The latest in a series where I ask customers (and other collectors) if they'd like to share how they display their collection. Spark plug collector Joe Cook goes above and beyond in today's post.
Joe's a customer, but I certainly don't sell spark plugs, so how'd this post come to be? Ah, it's a wonderful thing for dealers and collectors alike when interests overlap as it did in this case of a 1930's Autolite Spark Plug movie star premium photo. Now I don't know the first thing about spark plugs, let along collecting them, but the very fact that they are collected piqued my interest and I'm so pleased that I followed through and asked to hear more.
But I'll let Joe tell the rest of the story, enjoy:
When I won Cliff's auction for a Madeleine Carroll print he emailed me a confirmation of payment and an invitation to describe how I display my collection. After looking over the VintageMeld and enjoying what it had to offer I replied to Cliff and let him know my main collecting interest was SPARK PLUGS and all things spark plug related--the movie star print of Madeleine Carroll fitting the bill as one of a series of movie starlets released by Autolite Spark Plug as a promotional item. He replied that his request wasn't limited to ephemera collectors, but that he was most interested in the process of collecting and especially display.
Let me start by saying that I am a firm believer in displaying a collection. Collections should be shared and enjoyed by as many people as possible. With that in mind, when I started my spark plug collection 12 years ago I also started my own little mini-museum right in my basement. This has worked out very well and I enjoy sharing my hobby with anyone who is interested.
I still felt I could reach more people if I could make my collection, or at least a representative portion of it, portable. I had a friend build me special display cabinets that can easily be taken from the wall, folded like a suitcase, and taken to any event I desire where they're set-up on specially made tripods for display.
I've enjoyed sharing my collection so much that I've even gone a step further and designed a platform for my pick-up truck that allows me to remove the back seat and carry the cases inside the cab of the truck. I can now load and transport over 1,000 plugs to an event in about 10 minutes! Once there I can set-up the display in about another 10 minutes. To date I have displayed my collection at over 30 events including the New Jersey State Fair, local auto shows, antique tractor and engine shows, and I have given presentations at a local old age home, local tractor club meetings, and one local high school.
I also attend, with my collection, of course, the Spark Plug Collectors of America (SPCOA) meetings with our National/International meeting being held in conjunction with with the Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Association shown in Portland, IN each August. The SPCOA also has a show in Hershey, PA at Hershey Park, in Florida every February at the Florida Flywheelers antique engine and tractor show, and at a couple of smaller shows around the country.
I am currently a Director of the SPCOA and am a former Co-Editor and Vice-President of the club as well. The SPCOA has over 300 members from 12 countries and issues a 32-page newsletter, The IGNITOR, 4 times per year. You can learn more about the SPCOA here.
Returning to the display itself, my plug display cases are 2' X 4' when open and I can mount 132 plugs in each. The case is hinged in the middle and folds in half to 2' X 2'. It locks shut and has a handle on top for easy handling. We used white peg board inside and mount the plugs with plastic tie straps. Most plugs require only one strap, some require two. I make sure they are secure as when the case is folded in half, half of the plugs will be upside down during travel and with all of the potholes in the Northeast I quickly learned to make sure to have them tightly secured! The cases have a Plexiglas cover and the only way to gain access to the plugs is to physically take the case apart. This was done on purpose as I can't always be near the plugs at every event, and since some of them can be worth a lot of money ... well, let's just say the cases are designed to keep an honest man honest!
As I mentioned earlier and my purchase from Cliff attests, I collect all things spark plug related, beyond the plugs themselves. Besides the movie starlet items, I also collect spark plug related posters, post cards, stamps, letterheads, brochures and pamphlets, matchbook covers, decals, signs and counter displays, salesman's samples, patents (over 5,000 of them!), and any and all types of promotional items.
Although I do not as a rule take the more ephemeral items on tour, I do display them in my mini-museum. After a lot of searching I found a poster display rack from a store closing and mounted it on my wall. The rack displays 20 posters, and since I have about 50 posters in my collection I rotate them about twice per year (I'm currently seeking an affordable second rack for some of the additional posters). I mounted the signs along the top of the wall using their supplied mountings.
One wall of the basement was designed to hang my display cases and is angled, or tipped, slightly so the bottom, or ground electrodes, of the plugs can easily be seen. At the same time we built this we added a shelf to display the counter displays and other items.
I put steel shelving along another wall to display all of the Go-Alongs, which is how I refer to the wide array of promotional and hand-out items related to the plugs.
I acquired an old glass display case from an antique shop that was going out of business and refinished it. I display all of my AC brand spark plugs and items in that, sort of a collection inside a collection.
For all of my paperwork items, except the few hanging up, I again have steel shelves set up which hold several three-ring binders containing this ephemera. The items are stoed in acid free plastic pages inside the binder and I keep an area with a desk and chair nearby for people to relax and look them over. For all of my club newsletters (33 years worth!) I have a special display rack, again acquired from a store closing.
On the wall next to my poster display I have a glass display case, also with the white pegboard and pegboard clips, where I store newly acquired items temporarily until I have time to permanently move them to their proper spot inside the collection. For example, my plugs are all displayed alphabetically, according to manufacturer. I have my entire collection cataloged so I can identify and locate items inside the collection as easily as possible. I hope to transfer all of this info to a computer program sometime soon.
Since my collection has expanded too fast for me to build new display cases I brought back a couple of my original one-piece cases and have them on display on a tripod in the middle of the room. I keep some of my better plugs in them and use them to show off the different types and styles of plugs to visitors. After I introduce them to the wonderful world of spark plug collecting with those intro-cases, they are free to roam and enjoy all of the other items inside the room that I've told you about.
To all the collectors out there, I say, display your collection! Let others enjoy what you have so enjoyed collecting. You will be surprised at how many leads for new additions to your collection you will receive from unexpected sources once you have you collection displayed for all to see.
Thanks so much, to Joe Cook, for taking the time to share this with all of us. Particularly I enjoyed reading about the passion for collecting from a collector in an area where I didn't expect to share much common ground. If I knew Joe offline, I'd expect very little of this connection, let alone would I expect him to ever buy anything from me, but as the relation grew from customer into this post I'm pleasantly surprised to see that there's much more in common that I could have ever guessed.
Please have a look at this page if you'd like to Share Your Collection with us like Joe Cook did.