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    Auction Finds

    Collecting restaurant placemats

    After a preview recently, my auction buddy Janet and I stopped by a diner that has the best Belgian waffles. Toasty and light, without the need for strawberries, whipped cream or any other topping.

    As we waited, Janet began reading the ads on the placemat. That’s what they’re there for: to keep us occupied and to sell products from the businesses nearby. I had not noticed the sheet with its busy array of ads but glanced down at it when she pointed out a shop that sold plants.

    A nice placemat from a New Jersey restaurant sold at auction as part of a collection.

    It would never have occurred to me to take the placemat from the table, slide it into my purse and take it home to start a collection. Some people apparently do.

    At an auction this week, someone’s collection of paper placemats had found its way onto a table. More than 200 of them were stapled back to back on pages inside a large photo album. 

    The album was missing its cover, which may have contained the name of the collector and information about the collection. But the placemats spoke for themselves, and again made me wonder about what people collect.

    No placemat collection is complete without a Howard Johnsons.

    I don’t understand the collecting of placemats. They are so common that most of us ignore them. They’re there to make cleanup less a mess after we leave a restaurant (or even on our dining room table). They are among the items I put in my “unusual collection” category.

    Most of those at auction were from the 1960s, and I saw a few from the early 1970s. They were an interesting portrait of Americana of that period, distinguishing each part of the country from the other (as well as different nations). Many had been done by a company called Springprint of Springfield, OH.

    Restaurants, local and national: The ubiquitous Howard Johnson restaurants. Master Host motels. Local diners. How to eat a lobster. There were no McDonald’s or Burger Kings.

    Teachable moments: Presidents of the United States. State flags and birds. Horoscopes. Foreign words and phrases (Mr. (English)/Monsieur (French)/Signore (Italian)/Senor (Spanish)/Herr (German). Seven Wonders of the World. Civil War Centennial 1965 with battle sites.

    Time-killing exercises and games: Doodling – drawing features on blank faces. Tongue Twisters.

    State and country maps: Florida. Virginia. Italy.

    A Civil War Centennial placemat with battleground sites.

    Interestingly, there were none like the one at our diner table, with a series of ads from local businesses. This collector chose only those representing specific restaurants, and they seemed to have been carefully chosen.

    I wondered why someone would spend the time collecting placemats – for some of the same reasons, I suppose, that I load my refrigerator with magnets from the places I have visited.

    A placemat of Italy and its landmarks.

    Did this collector go to all the towns and cities and countries shown on the placemats or did friends and relatives help out?

    collector whose interview I found by Googling said that he got some of his from friends, especially the placemats from foreign countries. He was interviewed in 1986 after donating part of his 1,000-placemat collection to the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian called it the “Byron Fogel Placemat Collection, ca. 1950-1981.” It consisted of 321 placemats from restaurants, casinos, motels and hotels, and Disneyland, along with others from Nevada and the Bicentennial.

    A placemat that helps you pass the time by doodling.

    In the interview, Fogel said that he got his first placemats as a child, brought back by his mother from a trip to Las Vegas. He began collecting as an adult after encouraging a friend to start a collection and offering to help. Instead, he got hooked.

    The most famous name associated with placemats was not a collector but an illustrator: American cartoonist R. Crumb. His drawings on restaurant placemats can run in the thousands of dollars, even with the food stains. He is much better known for Fritz the Cat.

    The owner of the collection at auction probably had hisor her own story to tell. It was buried, though, among the placemats lying there with the other discards on the auction table.

    A placemat for Grants Family Restaurants shows the price for a very cheap meal.

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    3 Comments

    1. Sherry,

      I found about 8 paper Restaurant Place mats in an auction box lot of ephemera and wanted to know if they were collectable or had any value.

      CPAC

    2. I to am a paper placemat collector, my first one was fron a Dinnies in Pittburge Pa, in 1968 /69, I may have 400-500 and what helped me at the time , was my dad was a truck driver and he would bring me home a few after every trip, later my sister worked as a waitress, and they used them, plus a few friends new I collected them and would save them for me, funny thing was , as soon as I sat down at the table, I would fold up the placemat and put in my jocket, and lo and behold, the waitress would set another one in front of me, like she had forgot to place one there. As the 90 and 2000’s rolled in the world of paper placemats left, my most unique one is from the air lines.:)

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