Collecting and Inventing Board Games On This Week’s Collectors Show Podcast


NOTE: You can own the future of board games by contributing to the Kickstarter campaign that Will and Sarah Reed started for their new game, ‘Project Dreamscape”. Will prototype games like this be collectible? Too late, they already are. But there is still time to get in on the action with Project Dreamscape.

 

Here is a link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/undine/project-dreamscape-a-dream-chaining-card-game?ref=nav_search

This Week On The Collectors Show Inventing and Collecting Board Games

Most of the people we talk to on The Collectors Show make a living with their collection. But most of the time we talk about the collecting, but not about the business end of things. So this week we are turning things around by emphasizing the business or money making part of the hobby. Will Reed is a collector, blogger on the Brick Blogger site, and he is inventing new board games. So we learn from him about the process for coming up with new games, art, production, all the way through to commercial launch. But Will and his wife Sarah were and are collectors first.

Will has gone in and out of lots of collections like video games, Lego and others that he acquired and then sold. Each month he and his wife Sarah will budget funds for their various collections including over their over 200 board games that continues to expand. I had to laugh when Will said they had a budget set aside for “fun” stuff. It all sounds like fun to me. The biggest thing between them all is that desire for a social component for all of their collections. So board games are a natural for getting social with other people with similar interests.

What do people who like to play board games generally share in common? Will says that people who like Lego’s like to play board games but in his experience, people who like to think. Unlike first person shooter video games that simply demand hand eye coordination, board games are a more thoughtful past time. Contemplation and talking to other humans may be making a comeback.

A board game convention called “Gen Con” in Indianapolis is growing like crazy. Connecting with other people who like to play is a big part of the hobby. His wife Sarah has a goal of playing a game ten times with people who she may not know at all but are interested in playing board games. Since we are social creatures, finding ways to connect and spend time with others will actually make you feel better.

With the coming resurgence of board games, the world needs new games to play. Will has invented a new game. “The first thing to do is play a lot of board games. If the only experience you have is playing Monopoly, then you will try and invent a better Monopoly and that has been done.”

Design mechanics or thematics or both? Will says you will want an element of each as you design your game, and how he approached the development of “Project Dreamscape”. The concept behind it is that dreaming is a venue for creativity and shared thought and if people could learn to connect while dreaming, and share new ideas that they have the potential for unimaginable ingenuity. .

The game goes like this: Your turn starts by choosing whether or not to take a facedown card, called a Z card–these Z cards are currency in the game, but also count against you when it comes time to tally up the scores. Z cards are used to purchase cards from the Dreamscape, which are then placed in your REM stack. You must choose one of the two abilities on a card to activate when you collect it, but the real fun of the game comes from chaining these abilities together.

Any one of the eight dream abilities in Project Dreamscape, by itself, produces only a minor effect–take a card, flip a card, rearrange some cards, and so on. But with some clever card play, one dream ability can lead to another until you’ve collected several cards or even cleared the entire Dreamscape. This continues until there are not enough cards to fully refill the Dreamscape after a player’s turn. At that point, the game is over and it’s time to score.

Project Dreamscape is a thinking persons game. There is deep strategy needed to play successfully. The ability to rearrange the dreamscape and play powers off of other players’ cards is a fresh and ever-changing way to formulate your strategy. Just don’t plan too far in advance, because other players’ sinister arrangements can plunge your perfect plan into deep sleep!

There is a collector’s edition of Project Dreamscape that will only be available on Kickstarter. This edition will never be sold anywhere else except on Kickstarter.

Why did people lose their minds over Beanie Babies?


