Local collectors make a toast - to toasters
County museum exhibit features unique models of commonplace appliance
For 30 years, George and Linda Starbird spent their free time scouring antique stores, junk shops and flea markets. They kept their friends on the lookout. They spent their vacations on high alert. They exhausted their hometown sources.
As their checklist grew, so did their enthusiasm.
The Starbirds, who live in Hillsboro, really like toast. But even more than toast, they like the mechanisms that make toast and the history behind them. The mechanics, the patent wars and the designs led the Starbirds to eventually collect more than 100 toasters over three decades.
Those toasters are now on display at the Washington County Museum as the Toast the New Year display.
While perusing a Gig Harbor, Wash., antique store in the mid-1980s, the couple spotted a toaster collection. It wasnt for sale, so they started on a quest to build up their own cache one that eventually filled their basement. We became passionate, said George Starbird.
Soon they received the National Toaster Association newsletter for collectors, and checked off what they needed to complete their assortment without duplicating.
Georges favorite toaster is one a friend found for them in Santa Barbara. The estate toaster toasts four pieces of bread at the same time, moving each piece laterally, turning it from one side to the other with a lever.
His second favorite is a 1911 General Electric model, one of the first commercial toasters sold. Early 1900s electric toasters were powered with a wire and a connector that was screwed into a light bulb socket.
Those who grew up in the early 1900s all remember the warmth of the thermal wire in the morning, Starbird said.
The green chain toaster, another favorite in the Starbird household, uses a chain to move toast through the appliance. Adjusting the speed makes the toast lighter or darker. You can see the toast go by and fall out the other end, George said.
The Starbirds collection includes pre-electric toasters as well. One George donated to the museum touts a pyramid shape. All four sides are filled with toast and the toaster is then placed on a wood stove a variety still popular today among campers.
The numerous methods for toasting sprang up after General Electric claimed a patent on thermal wire. Other companies trying to make toasters without paying royalties had to get creative. They found all kinds of ways to get around it, George said. Theyre quite the innovations.
Starbird, 76, still remembers toasters with sides that flop down and snap back up. Most of the old toasters have cutout patterns on the sides that burnt patterns into bread most of which was four-inches-by-four inches back in the day and drew out moisture. A drier toast used to be more popular, according to George, and released the flavor of the grains.
George said his old toasters work better than the new ones, as they last longer and are easier to repair. Today, the Starbirds use a newer model made in England, but every now and then like to whip out one of their antiques.
All of the Washington County Museum display toasters work, too. The collection even features a few pieces of local history, such as the 1930s toaster used in the Hillsboro Pharmacy for 60 years.
We wanted the collection to be looked at, George Starbird said. We hope someone can get some enjoyment from it.
The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday, and is located at 120 E Main, Civic Center Plaza, second Floor above Starbucks.JW_DISQUS_ADD_A_COMMENT