Perhaps it starts as a child, with a box full of bottle caps or a container of popsicle sticks.

Maybe it springs from a love of history, a sentimental connection to one’s ancestors or simply the inherent thrill of “the hunt.”

There are as many reasons for becoming a collector as there are items to collect. From radio equipment to pool cues, keychains to antique malt mixers, many local residents are the proud owners of expansive and extraordinary collections.

“There’s just something about being able to collect something,” said Sherry Suess, a Galena, Ill., resident who collects advertising tins. “I can’t explain it, but it’s just a fun thing to be on the lookout for.”

Here are the stories of more than 15 area residents, who share the reasons behind their collections, how they find their items and their favorite memories from years of collecting.

Sherry Suess

Age: 71

Lives in: Galena, Ill.

Collects: Advertising tins

Sherry Suess started collecting advertising tins in the 1980s, primarily for the artwork they featured.

“They’re just so neat,” she said, holding up a tin depicting the famous man-in-the-moon photo from the 1902 Georges Melies film “A Trip to the Moon.”

Suess displays her collection on shelves in her garage and throughout her home.

By the front door, Altoids tins rest on a display case. The tops of the kitchen cabinets are lined with potato chip and Cracker Jack ones. Animal cracker tins hold her cookie cutters.

Upstairs, the bedrooms and hallway feature a rainbow assortment of tins on shelves. Most are organized by brand or item — Campbell’s, M&M, Coca-Cola, Crayola, Hershey.

At one point, Suess had more than 1,000 tins, although she has sold and given away many over the years. She estimates she still has at least 500.

Suess primarily found them at garage sales or received them as gifts. Many hold memories of the people or places they came from.

“There are special tins that people have given me,” she said, pointing out one from a Long Island vacation she took with a friend.

She acquired many of the tins she owns from Fossil, a company that manufactures watches and sunglasses.

“I was over at Medical Associates getting my new glasses one day … and I saw a (Fossil) tin on display, and I said, ‘Can I buy that tin?’” Suess recalled. “I told them I collected them, and he came out with a whole bag full of tins because he said, ‘Nobody wants the tins — they just want to take the sunglasses.’”

Max Smith

Age: 66

Lives in: Dubuque

Collects: Anvils

Max Smith’s anvil collection started with a gift.

“I had one given to me about 35 years ago, from a man in Hazel Green (Wis.). I wanted to buy it from him, but he said, ‘You can have it, as long as you never get rid of it,’” said Smith. “That sort of started my collection.”

He now has more than 100 anvils stored in his garage, including French “pig anvils,” stump anvils, cone anvils and boilermaker’s anvils. He even has a cast-iron anvil that he believes came from Dubuque Boat and Boiler Works.

Smith has collected various items over the years, including tractors, but he said anvils are easier to store and keep in good condition.

“You can restore (a tractor) the best possible way, and you let it sit a year, and there’s issues. They leak oil; (they) might not start; tires go flat,” he said. “With anvils, there’s no maintenance.”

Although he does not use the anvils, the owner of Max Smith Concrete Construction said they are “something I can relate to” as a construction laborer.

“I always liked doing steelwork and fabricating,” he said. “I’ve worked with metal my whole life.”

Smith finds anvils at auctions and by perusing Facebook Marketplace. He will travel considerable distances to pick up his latest find.

“In March, I was in 14 states in five days anvil-collecting,” he said, noting that he made stops in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Oklahoma, Arizona and New Mexico. “I had a full load coming back.”

He also works with professional “anvil jockeys” who purchase them overseas to sell to collectors such as himself.

Smith said a common anvil might be between 125 and 250 pounds, but he seeks out larger ones. His heaviest weighs more than 900 pounds.

“There’s not many in the world that big,” he said.

The oldest anvil that Smith owns is dated from 1533. He enjoys consulting books, catalogs and encyclopedias to learn about the history of each anvil that he collects.

Sam Klinebriel

Age: 11

Lives in: Dubuque

Collects: Star Wars items

For Sam Klinebriel, the appeal of collecting his Star Wars items is simple.

“I just like the fun of playing with them really,” he said, with a shrug. “I’m a kid.”

Sam’s love of Star Wars is apparent from the first step into his bedroom, which is festooned with Star Wars action figures, stuffed animals, playsets, books, board games and more. Stickers and decals of the franchise’s famous characters adorn the walls, and his bedspread features a large image of Yoda.

Sam began collecting Star Wars items at age 5, after watching the films with his father.

“I just felt like the stories were interesting, and I wanted to re-enact them with the figures,” he said.

The action figures are the crown jewel of Sam’s collection. He currently has 385 figurines, with only a few duplicates. When playing with them, he sometimes recreates plot points from the films, but he also invents his own stories.

“These two characters never meet, but I just like putting different characters together,” he said, holding up a figurine of Commander Wolffe and one of Baby Yoda. “... I have a lot of figures, so I can do a lot of different things.”

Any time he has spending money, Sam said it usually goes toward his next action figure, which he purchases online or at Target. He also receives action figures and other items as gifts.

Sam’s passion for Star Wars extends beyond his physical collection.

He has competed in Star Wars quiz contests — “and I won,” he adds proudly. He dressed up as a Mandalorian for Halloween last year, complete with a homemade helmet, and he has his own Star Wars-themed YouTube channel.

He’s particularly excited for an upcoming family trip to Disneyland, where he will visit Galaxy’s Edge, a Star Wars-themed area.

“My friends also like Star Wars (but) not as much as I do,” he said, glancing around his room. “I mean, their rooms don’t look like this.”

Ron Timmerman

Age: 73

Lives in: Kieler, Wis.

Collects: Massey Ferguson tractors

Ron Timmerman and his father both farmed with Massey Ferguson tractors, so it was perhaps natural for the Kieler resident to collect the machines.

He owns close to 100 Massey Ferguson tractors in various sizes.

“I have the most of the little miniature ones, the 1/16th scale,” said Timmerman. “Then, I’ve got six pedal tractors, five garden tractors and five bigger tractors.”

He proudly noted that among his toy tractors, he has one model of every machine he ever used as a farmer.

Timmerman’s collecting connects him with fellow tractor enthusiasts, including an Australian collector who bought multiple tractors from him.

“I got hooked up with this collector in Australia ... and I approached him one day when he was here and asked if he wanted to buy one of my tractors,” Timmerman said. “In Australia, he couldn’t find this particular model that I had. … I told him the price, and he never even flinched. He said, ‘I’ll take it!’”

When Timmerman looks to purchase a tractor, he will peruse Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist or follow a tip from a friend or family member. He has traveled as far as Indiana and Ohio to collect a purchase.

One of Timmerman’s favorite parts of the collecting process is restoring old tractors.

“I love to find old junk ones and spend time and make them look brand new,” he said. “... It usually takes me about a year to complete one from looking like they come out of a junkyard until they belong in a showroom.”

He also relishes the chance to show off his collection to passersby.

“My garden tractor collection, I just love to get out and set it out on a sunny day or a holiday, and people come by and look at them,” he said.

John B. Donovan

Age: 72

Lives in: Dubuque

Collects: Walruses

John Donovan is fully aware his collection is unusual.

“I’ve not met anyone else who collects walrus,” he said.

Donovan started collecting walruses in 1980. At the time, he was a resident of Tacoma, Wash., and volunteered at the local Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.

One day, a zoo employee introduced him to the newest tenants: two walrus pups.

“They were 150 pounds of blubber and just charming,” Donovan said.

He helped care for the pups, swimming with them until they weighed about 700 pounds. The friendship sparked his collection of walruses in all shapes and sizes.

Donovan has walruses made of leather, glass, wire, porcelain, wood and soap. He has stuffed animals, sock puppets, pins and a crocheted walrus named Molly.

Some are multifunctional, including the puzzles, whistles, erasers and even a toothbrush holder. He also has many greeting cards, books, paintings and drawings featuring the tusked mammals.

“Is there anything valuable in there? No,” he said, gesturing to a table full of walruses in his home. “It’s just that I’ve got this passion for them.”

If he counts each card separately, Donovan has more than 600 walruses, though many remain packed away most of the time.

Donovan also has a collection of marbles — he estimates between 200 and 300.

“I’ve always loved glass,” he said, displaying some of his colorful favorites.

The collection also includes clay and metal marbles.

The walruses, however, remain Donovan’s true love. On his right ankle, he even sports a tattoo of the original female walrus he cared for, Rosie.

He is constantly surprised by the unique materials that artists use to create the walruses he acquires.

“There’s some real neat creativity, like with this medium,” he said, indicating a small walrus covered in real seal fur.

Diane Harris

Age: 66

Lives in: Dubuque

Collects: Vintage clothing, shoes, hats, purses, license plates and more

While some collectors display their findings in glass cases or on fancy shelves, Diane Harris has a whole room dedicated to the purpose.

The room in the basement of her home is lined with hats, bustles, shoes, purses, dresses and many other items she collected. Trunks, plastic bins and vintage suitcases, all neatly labeled, hold a vast array of artifacts both old and new.

“Unusual things kind of catch my eye,” she said.

One of her most robust collections is her collection of women’s corsets and bustles from the 1800s, displayed on mannequins around the room.

“I myself had never seen a bustle … so I just started researching,” said Harris, describing how she began collecting the unique items.

Harris also collects shoes and hats from all eras. Her hat collection includes wizard’s hats and newsboy caps, straw hats and pillbox hats. In terms of footwear, she owns everything from slippers to sandals to Converse high tops to old-fashioned, high-button shoes.

She is particularly proud of a pair of shoes that still has its maker’s mark on the sole — E.B. Piekenbrock & Son, of Dubuque.

“It’s rare to find a shoe made in Dubuque … but it’s exciting,” she said.

In addition to her clothing collections, Harris collects rocks and license plates, also carefully organized and labeled. Her oldest Iowa plate dates from 1916 to 1918.