By Mark Joseph Stern of “Slate On Line”

In July of 1999, I traveled with my family to Tenby, Wales. The town is said to be picturesque, but I have no memory of its scenery—except for a small toy store we passed on our drive in. As soon as we settled into our hotel, my sister and I begged our father to trek to the shop and search for the Britannia Beanie Baby, sold exclusively in the United Kingdom. The Britannia bear wasn’t just a toy, we explained; it was an investment, projected to be worth thousands of dollars within a decade. Our father capitulated and bought us each a Britannia bear, which we dutifully kept in mint condition with the tag intact, reveling in its rarity while dreaming of the day it would be a hugely valuable collector’s item

One month later, the company that developed Beanie Babies abruptly announced that it would stop producing the toys at the end of the year, both anticipating and precipitating the burst of the Beanie Babies bubble. Sellers panicked, buyers lost interest, and by the start of the new millennium, Beanie Babies had swung from an economic and cultural phenomenon to a tired punch line. Today, the Britannia Beanie Baby sells for $10 on eBay. My own Britannia lies buried in a box in the back of my closet along with hundreds of other Beanie Babies, where it has sat, untouched, for 15 years.

Frances Mountain, left, sorts out Beanie Babies with her ex-husband, Harold Mountain, in a Las Vegas courtroom in 1999. The couple was unable to split the collection by themselves, so they spread it on the courtroom floor and divided it up under the judge’s supervision. Maple the Bear was the first to go.

Frances Mountain, left, sorts out Beanie Babies with her ex-husband, Harold Mountain, in a Las Vegas courtroom in 1999. The couple was unable to split the collection by themselves, so they spread it on the courtroom floor and divided it up under the judge’s supervision. Maple the Bear was the first to go.

From this distance, it’s easy to laugh at Beanie Baby fever, to mock it as just another pointless fad in a chintzy, hollow decade. But in the latter part of the 1990s, Beanie Babies were so much more than a fad: They were a mania, an obsession that ensnared not just gullible children but also otherwise responsible adults who lost all sense of perspective over these plush playthings. People sold—and bought—some rare Beanie Babies for $5,000 each and expected others to skyrocket in value within a decade. (Collectors were careful to keep each toy’s tag attached and protected by a plastic case; a Beanie Baby’s worth was said to fall by 50 percent once the tag was removed.) Looking back, it’s clear that the Beanie Baby craze was an economic bubble, fueled by frenzied speculation and blatantly baseless optimism. Bubbles are quite common, but bubbles over toys are not. Why did America lose its mind over stuffed animals

Zac Bissonnette’s new book The Great Beanie Baby Bubble does an excellent job explaining the basic economic factors behind Beanie Babies’ success. Ty Warner, the mastermind behind the toys, had a remarkable talent for manipulating supply and demand. (He’s also a borderline recluse and a profoundly troubled man; among other things, Warner repeatedly dated the same women as his father—at the same time—and became a plastic surgery addict.) First, Warner understuffed his toys so that they were flexible and “looked real,” in his words. Second, he sold only small batches of each new Beanie Baby to independent businesses, refusing to supply large quantities to big-box retailers and fixing the price of each toy at $5. Third, Warner “retired” every animal after a fairly short amount of time, introducing a new toy in its stead. This strategy created a near-hysteria each time a Beanie Baby was released, sending fans rushing out to local stores to buy the new toy before supplies disappeared forever.

All of this explains, in simple market terms, how Warner manipulated supply and demand to build a frenzy for his product. But Bissonnette’s book is disappointingly short on psychological explanations for why Americans were eager to shell out at least hundreds of millions of dollars for rather conventional toys. (The total spent on Beanie Babies is unclear because ever-secretive Warner refused to release his company’s earnings.) In one sardonic passage, Bissonnette cites Sigmund Freud’s belief that “the root of collecting” lies in “sex and toilet training,” as “the collector … directs his surplus libido into an inanimate object: a love of things.” Bissonnette also hypothesizes that collecting Beanie Babies “reflect[s] a regression to the soothing and comfort provided by objects during childhood,” and that the acquisition of a scarce, valued item activates our endorphins.

While Freudian theory hasn’t held up well to scientific analysis, some sort of mental disturbance might account for the more extreme cases of Beanie Baby addiction—like the retired soap opera star who lost his children’s six-figure college fund investing in the toys, or the man who committed murder over what a detective described as a “Beanie Baby deal gone bad.” But does it really explain what sent millions of Americans—soccer moms and CEOs, blue-collar workers and yuppies, Ph.D.s and high-school dropouts—utterly bonkers over a brand of plush stuffed animals?

