Souvenir Buildings

By Karen Parr Moody 



Germantown architect Michael Emrick is covered up in buildings ... 1,500 to be precise. That is the amount of diminutive metal souvenir buildings he has collected throughout the years. At his GasLamp showcase, he sells extras of buildings he already has in his personal collection. 



"And 1,500 is not a big collection," Emrick insists. "There are people have have 5,000 and 6,000." (In the photo, right, are just some of the buildings he has in his home). He said the buildings can range in value from a few dollars to the thousands. The more valuable ones, he says, include "those that were souvenirs people picked up during grand tours of Europe in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Usually they are fine quality castings in brass." 



When these souvenirs first hit the scene during the late 1800s, they came in a variety of metals, including lead or lead alloy with a bronze or brass finish, said Emrick. Later on, manufacturers transitioned into using pewter. 



These souvenir buildings were originally used as paperweights, but have also been turned into clocks, lamps, thermometers, and salt and pepper shakers. He said there is a group of collectors attracted to the subset of salt and pepper shakers fashioned out of  metal buildings, which leads to a lot of crossover collecting. Emrick's collection of souvenir buildings is mostly metal, with a few ceramic items thrown in here and there. He also has a "side collection" of buildings fashioned into beverage decanters. One of Emrick's more unusual items in his decanter collection is a ceramic Japanese temple that is a saki bottle. 


Since many souvenirs buildings memorialize historic structures, they make the perfect collection for Emrick, whose specialty in architecture is historic preservation work.



His collection of 1,500 souvenir buildings includes finds from the American Southwest, Asia, China, and Japan. One of the Asian pieces is the model of the  Selangor State Secretariate of Kuala Lumpur, seen in the photo at left. 



He said one of the more valuable buildings he has ever had was a model of the State Secretariat Building in Malaysia, which was made of one-and-a-half pounds of sterling silver. A valuable one he recently sold at GasLamp was a foot-high Empire State Building. "It was a pretty nice piece because of the size and detail," he explains. 


The more common ones include historic buildings such as the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The Little White House in Georgia, located in Emrick's showcase at GasLamp, is one of the more unusual pieces, he says. In the photo, right, are some of the buildings he has for sale: Little Brown Church bank, $20; Basilica of Immaculate Conception D.C., $40; U.S. Capitol Bank, $28; New York City Skyline ashtray, $18; Jefferson Monument, $12; Lincoln Memorial, $15. All at Showcase S-534. 



A subset of his collection is a group of metal banks that were created as promotional items during the 1950s and 1960s, called Banthrico Banks. The company that made them is now defunct. "More typically you'll see cars and figurines as banks," he said. "Buildings are less common." Emrick currently has some of this for sale in his booth, such as the Lawn Savings version, circa 1960s ($45; Showcase S-534). 


Being a collector, Emrick strolls the aisles of GasLamp looking for finds for his colleciton. He once discovered a souvenir building made for the dedication of the Sydney Opera House.  "It was a nice price, so I snapped that up," he says. "I sell them so I can buy more of what I like."



Since he has so much of what he likes, it begs the question: How does he exhibit all 1,500 of his buildings? 



"Depending on the size, I've got some glass fronted cases done for shot glasses that I've adapted for buildings," he says. He also puts them in bookshelves and on glass shelves. "You look at the kitchen window and there are eight glass shelves of buildings." In the photo at left are some of his solutions for housing his buildings at home. 



He adds, of housing these many diminutive buildings: "That's one of the challenges." 


The best book out so far on these souvenir buildings, according to Emrick, is "Monumental Miniatures"  by Margaret Majua and David Weingarten.




Little Brown Church bank, $20; Basilica of Immaculate Conception D.C., $40; U.S. Capitol Bank, $28; New York City Skyline ashtray, $18; Jefferson Monument, $12; Lincoln Memorial, $15. 

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