Some collectors are armchair travelers who scour eBay in search new building replicas. Other collectors travel the world, literally, and acquire miniature buildings along the way. Keith is a collector from Washington, D.C. who embodies the latter category.
How did you get started collecting souvenir buildings?
“I honestly am not sure. I think the truth is that a friend of mine, Glenn, started to purchase building/monument miniatures in the late 1980s and I thought they were cool. Since I like to travel, I started to notice that in many places it was possible to find souvenir buildings. Certainly the time I became hooked was in fall of 1990 when I was traveling with a friend to the USSR. It was a few months after the fall of the Berlin Wall and we were in Moscow and went in the GUM Department Store. It was a very chaotic shopping experience (on one table would be extra large girdles, the next would be pink socks, the next toasters)…when suddenly we came upon a table of Russian metallic buildings. The buildings ranged from the Kremlin to famous churches, they were exquisitely done and perched on a green marble base. They had about twenty left and I bought all of them. This was the start of a three-week vacation and soon realized that while each individual building didn’t weigh a lot, twenty did! But, I was hooked and since then, no trip of mine is quite successful unless I find a local building.”
Why do you collect souvenir buildings?
“I think it is a terrific, three-dimensional way to remember what you have seen/experienced. While I also take photos, I like that the souvenir buildings even more. One big advantage is that they are sitting out and remind me of what I have seen-- whereas pictures or postcards are typically hidden away in photo books or on computer/camera hard drives. When I am walking around our house, I come upon a building and I suddenly remember the trip where I got it or the market where I found the hidden gem. I also think that architecture really reflects a particular time, people and culture. And, while you can see a zillion castles or cathedrals, they have considerable differences. By displaying the buildings in our home which would never been seen together I feel like I bring together the world.”
How many total souvenir buildings do you have in your collection?
“I am not sure and since I am writing this on a flight – I travel a lot—I really can’t verify. I have a lot, but probably not as many as some of the folks in your club. I would guess over 200. My one requirement is that since I collect as part of my travels, I have to have seen the building in question. (I suppose now I am going to look over my collection and realize I have just lied and bought one or two I have not seen but with the strong intention to see the actual site). So, I don’t randomly buy miniature collections. The collection is a very personal reflection of my travels around the world. The collection is for me and my memory, and hopefully others find it interesting when I explain where things are from.”
How long have you been collecting?
“Certainly over 20 years. I don’t think I was serious about collecting them until 1990.”
Which is your favorite and why?
“I am not sure I have a “favorite”, but I do like the quirky. For example, we found a model of the Radio Moscow building in an antique shop in Australia. The building is actually a 1950’s Bakalite sculpture which is a real radio (though we have never found Russian batteries to see if it works).”
How and where do you buy most of your items?
“I really like to find handmade or artisan crafted or antique buildings/monuments from the places I am visiting. Therefore, antique markets/shops or craft fairs are the best. Sometimes I have no choice but to buy current buildings in tourist shops…but I try to find the most interesting and detailed buildings. I try to buy things that are made in the actual country (vs. China). “
How do you display your collection?
“Some might say it is a mish-mash of buildings, mostly crammed into two lighted display cases – with overflow on our radiator covers. I prefer to think of it as the world’s city of most interesting building. Seriously, I think we need some additional display shelves!”
Any interesting stories about your collecting experience?
“I remember being in Cambodia and visiting Angor Wat. I really wanted a replica of the temple. At the time (late 1990s) I didn’t see any. Our last night I went to a market and was asking (actually making gestures) for a small building and not sure anyone really understood. As I was leaving the market, someone tapped me on shoulder and pulled out a cast metal copy of the temple. It was more heavy than I would have liked in an ideal world, but I have never seen another like it. It was worth carrying it back. On that same trip, we were in the Vietnamese imperial city of Hue and I found a local artist who had carved the royal temples out of thin black and white material (not really sure what it is…the white looks like alabaster). The craftsmanship was incredible and somehow it got back to the US without being crushed.”
Anything additional you’d like to share about your collection?
“Since the collection is all about my travels, I want to find unique buildings/monuments. Therefore, this crazy hobby has brought me to a many markets and antique stores and artists around the world. I love the quest to find the perfect building/monument and have no intention of stopping until I have no more room…which will be soon if we don’t get more shelves!” - Keith