A paper by David Tuckett and Richard Taffler, two economics professors with training in psychoanalytical theory, suggests Bissonnette’s conjecture isn’t that far off. Tuckett and Taffler specifically examine the dot-com bubble, but their theory applies to all modern bubbles. According to the economists, humans occasionally view exciting new creations as “phantastic objects,” which overwhelm us and skew our sense of reason. Our brains begin to tell us that by obtaining these “magical” objects, we will achieve some profound level of satisfaction—something akin to transcendence. The thrill of the chase then muffles our ability to rationally evaluate the actual worth of the object, and others’ willingness to go along with our fantasy reinforces our suspension of logic.

All this theorizing may sound like so much argle-bargle. But the meat of Tuckett and Taffler’s thesis builds on a famous theory of bubbles by renowned economist Charles Kindleberger. According to Kindleberger, every bubble has four basic stages: a grand new development that shocks the market; “euphoria” over that development; a sudden “boom” in sales and speculation; and, eventually, panic when the bubble bursts. Tuckett and Taffler approve of Kindleberger’s model, adding a coda—“revulsion”—to describe the collective hangover society experiences when it realizes it has invested in junk.

In the Kindleberger model (with the Tuckett/Taffler twist), Beanie Babies are a kind of magical object whose plush perfection captured the imagination of a small subset of early adopters. Soon Beanie Baby collectors sprang up to spread the toy’s transcendent joy, and then everybody needed each new Beanie Baby to complete his or her collection. But Warner limited the number of each animal produced, leading both buyers and sellers scrambling to purchase new releases and, in the process, wildly overvaluing their worth. Eventually, the fantasy faded—for most people, after all, Beanie Babies do not bring about nirvana—and the bubble burst. Buyers lost interest, sellers struggled to offload their surpluses, and the whole country felt rather gross about fixating on stuffed animals.

Andrew Odlyzko, a mathematician and bubble expert, proposes a simpler theory explaining speculative panics in his study on the British Railway Mania of the 1840s. Odlyzko credits Railway Mania in part to a “collective hallucination,” an extreme form of groupthink wherein a significant chunk of society feverishly buys into a shared dream with no regard for the skeptics and naysayers. (Some scholars think Jesus’ resurrection might have been an acute instance of collective hallucination.)

The existence of groupthink has been confirmed in a rich assortment of studies, and Odlyzko’s theory expands the idea to economic bubbles. Under his analysis, the initial coterie of Beanie Baby collectors comprised an in-group that shared the great secret of Beanie Babies’ worth. As more people discovered the toy, they yearned to learn this secret and partake in the impending financial success of the Beanie Babies market. Soon, millions of Americans were gripped by the conviction that they had discovered an easy path to personal wealth. And thanks to their collective hallucination of Beanie Babies’ worth, none of these collectors ever realized that the only thing driving the Beanie Babies market was their own conviction that the toys were valuable.

These theories may explain the mass delusions that enabled a large chunk of the country to believe that a $5 Beanie Baby could eventually be worth thousands. What they never quite get at, however, is that initial spark of fascination: how the ineffable appeal of Beanie Babies turned them, and not one of a thousand other 1990s trends, into a collective mania. That allure can probably never be quantified

But those who once loved Beanie Babies may still remember it. I certainly do, because I remember when I got my very first Beanie Baby. I was 7 and had just woken up from adenoidectomy surgery to see a family friend through the anesthesia haze. She leaned over my bed and laid Bruno the Bull Terrier Dog by my head. I grabbed Bruno, closed my eyes as the room started spinning, and threw up. Bruno stayed with me through my convalescence, and long after I lost interest in Beanie Babies, he remained perched on my nightstand. There was something sweet and comforting and innocent about him, something so tender and gentle and warm. Bruno was the kind of toy Ty Warner was trying to make for children when he accidentally created a speculative mania for adults.

