International Travel News - August 2004

It all started 20 years ago in London when I bought my first miniature porcelain buildings as gifts. They were replicas of actual houses: Jane Austen's, Dr. Johnson's London house, an oast barn and so on. The gifts didn't get given, and those buildings became the foundation of a 2,000 plus collection.

Every trip means additions to the collection, although they also come from catalogues, antique shops and junk shops, as gifts and, these days, from Ebay. The search for buildings enlivens every trip and lends purpose to my shopping expeditions.

A couple years ago on a "Caves and Cathedrals" tour across northern Spain, I managed never to go inside a cathedral (seen one cathedral, seen them all, at least on that trip!). The group would go inside while I raced around the souvenir shops buying small cathedrals set inside Santiago shells as well as horreos (the raised farm buildings for storing grain specific to Asturias).

For me, the most desirable buildings are those truly souvenir buildings that are made of metal. For reference, think Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building and Notre Dame. The manufacture of souvenir metal buildings more or less ended some years ago and they were replaced by buildings made of composite materials, but recently metal buildings have begun to be manufactured again (in Spain and the Netherlands especially). They are frequently of pewter but also of the standard pot metal finished in brass or silver.

One of my most valued treasures is an "Angkor" made for the 1931 Exposition Coloniale Paris that I bargained for at an outdoor Paris antique show (I in English and the dealer in French). It's rare and valuable. I paid $100 in 1996, and one just went for nearly $900 on Ebay! I know it's insane, but the same could be said of the 300 or 400 people who make up the Souvenir Building Collectors Society in the U.S.

My recent trip to Turkey netted only half a dozen buildings, all of some sort of clay or composite material, but last year's trip to Norway brought a fabulous carved wooden stave church.

Each trip is different, and each building is different. Collecting them is fun and meaningful, especially when I bring home replicas of the very buildings I visited.

Patricia S. Smith
Brooklyn, NY