"The most important factor to consider when buying souvenir china is the image," advised collector Laurence Williams, a hotel consultant in Chatham, Mass. "If a piece is in excellent condition, has an unusual shape or view, shows a popular vacation spot, depicts someone's hometown, or is particularly nostalgic, prices generally will be on the high end," he added.
Prices generally rise when the view on a souvenir no longer exists. "So many of these scenes are gone now. They've been replaced by parking lots," said Gary Leveille, editor of Antique Souvenir Collector. A favorite piece from his collection is a German porcelain boot-shaped souvenir depicting the old railroad station and town hall in his hometown, Great Barrington, Mass. He values it around $50 to $60.
Pieces depicting horse-drawn buggies, street scenes and vintage cars are highly desirable, but Mr. Leveille cautions that some views, such as Plymouth Rock, were made in such large quantities they're difficult to sell today for more than a few dollars. An early 20th-century blue and white plate with a picture of the geyser Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park, priced $18, was spotted recently in Lancaster County, Pa.
Collectors claim souvenir china generally costs the most the closer the seller is to the community pictured -- local demand increases prices. Bounties of souvenir china were dispersed around the country, as tourists trekked home with mementos of their journeys. As a result, it's possible that Baltimore is a good place to acquire vintage souvenirs from Boston or Miami, and that cupboards or closets in Chicago are filled with goodies from Atlantic City or Asbury Park, N.J. Compared to American scenes, souvenirs of foreign countries generally attract less interest from U.S. collectors.
At the mammoth "Atlantique City," N.J., collectibles show in March, dealer "Big Frank" Janczuk, of Grandma's Stuff, in Philadelphia, offered dozens of souvenirs including: a 1920s ashtray ($30) inscribed "Trenton Makes, the World Takes," made by the New Jersey Porcelain Co.; a 4-inch pierced-edge plate depicting Kokomo, Ind. ($32); a shoe-shaped souvenir of St. Anthony Falls, Minn. ($28); and a memento of a lighthouse in Gloucester, Mass. ($28).
Souvenir china buffs say that a clubby network of kindred spirits nationwide is all too willing to keep an eye out for mementos of your favorite place and to buy, sell and trade through newsletter ads and at specialty shows. Bill Wilson, of Manhattan Beach, Calif., who collects souvenirs depicting lighthouses, shipwrecks or Catalina Island, Calif., bought several pieces by phone in April. Wilson was at home in Southern California, while another collector, equipped with a portable phone, prowled a Lancaster County, Pa., souvenir china show, describing the wares for sale.