In 2013, Warner pleaded guilty to tax evasion after admitting to hiding millions of dollars in a Swiss bank account. He was sentenced to probation but may face years of prison time if the Justice Department’s appeal is successful. Bruno the Bull Terrier Dog now sits at the back of my closet with hundreds of other floppy, forlorn toys. Today he sells for 36 cents, with the tag still attached.

The National Museum of Funeral History Where They Put the Fun Back In Funeral


 

Authentic mourning clothing on display illustrates the strict rules that governed the life of a woman following her husband's death;  as shown here.

Authentic mourning clothing on display illustrates the strict rules that governed the life of a woman following her husband’s death; as shown here.

This week on The Collectors Show we learn about collecting funeral and mortuary items. To listen to the Collectors Show, go to www.webtalkradio.net or iTunes.

You may recall a few weeks ago I mentioned in the news segment that there were a number of museums that were, non-traditional. The National Museum of Funeral History was one of them and their president is who we will be talking with today. I like to talk with people from museums because most started with a collection that belonged to someone or was inspired by someone and that is again the case this week. We will be talking with Genevieve Keeney who is the president of the National Museum of Funeral History, which is located in Houston, Texas.

When I first read about the museum, I thought it was a Halloween attraction. After all the word, “funeral” has a lot of baggage attached to it. Genevieve said it was like climbing a mountain to get people to recognize that the museum was about honoring deceased loved ones and their memories and not a seasonal attraction. This was and is an ancient tradition. She felt like this was an association she did not want, until about 3 years ago.

The museum did attract more attention during October, so she decided it was O.K. to be associated with Halloween as a way to raise money for charity. So in the name of good works and generosity they now have an annual “haunted house”. According to Genevieve they put the “fun” back in funeral.

The collection started with a Mr. R.L. Waltrip who was the founder and chairman of Service Corporation of America. Service Corp is in the funeral home and cemetery business on a very big scale. While building up his business and buying privately owned funeral homes, their equipment was being discarded. What do you do with an old embalming machine? Mr. Waltrip saw that so much of his industry’s history was literally being thrown out and he was not happy about it. He wanted a place to tell the story about the tradition, science and advancement of his trade. So he founded the museum. Funerals reflect culture and how people celebrate and commemorate the life of their family and friends. We share memories and honor the fact that there is a void left in our lives with the person who is gone. While this is not a traditional collection (like stamps or coins) it is still one that is culturally significant.

Science!

So much of the science associated with funerals deals with chemistry and that chemistry with embalming. The goal is to present loved ones in a way that makes their appearance such that it is a good and last memory for the loved ones. It is part science and part art with little room for error as Genevieve explains.

Two of the most interesting exhibits at the museum deal with the evolution of embalming, starting with the Egyptians. Later, hand pumps, gravity bottles and now machinery inject embalming chemicals into the deceased. Progress marches on.

Hearses, they are not just cars

The hearse collection at the museum starts with the horse drawn hearse, through to the hand cranked first automobiles through to the hearses of today. And big engines? Yes, the engines from the mid-twentieth century were enormous. They have the hoods up so car enthusiasts can look at the motors.

Caskets or Coffins and What is the Difference?

There is a difference and it deals with the shape of the lid. Coffins are contour to the body, wide at the top and narrower at the bottom. Caskets are square and the lid is a single piece that comes off in one piece. Of course now there are combinations or hybrids (my word) of the classic coffin/casket design.

Fantasy from Ghana

These are caskets made to reflect what the person achieved in this life and what they hope to achieve in the next. They look like garden sculptures or part of a ride at an amusement park. They are nothing like what we in the U.S. expect to see at a funeral, but that is not a bad thing, just a culturally different thing. These style caskets are not allowed in churches but are still popular, though services with them have to be outside. There are several of these in the collection.

Saved by the Bells Inside the Coffin

During the 14th and 15th century there was the realization that, whoops, we buried someone alive. Lacking the technology and skill to know that someone was still alive prior to burial, inventors did the next best thing and tied a string was tied to the finger of the deceased. The string was attached to a series of pulleys that rang a bell, when or if the deceased started to move. Hence, the expression “saved by the bell”. No records about how many people were saved exist but it is safe to say enough were mistakenly buried to make it worthwhile.

