Claudette White’s collection of toothpick holders started with just three. Over time that collection has grown to more than 500.
The holders fill the downstairs of her Washington home. She has multiple shelves displaying some of her favorites collected over the years.
White got her first three after her mother, Mildred, died. She inherited the three antique holders and wasn’t quite sure what to do with them.
White and her husband, Al, decided to get them appraised. About 12 years ago, the two happened to hear that the National Toothpick Holder Collectors’ Society was meeting in Kansas City. White said they decided to check it out.
“That was it — that was the bug that bit us,” she said.
Instead of unloading the three holders, the Whites began collecting. Al, who used to collect old cars, enjoyed it as much as Claudette, she said. They soon bought books and learned more about the holders.
White said she found out they were popular with dining sets in the late part of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century, before using a toothpick at the dinner table was considered a sign of bad manners.
“It went out of style — you weren’t supposed to sit there at the table with a toothpick,” she said.
Because they became less popular, the holders were all several decades old and not easily purchased.
“I don’t want the new, modern ones,” she said.
To build their collection, the Whites began hitting up any and every antique shop they could find. Often, on Sundays with nothing to do, White said they would travel to Columbia to see if any new holders had made their way to town.
White said she and her husband had a routine whenever they entered an antique store. She would go one way and Al would go the other searching among the items for something of interest.
“I loved the hunt,” she said. “I’d hear him whistle from that side of the store and he’d come running in and say ‘I found one!’ Then we’d get out the book and see if we had it.”
In the instances they found something, the two would consult a book to see if the holder was actually valuable or if it was already in their collection.
On some occasions, the Whites stumbled upon some holders that were quite valuable. White said some at conventions can go into the thousands, but her most valued one is worth $250.
When they did find something of value, the two had to play it cool to keep the cost down.
White said the most valuable one in her collection was purchased for about $1.20.
Besides antique shops, the Whites would hit up auctions. Claudette said people often weren’t aware what they had and were just giving them away.
Her husband went to an auction in Washington once and got a big score. White said she wasn’t feeling well, so Al went alone. He bought a set of six for $5 total.
“Nobody was interested in them, so he just bid $5,” she said. “He came home and he was so excited. One was worth, in the book, about $250.”
Her collection is made up of all sorts of different holders, mostly made of glass, but some are stainless steel.
Her favorites are from the Heisey Glass Company.
White said she tried to keep a patriotic red, white and blue theme, but has a few other colors.
She keeps them all organized and cataloged in a series of books.
After her husband’s death in 2013, White put the collecting on hold. Recently, however, she’s begun getting back into the hunt. Before Thanksgiving she went to an antique store with her daughter, Christina.
She’s made pans to attend the next two National Toothpick Holder Collectors’ Society meetings. The next one is in Indianapolis, but the 2018 meeting is set for a familiar place.
The society will return to Kansas City, where it all started for White, and she plans on being there.
“Those two years, for sure, I’m going,” she said.