We collect sheets of toilet paper from around the world. We have about 2,000. In the 1970s we were interested in many items considered antique or collectible. But we caught ourselves judging everything by its monetary value — we didn’t want to be thinking that way. We decided the trick was to collect something that has no value. One of our friends was traveling to Germany, and we hit on the solution by asking her to bring back toilet paper samples. It made it really easy for her because it was free, light and took up no space in her suitcase. We ask our friends to collect sheets from interesting places they visited or from people they met who had unusual stories or occupations.
Sometimes our collectors get a chance to meet celebrities and have been able to get their autographs on the toilet paper. Each toilet paper sample sheet includes the collector’s name, the date collected, the location and any other information. Some people have even done artwork or illustrations directly on the toilet paper — an ordinary ballpoint pen works best.
There’s something about discussing toilet paper collecting at a party that shakes things up a bit.
Rich and Flo Newman, 59, Amherst, USA
We feel like we’ve witnessed the evolution of toilet paper in Europe since we first began collecting in 1978. The first European pieces were very stiff — some felt like crepe paper. Now many of the European samples are much softer. When we first started collecting, most of the pieces were in the category of interesting places. Then we decided to start asking people in various occupations for their autographs.
All of a sudden, friends started bringing us pieces that were signed by celebrities such as actors, musicians, poets and politicians. So what started to become more important were the stories of what the collectors went through to procure these pieces. The collectors were starting to become competitive. One collector even went so far as to bribe a reporter to get Woody Allen’s signature at the Cannes Film Festival.
On several occasions we have been delighted to learn of other toilet paper collectors. In at least three cases, longtime collectors have decided to gift their entire collection to our Museum. We have purchased or been gifted old toilet paper of historic interest. Probably the oldest is a packet of Gayetty paper introduced in 1857 — it was medicated and made from hemp.