Events

In addition to the haunted house, there is a fall Dracula event. I do not know about anyone else, but me dressed as Dracula at the museum is going to look really good on my Face Book page. In June, 2015 the Professional Car Society will be there with fire trucks, ambulances, hearses and the ambulance/hearse combination. I’m not sure how I feel about the ambulance hearse combo. I picture someone changing the sign on the car while en-route to the hospital when their passenger does not make it. Yikes.

Stay up to date with everything going on by visiting their page at www.NMSH.org

 

A Collection of Lost Grateful Dead Recordings Are Found


Losing Then Grateful for Finding the Dead

 2015 will mark 50 years of The Grateful Dead. During their 30 year career, the Grateful Dead played 2,300 live shows. Of those about 1,700 were recorded and archived. So who cares, right?

It’s not like the Dead were ever huge chart toppers or hit makers. Name a hit song by the group. See? But the number of top ten hits is not what makes this group special. What does make them more noteworthy than anything else was and is the loyalty of their fans and the groups’ devotion to them in turn. David Meerman Scott wrote a whole book about this, “Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn from the Most Iconic Band in History.”

So in 2013 when Carolyn Garcia (Jerry’s former wife) mentioned that she’d found a small box of reels among Garcia’s belongings, and she read off the labels. David Lemieux, archivist who knows the Dead’s collection better than anyone, instantly recognized that they had struck audio gold. Lemieux had Garcia send the reels to sound engineer Jeffrey Norman, who eventually gave him the good news: these were indeed recordings they didn’t know existed, and better yet, they were from very important eras. Despite the fact that the reel sat for 43 years in less than optimal storage conditions, Lemieux says the sound quality is great — it’s an Owsley Stanley soundboard recording. Even more important, the performance quality is outstanding.

“It’s a show of incredible historical significance,” Lemieux told Rolling Stone, “because it’s the Grateful Dead, but they weren’t billed as the Dead.” The show was promoted as Mickey Hart and the Heartbeats and Bobby Ace and the Cards from the Bottom of the Deck, giving the Dead an extraordinary amount of freedom to do whatever they wanted.

“So they didn’t perform a full three- or four-hour electric psychedelic Grateful Dead concert,” Lemieux said. “They played an acoustic set, and it was a long one.”

The 80-minute show ends with Ron “Pigpen” McKernan playing six songs solo acoustic, sitting on a stool and building his legacy as not only an incredible bluesman, but also an especially adept guitar player.

April of 1970 was what Lemieux – who hates the terms “crossroads” and “reinventing” – describes as a “transitional” time for the Dead. A month before this particular show the band had been in the studio recording Workingman’s Dead, and a little later in the spring and early summer they went back to record American Beauty. Widely considered the Dead’s two classic acoustic albums, those records were a departure from their Sixties sound. “[This is] massively transitional Dead,” he emphasized. Lemieux said that they’ve got a host of new stuff planned for the 50th year Grateful Dead anniversary in 2015, and for the 2014 releases due out this spring. He said there was a show from 1971 in Garcia’s box that’s “really hot” and has no known set list and hinted that he’s been immersed in 1983 and 1984 Dead.

“People are going to be pretty shocked by what’s to come,” he promised. A self-described “vinyl-head,” Lemieux considers the Family Dog show the perfect Record Store Day Release. According to Norman, who still does all the Grateful Dead mastering, the vinyl versions of the shows are “like listening to them in color for the first time.” As an archivist, though, this show is particularly exciting for Lemieux, because it means that come Black Friday fans will be able to hear something no one knew existed six months ago. “It’s very rare, it’s unique, and collectors are going to flip out on it,” he said.

In October, 2013 Rhino Records issued 7,500 vinyl copies of the lost show. A notice on the album cover says, “This rare recording was made on a non-professional machine at low level and contains some tape hiss and other undesirable stuff. Several procedures were employed to clarify the sound, but artifacts may still be heard. However, the music shines through, and the performance is too good not to bring to you.”

