Travel is an area of collecting that can involve large sums of money (a Concorde nose cone was sold at auction for $550,000 to a U.S.-based Concorde fanatic). But aside from their financial value, many of the better-known collections form amusing slices of stratospheric life. Take American Steve Silberberg's (mercifully unsoiled) collection of airsick bags, boasting 1,279 mint-condition receptacles, including some from outer space. "Show people a barf bag, and right away they're interested," he says.
If you're thinking of starting up your own collection, experts advise that you accumulate anything and everything. Even if you have no interest in safety cards or that bar of hotel soap from Yakutsk, someone will. Online auction sites enable you to share your haul with a much wider market than before, and allow people to compare and competitively bid for memorabilia more easily.
This is a problem faced by Cliff Muskiet. Over the past 30 years the KLM flight attendant has amassed one of the world's largest collections of stewardess uniforms. He even has very rare 1960s uniforms from defunct Braniff Air that were created by celebrated Italian designer Emilio Pucci. But Muskiet is not always happy to depart with spiraling sums for air couture.
A Pan Am uniform from the 1920s can be worth up to $1,000. "Once an airline introduces a new uniform, the old ones become collectors' items because they will never come back," says Muskiet.
And if people like Jeph Gurecka start calling these items art, it might push the prices up even further. The New York City-based sculptor and performance artist—famed for making artwork from decomposing food—is currently collecting menus from plane crashes. Gurecka calls this grisly labor his "last supper" project.
Tasteless or not, most of the collections reveal an innate fascination with travel, invariably rooted in a time when trips seemed more exciting than they do now. One wonders if the overcrowded hub-to-hub travel of today is likely to breed as ardent a generation of collectors. Indeed, with the rise of no-frills airlines, hasn't much of the paraphernalia associated with flying all but vanished? For an answer, check out airlinemeals.net, the largest online collection of photos of airplane fodder. In the section belonging to low-cost carrier Ryanair, there's a picture of an empty table. Looks like collectors will have to find those pepper pots and branded napkins somewhere else.