STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And it's time now for StoryCorps, the project in which Americans talk about their lives. And today, we'll hear from Harley Spiller. He's a collector. For 40 years, he has stockpiled things like the world's largest private collection of takeout menus. And that earned him a place in the Guinness World Records.
Mr. HARLEY SPILLER (StoryCorps Contributor): I have probably close to a million objects in my 28-by-10-foot apartment - pencils, bottle caps, key rings, 10,000 Chinese menus going back to the 1890s. I have only two chairs in the house - one in each room - a few benches with storage in them. The Chinese menus are under my queen-size bed. About 60 different white plastic spoons.
I collect everyday ordinary things people don't think twice about.
String. It sounds ridiculous. A collection of string — you must be nuts. But without it, we'd all be naked.
A couple of hundred funky neckties.
I have a collection of things that sound like my name: Harley Spiller. I have an autograph to me from Phyllis Diller, signed With Love. I spent 42 minutes doing my doggonist(ph) to trade a second-grader for his baseball card for a first baseman named Harry Spillman.
About 400 different packs of chewing gum.
My father's father was in the merchandise redistribution business. That's a junk dealer. I'm named for him. He would go around with his horse and buggy, and say rags bought, rags sold. And 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.
And I collect flags from around the world, paper money. I don't collect stamps. There's too many. They're never-ending. Every year, every country makes hundreds of different stamps, and there's just too many to be complete.
Pictures of corn and hamburgers and hotdogs and crab.
I mean, 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.
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INSKEEP: That's collector Harley Spiller at StoryCorps in New York City. His interview will be archived along with all the others at the Library of Congress. And you can subscribe to the StoryCorps Podcast by going to npr.org.