 

 

 

Wooden Ski Collection Attracts Global Attention


This story comes from The Minneapolis Star Tribune.

As a collector and historian of wooden skis, Greg Fangel attracts interest from all over the world.

When Greg Fangel started collecting wooden skis, he’d find pairs at garage sales, in thrift stores, in friends’ garages.

His discoveries prompted a horrifying thought.

Greg Fangel stores his extensive ski collection on a wooden rack in his garage.Above: Some of the older skis in Fangel’s collection were manufactured in Norway. These skis date from about 1926.

Greg Fangel stores his extensive ski collection on a wooden rack in his garage.Above: Some of the older skis in Fangel’s collection were manufactured in Norway. These skis date from about 1926.

“What if they get thrown in the garbage?” Fangel said. “I couldn’t let that happen.”

Today, Fangel has roughly 80 pairs of wooden skis, most from the 1960s and 1980s, but some from the 1900s through the 1950s.

The skis are stored in his garage on a specially made wooden rack, 1 foot deep by 18 feet long.

“I would say about 10 pairs are my vintage collectables, another 10 pairs are my cream of the crop that I intend to keep, and the other 60 I’ll sell,” he said. “At my peak, I was selling about 80 pairs a season. Now it’s about 30 to 40 pairs.”

Fangel buys, sells and collects his vintage wooden cross-country skis through his website, http://www.woodenskis.com, which he started in 2002. It’s a hub of information, including wooden ski care, ski-making, ski news (races and other events) and the silent sport’s rich, though largely unknown, history.

“Even before I started the website, I had the urge to preserve the wooden ski era, which, as an avid cross-country skier and someone who likes history, appealed to me very much,” said Fangel, who is also the director of operations for a large construction company. “So I began to acquire pairs of wooden skis here and there.”

In the late 1990s, Fangel was on the board of directors for the North Star Ski Touring Club, the popular Twin Cities-based recreational ski club founded in 1967. One of his duties was overseeing the club’s website. “When I became webmaster, I started to post certain things about wooden skis, because I wanted to preserve the heritage of cross-country skiing,” said Fangel, 63, of White Bear Lake. “Almost like magic, people started e-mailing me from all over the United States and around the world to inquire more about taking care of their wooden skis. It was gradual, but the e-mails kept coming in, and that’s when I eventually got the idea of starting my own site devoted to wooden cross-country skis.”

Setting his own price

When Fangel first started selling wooden skis on his website, he had no idea what to charge for them. “There was no established market, so I had to set the price myself, which was eventually copied by other sellers,” he said, adding that all sale proceeds either go to buying other skis or to skiing charities. “I went by feel early on. People started buying them, so I’d raise the price a little. It sort of went on from there.”

Today a pair of wooden skis cost between $95 and $150, far less than modern fiberglass skis. “The higher-end skis may cost $175, give or take,” said Fangel. “That price is pretty low because the demand just isn’t there to justify a higher price. Fiberglass skis cost way more. For higher quality models you’re talking between $400 and $500.”

Fangel’s affinity for wooden cross-country skis began in 1974, when in his 20s, he purchased his first pair for recreational skiing. In the 1980s, he eventually bought his first pair of fiberglass skis. The differences, he said, were stark. “I was amazed at the difference between the two,” he said. “My wood skis seemed to hold wax better while the fiberglass skis were very fast. I kept my wooden skis even though I started to ski fiberglass more often.”

Beginning in the early 1990s, Fangel’s cross-country skiing morphed from the recreational into the competitive. That’s when he started to train for and routinely participate in marathon events like the annual American Birkebeiner in Hayward, Wis. “I skied my first race, my first Birkie, in 1991,” he said. “That’s when cross-country skiing really became my passion.”

Throughout the years, using both fiberglass and wood, Fangel has skied in more than two dozen competitive long-distance races, including an arduous 90K event in Sweden.

“I did a lot of the competitive stuff in my 40s and early 50s, but now I ski just for the enjoyment of being out there,” he said. “Cross-country skiing is similar to biking for me. I feel free when I’m doing it, totally unencumbered. I can go wherever I want to go and breathe in the fresh, clean air. I love the exercise, but being outside is the main attraction.”