Harris has hosted many shows featuring her antique collections, presenting to church groups, bus tours and more. She usually dons a vintage dress to portray a Victorian lady during the shows, although she has not hosted one since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The historical research involved in her collections is what drives Harris. She began studying genealogy in junior high school with her mother and is her family’s historian.

In fact, one wall of the room features framed photographs and documents telling the story of her ancestors.

“I like genealogy, and I like history,” she said. “The hunt and the research … keeps your mind busy.”

Many other area residents shared their love for collecting with the Telegraph Herald. Here is a brief list of some of their unique collections:

Neil Aitchison

Age: 64

Lives in: Asbury, Iowa

“I have four or five collections, starting with rubber and plastic cars from the 1940s to the ’60s (and) 500 to 600 Dubuque trade tokens.”

Dean Boles and Karla Wildberger

Ages: 59 and 54

Live in: Dubuque

“(We) have collected some tokens, congressional medals and U.S. coins related to African-American history. We started this collection as a result of participating in Inclusive Dubuque events. Over the past few years, we’ve shared these items with the Multicultural Family Center, the Carnegie-Stout Public Library and a class at the University of Dubuque.”

Janet Chidley

Age: 76

Lives in: Asbury, Iowa

“I have collected miniatures from around the world. There are about 200 ... from (U.S.) states or countries I have visited in South America, Cuba, Europe, Africa, Baltic countries, etc. When I could, I tried to find something representative of the country or state I was visiting.”

Gary Knepper

Age: 66

Lives in: Cascade, Iowa

“I have a collection of advertising, manuals and technical publications from the original Indian Motorcycle Co. My items are primarily from 1948 but from other years also, mostly the 1940s. The reason for the focus on 1948 is that I own an Indian Chief motorcycle from that year. I also have a few non-Indian pieces.”

Terry Leibold

Age: 66

Lives in: Dubuque

“Over the past 30-plus years, I have been collecting Meadow Gold Dairy items. My father worked at the dairy that was located in Dubuque for at least 25 years as a route salesman. My collection includes service pins he received, milk bottles, creamers, toys, clocks, advertising pieces, outside porch boxes and so much more.”

Eric Lucy

Age: 55

Lives in: Dubuque

“I have (collected) many items that are specific to the Masters golf tournament and Augusta National. Some items include signed golf balls, scorecards, flags and photos of past champions, plus many other rare items. I have every badge/ticket from the very first year in 1934 to present, and most I had signed by the champion of that particular year.”

Ron Rausch

Age: 71

Lives in: Dubuque

“I first got interested in radio and electronics at a very young age, picking up discarded radios and TVs for their parts. I have been a federally licensed amateur radio operator for 56 years. ... I have a collection of radio equipment manufactured by Collins Radio (in) Cedar Rapids during the late 1950s through the 1980s. I operate on the radio almost daily and enjoy building equipment and keeping contact with my many radio friends.”

Bob Steinmann

Lives in: Dubuque

“I have several types of collections: pool cues, pool memorabilia, knives and police patches. I am a retired Dubuque police officer and have done pool cue repair for 45 years.”

Dean Wessels

Age: 65

Lives in: Dyersville, Iowa

“I have a license plate collection with one automobile plate and one motorcycle plate from each U.S. state … a few from Canadian provinces and several from foreign countries. I also have a collection of close to 1,000 keychains, (and) I have a Monkees memorabilia collection. It includes photos, posters, CDs, 45s, buttons, watches and a little bit of everything. My prized possession is an autograph of Davy Jones from when he performed in Dubuque.”

Brenda Wickham

Age: 80

Lives in: Dubuque

“I have a collection of about 30 cobbler and shoemaker figurines in honor of my parents, who operated Sager’s Shoe Repair Shop in Dubuque. I have some miniatures, an Italian piece I got in Florida, a Santa Claus shoemaker, one from Belgium and more.”

Allan Winter

Age: 73

Lives in: Dubuque

“I have a collection of over 2,600 logo golf balls all on a rack on a wall in my garage. I have been playing golf for about 40 years, on two teams with about 50 other players. I started collecting logo balls, and everyone started giving me the balls.”

Thomas Zuccaro

Age: 63

Lives in: Sherrill, Iowa

“In 1985, I began picking antiques by way of door knocking in the country of Minnesota. I would sell my finds to antique dealers. In 1990, I became an antique dealer myself … (until) I quit the business in 1995. I now collect a general variety of items. I concentrate on antique furniture, Red Wing stoneware and Hamilton Beach Malt Mixers. The malt mixers have turned into a repair business ... for folks all over the country.”

Larry Larson

Lives in: Wauzeka, Wis.

“I consider myself a collector of collections. Here’s a few of my favorites:

Kickapoo Indian remedies, bottles, pamphlets and signs from the late 1800s to early 1900s.

A few hundred wooden cigar boxes, mostly from 1870 to 1920.

A library of books that belonged to Wisconsin Territorial Judge M. M. Cothren from Mineral Point.

A scrapbook and original art of editorial cartoonist Harry Osborn, a Darlington, Wis., native. The scrapbook has 86 cartoons dating from 1901 to 1904 for the Milwaukee Journal and Philadelphia Press.”

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