Collecting More Than an Obsession for New Yorker

Harley Spiller holds one of 10,000 Chinese takeout menus in his collection. i i

hide captionHarley Spiller holds one of 10,000 Chinese takeout menus in his collection.

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Harley Spiller holds one of 10,000 Chinese takeout menus in his collection.

Harley Spiller holds one of 10,000 Chinese takeout menus in his collection.

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Harley Spiller has been a collector since he was 5 years old. From pencils to bottle caps to key rings, Spiller says he probably has about a million objects in his 28- by 10-foot apartment in New York City.

According to Guinness World Records, he's the record holder for the most menus in a private collection. Under his queen-size bed are tucked 10,000 Chinese takeout menus going back to the 1890s.

"I collect everyday, ordinary things people don't think twice about," he says.

Like string.

"It sounds ridiculous. A collection of string — you must be nuts. But string is clothing. Without it, we'd all be naked."

Or a "couple of hundred funky neckties."

And a collection of things that sound like Spiller's name: "I have an autograph to me from Phyllis Diller, signed 'With Love.'" And, in a tough trade with a second-grader, Spiller ended up with a Harry Spillman baseball card.

Or 400 packs of chewing gum.

Spiller's hobby may be hereditary.

"My father's father was in the merchandising redistribution business," he says. "That's a junk dealer. I'm named for him. He would go around with his horse and buggy," buying and selling rags, Spiller says.

"If someone had a musty old couch, he would pick it up and take it home. He was never going to sit in it. As soon as he got it home, he would pull the cushions off, slit the back with a knife and find coins, eyeglasses, scissors — all kinds of cool things."

Or flags from around the world.

"I don't collect stamps. There's too many. They're never-ending...."

Or pictures of food — corn, hot dogs, hamburgers and crabs.

"I know it's unusual, but I think I've got it under control. I think I'm right on the border between obsessed and intelligent about these things.

"I don't really care about the stuff. That's the bottom line. I don't care about my menus. If they were to disappear tomorrow, I'd still know everything I know about them, and that's what matters."

Produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo.

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