would have it that sailors made them for loved ones while out at sea. It may be more likely that sailors purchased them when in overseas ports. For McBride, the latter doesn’t diminish the loving thoughts, just the time invested.
She laughs at her rationalization that anything that holds something—or ever did—is “functional” and therefore not a frivolous purchase. Though she didn’t begin collecting the Valentines because she needed containers, she recently realized that all of them do hold objects: natural treasures like feathers and shark teeth that she finds on beach walks.
McBride’s Sailor’s Valentines, most purchased for under $10, aren’t of the pristine and fussy variety. She prefers them old, a little irregular—even chipped—not heavily shellacked like the newer versions, and grouped together for display. In answer to her husband’s question, there’s always a place for things we love.
A Pearl Of A Plate
Steve and Lynn Bonner
Collection: Antique Oyster Plates
How many: 250–300
Oyster plates were used at the turn of the 19th century as a fancy way to display and consume oysters, usually eaten raw. Most of them have six indentions for the oyster shells to rest, and a center well to hold a butter or sauce cup. Most of them came from France, Germany and other countries, but they gained considerable notoriety in the United States when President Rutherford B. Hayes bought a set for the White House.
Steve and Lynn Bonner buy and sell oyster plates as part of their trade. They are the owners of the Kilmarnock Antique Gallery, a business they have owned and operated for more than 21 years. “When we first opened, I had a dealer that had a few plates,” says Steve. “We advertised them a lot and even mentioned them on our billboard. Then we started collecting them ourselves.”
The one thing Steve and Lynn didn’t like about the dealer they were working with was that he sold plates that had chips and/or cracks in them. “So I made it our thing that our plates are pristine,” adds Steve. “There is no oyster plate that I’m aware of that is so rare that you can’t get one in pristine or very good condition. So that’s something we hung our hat on—always offering good plates with no problems, that people would be proud to own.”
The Early Bird Gets The Shade
Collection: Lost sunglasses (among other things)
How many: Around 300
Jim Spruance is a Virginia Beach resident who is concerned about the environment and does his part to pick up trash on his morning walks. He has been going on his daily treks for more than 40 years and has discovered lots of interesting things along the way, but has mostly concentrated on the sunglasses he finds.
“I’ve lived here 41 years or so, and I’m the head of the Beautification Committee on the Civic League of the North End,” he says. “So I’m always trying to encourage other people to pick up trash, and I’m just trying to set the proper example.”
Spruance usually likes to get started on his journeys a little before sunrise because “the early bird gets the worm.” His record for the most sunglasses found in one day is 15, but he doesn’t try to profit from his finds.
“Last summer I put a little notice on the Nextdoor website and said if anybody wants to come by and take a look, I keep them on a big wire fence displayed on my deck,” he says. “So if you see something you like, go ahead and take them. Some of them have been at sea for quite a while so they’re pretty scratched up, but often I’ll find some that I’m sure have not been lost for more than a day. I never have to buy sunglasses for myself anymore.”
Photo by David Uhrin
Every Day He’s Muddlin'
Collection: Mortars and pestles
How many: 10
Bill Doyle has what friends call a mortar and pestle collection, but he doesn’t consider himself a collector of bowls and pounders that grind substances for culinary/medicinal purposes: “I don’t know anything about them; I don’t have a lot of them.”
Like their number, he’s modest. He knows something about them—and other stuff.
The retired marital and sex therapist holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. While a University of Cincinnati student, an antique brass set intrigued him because it was solid, substantial, well-proportioned.
His mother gave it to him for a graduation present. Nice, huh? “One of my roommates got a Pontiac Bonneville, one a Lamborghini and one an Alfa Romeo,” he says grinningly. “Their mothers were really proud of them.”
An antique French white porcelain pharmaceutical pairing and another of handblown glass followed. Their materials fascinated him. He bought newer marble and olivewood. “Feel this,” he says, hefting surprisingly dense tools carved from tsunami-withstanding Hawaiian ironwood. His volcanic rock, Mexican molcajete and tejolote is pig-shaped, and he floats magnolias in a coarse Japanese mortar come spring.
He once thought it would be “neat” to be a pharmacist until he realized he’d be on his feet all day. “Mine are terrible,” he claims. They haven’t stopped him from teaching spin (his arcane rock-and-roll knowledge turns Y classes into music tutorials) or cycling cross-country with wife, Sandy. Twice. That might be why he doesn’t fetishize his possessions: “I just like the looks of them.”