When asked to identify my favorite antique or collectible, my stock answer is the next one I buy. When asked to identify my favorite “Rinker on Collectibles” column, I answer in a similar fashion– the next one I write. All my columns (this one is No. 1742) are favorites, albeit I enjoy writing the text columns more than the question and answer column because the text columns allow me to share my analysis, thoughts, and humor (occasionally stretching the boundaries of propriety) about the antiques and collectibles trade.
Like an artist, I am too close to my columns to know whether I have written a bad, good, great, or extraordinary column. I constantly am amazed when readers email or tell me that such and such a column is their favorite. Over time, I found the one thing these columns have in common is the reader’s ability to personally identify with the column.
From the beginning, my goal was to make the “Rinker on Collectibles” text columns informative, personal, and occasionally a little silly. Although I take the business of antiques and collectibles very seriously, I find it offers numerous opportunities to laugh, especially when one considers the circumstance under which business is sometimes conducted and the eccentricities of auctioneers, collectors, dealers and others involved in the collecting community.
The toilet paper hoarding associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent receipt of numerous toilet paper fact emails from friends served as a reminder that many of my early readers remembered one particular “Rinker on Collectibles” column.
“Rinker on Collectibles” Column #92, written in the early fall of 1988 (almost 31 and 3/4 years ago) was entitled “All Toilet Paper Is Not Created Equal.” In the column, I established criteria for collecting toilet paper and laid the foundation for what became my own modest toilet paper collection.
[Author’s Aside: If you have never read the column, go to www.harryrinker.com, click on “Rinker on Collectibles Special Series columns, and click on Column #92 in the “Classic Columns” section. A quick link is http://harryrinker.com/col-92.html.]
The column appeared in “Rinker on Collectibles,” a compilation of my earliest columns that was published by Wallace-Homestead Book Company in 1989. In addition, the column was publishing in an edition of “Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader” and, to my delight, in “The Best of Uncle John’s Bathroom Readers.” As a result, I was besieged with toilet paper collected by world travelers to prison inmates who followed my collection rules and sent me samples to include in my collection. In the late 2000s, I still was receiving two to five letters a year from individuals who had read the column. The letters stopped in 2010 when my mailing address changed from the one that was listed in the Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader reprint. I rest content that somewhere within the United States Postal Service are dozens of undeliverable letters filled with toilet paper samples that were addressed to me.
“All Toilet Paper is Not Created Equal” included descriptions of what became the nucleus of my toilet paper collection. At first, I only was interested in collecting types of toilet paper, specializing first in texture and then country of origin. Within months, I expanded the focus to include historic toilet paper. I limited the collection to unused commercially made varieties. I saw no merit in collecting used sheets of Sears, Roebuck catalogs or corn cobs. Their personal outhouse memories I wished to forget.
Instead of one thing leading to another, one sheet led to another within the toilet paper collection. Small military and travel packs of toilet paper led to collecting rolls of toilet paper. Rolls often came in packages of two, four, six and more. Early packages became an essential collection component.
Toilet paper manufacturers used incentives to sell their product. One manufacturer printed cutout figures of buildings and individuals who lived in Toilet Town. Eventually, I owned a full set. Great Northern and several other toilet paper manufacturers issued advertising premium jigsaw puzzles. I owned these but housed them in my advertising jigsaw puzzle collection as opposed to the toilet paper collection.
My good friend Alice Acheson was one of the individuals who sent me an email with an attachment entitled “HISTORY OF TOILET PAPER,” a listing of 38 facts about toilet paper and its use or non-use throughout the world. Fact number four reads: “Joseph Gayety, the man who introduced packaged TP to the U.S., had his name printed on every sheet.” I am green with envy. Had I known this in the 1990s, I would not have rested until I had an example in my collection.
What I did own were toilet papers containing the images of famous and infamous individuals. During World War II, toilet paper was issued with cartoon images of Hirohito, Hitler, and Mussolini printed on each sheet. The concept of wiping one’s derriere with _____ originated long before World War II. My collection included a piece of toilet paper with German General Paul Hindenburg’s picture.
The collection included a roll with the images of the Ayatollah Khamenei on each sheet. I never acquired a roll with President Clinton’s picture (it did exist) although not for lack of trying. I recently saw an advertisement for a roll of toilet paper with President Trump’s facial image printed on each sheet. I am certain Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are ordering by the boxcar load.
My toilet paper collection was among the many victims of my 2011 move from the Vera Cruz [PA] Elementary School, my residence and headquarters for Rinker Enterprises, Inc. to my new home in Kentwood, Michigan. I promised myself that I would never feel remorse for the collections and objects that were left behind and sold. In reality, a day hardly goes by that I do not think about one or more of those objects and rack my brain as to why I did not take them with me to Michigan.
In reviewing the “HISTORY OF TOILET PAPER” fact sheet, I decided to share a few tidbits. As you might suspect, I plan to add my own perspective to the facts.
I was surprised to learn that the average roll of toilet paper contains 333 sheets. I would like to meet the genius that took the time to count. Further, the figure obviously is not trustworthy given the lack of a uniform thickness standards for toilet paper.
If Americans use an average of 8.6 sheets of toilet paper per trip to the bathroom, then I am a toilet paper abuser. Those who are on the downside of this average need a lesson in proper sanitary practices.
Packaged toilet paper was not sold in the United States until 1857. Does this mean our colonial ancestors used single paper sheets or other materials? It was not until 1935 that a manufacturer was able to promise splinter-free toilet paper. Ouch. Based on my collection, I question the accuracy of that date, albeit I never used any of the early toilet paper in my collection to prove or disprove this point.
70 to 75 percent of the world still does not use toilet paper because it is too expensive and or there is not sufficient plumbing. Common courtesy prohibits me from providing you a detailed account of trying to find a toilet in a rural village on a 1990s bus trip from Cozumel to Tulum, Mexico. It is sufficient to state that taking a dump in the local outside dump presented a fascinating challenge.
In 1996, President Clinton passed a toilet paper tax of six cents a roll which still is in effect. In the current COVID-19 toilet paper shortage hopefully some astute government official somewhere will have enough sense to remove the six cents tax.
I completely disagree with those individuals who maintain that those who pull toilet paper from the bottom are more intelligent than those who pull it from the top. That is a load of bulls---, or feathers if preferred.
Nobody’s Perfect, the virtual toilet paper museum website expired on November 13, 2015. It was not renewed. The Museum of Bathroom Tissue in Madison, Wisconsin closed in 2000. At the moment, with the exception of a few private collectors, no institution has stepped forward as a white knight in shining armor (polished, of course, with tissue paper) to preserve the history of this essential object to the well-being of humanity. An opportunity awaits.
Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Selected letters will be answered in this column. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Photos and other material submitted cannot be returned. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Point Court SE, Kentwood, MI 49512. You also can e-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered.