When you walk into Andrea Cohen's kitchen, it is toasters on parade. Gleaming toasters fill the room. Some sit in tall, custom-made cabinets -- skyboxes for toasters -- that offer great views of all the kitchen action.
Ms. Cohen, of Baltimore, collects toasters. Diane Stonebeck, of Allentown, Pa., collects a variety of kitchen items but has a fondness for pie crimpers, devices that pretty-up pies by giving their top crusts finished edges. I talked to these women recently about why they collect kitchen goods.
Ms. Cohen said she began acquiring toasters about 12 years ago. "I didn't set out to collect toasters," she said. "Somebody gave me a beat-up old toaster with a Band-Aid on it. Then I stumbled on to another different one. Then I had two. Then I 'sneezed' and I had 22." she said.
When she looks at her collection she feels "a sense of history."
"What got me hooked is that they are so different," she said. "You can see that people felt this need to reinvent. The first toasters did not have sides and just held the bread in the middle. You had to watch it, and turn the bread around. And you can just see somebody saying, 'What if we close it up?' And they did. And next somebody said, 'What if we could figure out a way to get it to pop up?' And they did. You look at these toasters and you see American ingenuity at its best."
Her toasters range from the primitive first toaster -- a bare metal apparatus that does not even shoot the toast skyward -- to a slick hideaway toaster that slides in and out of the kitchen wall, to the crowd-pleasing "conga-line" toaster, an old toaster with a modern flair.
The conga-line toaster gets its nickname from the fact that bread dances through on a conveyor belt, she said. It goes through once. If you want dark toast, you slow the conveyor belt. For lighter toast, you speed the belt up. The side of the device, officially called a Toast-O-Lator, has a glass window so you can watch the proceedings.
When Ms. Cohen and her husband, Chuck Rosenfarb, entertain in their Roland Park home they have been known to break out the conga-line toaster. "We bring it out at parties," she said. "It is just a funny thing."
Ms. Stonebeck, who is the home and food editor of the Morning Call, an Allentown newspaper, has recently written a book, "Kitchen Collectibles" (Wallace-Homestead Book Co., Radnor, Pa., $18), on collecting kitchen items.
For her, part of the appeal of buying old tools is they serve as links to the past. Using old tools, especially tools once used by relatives, gives her "warm and cozy feelings," she said -- the kind of feelings kitchens are known for.
For example, she said, take her collection of popcorn poppers. There is the modern, air-style popper. There is the popper from the 1970s, which flips over, allowing the lid to become the bowl. And then there is the popcorn popper her mother used. The one that used oil and looked "like a robot with a glass head."
"When Mom got that out it was always a special night . . . a big thrill," she said. Now the routine and aromas associated with making popcorn in the old popper fill her with a rush of pleasant childhood memories.
She also talked about her three mixers. First there is the full-size KitchenAid. This mixer is too big to fit on Ms. Stonebeck's kitchen counter top so it gets put in storage and is hauled out only for major baking events. Then there is the smaller KitchenAid that sits on the counter and performs everyday mixing. Finally there is the light, rechargeable mixer she uses to mix sauces in pots.
To make her mixer collection complete, Ms. Stonebeck said she would like to buy the model with a medallion on it marking it as the 75th anniversary edition of the KitchenAid mixer. It came out last year and there are still a few available. But if she got one more mixer, she said, "my husband would probably shoot me."
Ms. Stonebeck said her 7-year-old daughter, Margaret, often asks, "Mom, if I keep this, will it be worth something?"
Ms. Stonebeck said the answer she gives her daughter, who is usually asking the value of a new roll of pennies, could also apply to adults buying kitchen items. "If you don't use it, it may be worth some money years from now. But if you do use it, you will have a lot of memories associated with it."
Ms. Stonebeck is not all sentiment. The back of her book has a 63-page price guide offering detailed descriptions and suggested prices for everything from aprons ($25 for hand-sewn, waist-length, patchwork-design cotton) to whisk brooms ($30 for one shaped like Whiskbroom Cigars).
But after listening to Ms. Stonebeck and Ms. Cohen talk about their collections, I think they are more interested in emotional payoffs than getting rich.
Ms. Cohen, for example, said she is looking for one more toaster, the kind that has a rack to keep the already-cooked toast warm. She saw one at an antiques store, she said, but the price was too high. She prefers to find her old toasters in flea markets and junk shops. "To be surprised when your eye meets it from across the room," she said.
As for Ms. Stonebeck, as spring approaches, the beginning of the yard-sale season, she thinks about all those unclaimed pie crimpers sitting in the sunshine and she said she "gets twitchy."