Fangel, who skis with his wife most weekends near Tofte on the North Shore, said it’s gratifying when fellow cross-country skiers ask him about his wooden skis. “People seem to love the beauty of wooden skis,” he said. “They’re definitely conversation starters. There’s that element of being different — and people ask a lot of questions about them. They definitely turn a lot of heads.”

And, as something of a wooden cross-country ski historian, Fangel loves to talk about them. “Every pair has a story,” he said. “I’ve done hours of research on wooden skis. The subject, at least to me, is fascinating.”

Asked if he plans to write a book, Fangel said he isn’t sure. “It’s hard for me to be on a long project that seems almost endless,” he said. “I would love to do it, though. Maybe in the future.”

As for now, Fangel said he’s happy skiing recreationally and running his website, which he calls his labor of love. In fact, word of Fangel’s impressive wooden ski collection has spread outside of cross-country skiing circles, which, he says, occasionally brings him some surprising requests.

“The other day I got a request for a pair of wooden skis, poles and boots from the 1950s, as a prop for an Agatha Christie play at a college in Brainerd,” he said. “I get all kinds of requests, and have for years. I’ve even got one from Ralph Lauren for a window display in New York. Who knew?”

This Week on The Collectors Show Ventriloquist Dummies


This week on The Collectors Show (www.webtalkradio.net) Ventriloquist Dummies is our topics with Lisa Sweasy. Lisa is the curator and director of the Vent Haven Museum (www.venthavenmuseum.com).

With over 800 ventriloquist dummies, and other related items, the Vent Haven is one of the most unique collections and/or museums we have ever spoken to.

Achmed is a dead puppet skeleton terrorist animated by Jeff Dunham, a ventriloquist.

Founder and First Collector

William Shakespeare Burger was the founder of the museum who collected dummies for 50 years. He collected his first in 1910. He retired from his job at a tile company in 1947 and devoted full time to the hobby. How did he get his name? After all the handle “William Shakespeare” is a lot to live up to.

Burger’s father was an actor who did Shakespearean plays. The younger Burger was not a performer or actor but certainly spent a lot of time around the theater. He was a collector to the bones. He kept good records and archives, which so often separates the casual collector from the more serious.

W.S. Burger became friends with a ventriloquist named, “The Great Lester”, who was a successful vent performer. No doubt their friendship did much to fuel the interest in the collecting hobby of Burger.

Burger bought his first dummy, Tommy Baloney, during a business trip to New York in 1910, and the collection took off from there. He was also interested in magic, which another type of performance art, which is solitary, though done for an audience. Sort of like a comedian. Lisa did not think he was a frustrated actor. And there plenty of other collectors like Burger.

Burger was fortunate to collect during a time when so many others could not afford to. And was one of the collectors who documented his items, which really separates people who acquire stuff to those who are really devoted to a hobby.

Contemporary Vent Performers

Jeff Dunham is probably the best known today. He has lots of characters including “Akmed The Dead Terrorist”.

Artists Who Fashion Dummies

There are companies who make puppets who also dummies. Most of the older dummies range in price. But there are no dummies made just to collect. There is no mass produced or “dummy of the month club”.

Annual Convention

Since 1975, Vent Haven has hosted a convention. Over 600 people show up every July for 3 days. Workshops, lectures, open mike and dealers. Classes taught to even people under 18. Of course there is a show for the general public on the last day. The Vent Museum is open May 1 – Sept 30 with tours by appointment only.

Over 800 Dummies Is A Whole Lot of Dummy


This week on The Collector’s Show we meet Lisa Sweasy, Curator/Director of the Vent Haven Museum. Many museums start based on the collection of a single person and that is the case this week.

The Vent (short for ventriloquism) Haven Museum is the only museum of its kind in the world.  It houses more than 800 figures, thousands of photographs, playbills, letters, and an extensive library of vent-related books, some of which date back to the 1700’s.

To hear The Collectors Show go to http://www.webtalkradio.net or iTunes.