Alex Bready, Candy Man
1,400 PEZ Dispensers
Even though Alex Bready, 27, works as an inventory planner and buyer, he can only estimate how many PEZ dispensers he owns: "About 1,400." "Collecting is embedded in my DNA," he says: His grandfather collected Maryland rye whiskey bottles and sports memorabilia; his grandmother collected doorstops, cookie cutters, and rabbits; and his father collects Uncle Scrooge comic books and memorabilia and first-edition Edward Gorey books. Through the years, Bready has collected Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, baseball cards, and comic books. Now it's the PEZ dispensers, which he purchases at conventions, spending as much as $2,500 at one show, and online, at the rate of 75 to 100 a year. "I hate the candy," he says, "but I like the brightly colored dispensers." His Baltimore home is filled with dispensers depicting Disney, Warner Brothers, and Looney Tunes characters, plus PEZ guns, calculators, and puzzles.
Richard Macksey, Bookworm
Collecting books is not that big a stretch for a longtime comparative literature professor at Johns Hopkins University—but 75,000 of them? As a boy, Richard Macksey found the local book shop short on children's books, so he bought adult-level books. "Television wasn't as seductive back them, so I preferred to read Henry James books," says Macksey, 77. The bulk of the collection is packed into the ceiling-high shelves in his garage-turned-library—and in piles that don't fit in the shelves. So, has he read them all? "No, but I have used them all in one way or the other," he says cryptically. They're valued from $1 to thousands of dollars each, but it's the books' sentimental value that matters most to him. "We're sloppy about the way we talk about values," he says. "A car may have a certain market value, but there are also values that only mean something to the owner."
Michael Soukup, Butterfly Effect
10,000+ Moths and Butterflies
Collecting butterflies: Nothing wrong with that, right? But how about more than 10,000 moths and butterflies from all over the world? "About 95 percent of my collection is moths, because there are more than 5,000 types in the state," says Severn's Michael Soukup, 49. "People think moths are just gray things that eat their sweaters, but they are beautiful." But he doesn't just catch them and pin their little wings to cardboard—he also makes them into jewelry. And he raises moths and butterflies and has anywhere from 1,000-5,000 cocoons on his property. Once, while watching The Silence of the Lambs, a movie that features a serial killer who is a butterfly collector, he noticed a discrepancy. "In the movie, the killer says he is working on a Death's Head Sphinx Moth, but it was the wrong moth," he says. "The USDA wouldn't let them use the Death's Head for the movie, so they used a Five-Spotted Hawk Moth instead."
Mitch Shanks, Sitting Ducks
Know Mitch Shanks's collections, and you'll know a bit about him. The 53-year-old Havre de Grace native has a collection of 500 decoys, including pieces carved by his grandfather, renowned decoy carver R. Madison Mitchell. Another collection: 1,500 lead soldiers from all over the world conscripted by his father, who worked at Aberdeen Proving Grounds. And, yes, there's more: 5,000 pieces of Walt Disney-related items including figurines, ornaments, and porcelain pieces, displayed on floor-to-ceiling shelves in a room painted in the Disney colors of red, black, yellow, and white. Other collections include thousands of Matchbox cars and a baseball memorabilia collection. "But Mickey Mouse is still my favorite," says Shanks, who has visited the Disney theme parks more than 50 times. He even named his daughter Michi. "But if she had been a boy, it would have been spelled Mickey."
Dawn Zeigler, Card Shark
2,000 Decks of Cards
Hey, Dawn Zeigler, what's with all the tote bags? That's where the 46-year-old Parkton resident keeps her 2,000 decks of cards, of course. As a youngster, Zeigler remembers liking the fresh ink smell of her first, new pack of cards. People started giving her decks of cards and before she knew it, she was collecting them. Costing between $2 and $350, she's got plastic playing cards, souvenir cards from other countries, a rare 1934 World's Fair deck, Braille cards, circle-shaped cards, and oversized cards. Zeigler, a safety officer at St. Joseph Medical Center, does play various card games, but is more interested in the cards themselves. "I don't think there's some sort of weird brain synapse that can explain why I collect them—it's just something I like." Of course, some people just don't get it. "When people see my collection, they are shocked at first," she says. "Then they wonder what medication I'm on.
Bruce Elliott, Invisible Ink
500 Rocker Blotters
WBAL radio talk-show host Bruce Elliott likes his ink dry—he's collected about 500 rocker blotters, an antiquated device with a curved base used to absorb excess ink from quill pens. He became interested in rocker blotters about a decade ago when he was in the market for letter openers that were sold in sets that included one. "I'm fascinated by things that were once common in our culture but are all but gone now," says Elliott. They've come mostly from antique shops, costing $5 to $500, and are made from stone, ivory, jade, and metal. Highlights include a few made by Tiffany Company and one made from the planking of a British ship, given as a gift to an officer in the British army. "Rocker blotters are tiny little pieces of sculpture," Elliott says. "When people come to the house, they tend to scratch their heads. But I know people who collect stranger things. I have a friend who collects slide rules."
Ruth Pretty, Birds of a Feather
1,300 Rooster-themed Objects
Ruth Pretty is the proud owner of about 1,300 rooster-themed objects, displayed in every room of her Nottingham home. The 47-year-old office manager started collecting them after she spotted a set of three for $11.99 in a mail-order catalog. Eleven years and a few thousand dollars later, she's amassed a hen house worth of figurines, rooster cookie jars, napkin holders, teacups, potholders, nightlights, baskets, kitchen gizmos, snow globes, clocks, salt-and-pepper shakers, and more. Highlights include a hand-blown glass piece shaped like feathers and an over-the-top toilet paper holder—oh, and then there's the rooster tattoo on her calf. Perhaps the only thing missing from her collection is a real, live bird. "People don't think of roosters as being beautiful, but they are," crows Pretty. "I would love to have a real one, but I don't think my neighbors would like it."