Since being bitten by the souvenir building collector bug some 40 years ago, Mike Merwine has turned that passion into a hobby and now a business. Mike Merwine is the owner of InFocusTech. Mike and his family are the most active souvenir building model designers in the world. The group has created and cast more than 400 unique pewter souvenir building replicas. I spoke with Mike recently about his collection and business.
ephemera: When did your passion for souvenir buildings begin?
Merwine: My earliest memory of any interest in souvenir buildings would have been in the mid-60s. I recall walking around the Empire State Building window-shopping with my older sister and my parents. I noticed a nicely detailed beige colored replica of the world's tallest building in one of the shop windows. Time passed and many more windows were perused, and I remember only seeing the familiar copper-colored versions from then on. When my father asked me if I would like one, I eagerly said I would like the beige plastic version back there. Well, back there was almost impossible to locate. We walked and walked, and searched and searched. As my sister's and mother's patience wore thin, we finally found that shop. A souvenir building collector was born.
Merwine: The main resources for obtaining souvenir buildings for my son Jon and I are in this order: 1) eBay ; 2) trading with other collectors; 3) antique shows: 4) live auctions; 5) antique shops; and, 6) flea markets. Due to the size of our collection it is becoming harder to find pieces that we are interested in. When we do locate one, say at auction, the price is always higher than we should pay. The only way to find bargains these days is through diligent searching, both on eBay and on the highways. Many hours need to be spent traveling to Antique Shows, Antique Shops and Flea Markets if you want to realize success. The travel is a great way for my wife and I to spend quality time with our 17-year-old son.
ephemera: What are your favorite items?
Merwine: My favorite pieces change regularly, but I am most fond of the skyscrapers and the Worlds Fair pieces. As a kid living near Bethlehem Pennsylvania, my father would pack us into the car and drive about 100 miles to the Staten Island Ferry. He would drive the car onto the boat! We would go up on deck and take in one of the greatest sights on earth--1960's lower Manhattan before the glass boxes hid all of the great architecture. I was also lucky enough to have been to the New York World's fair in 1964 and 1965. The thrill of those two days is still with me.
ephemera: What’s your advice to achieving success as a collector?
Merwine: Use all of the resources I mentioned earlier. Join the Souvenir Building Collectors Society and go to the yearly conventions. Call our members and get to know some fantastic people. We like to talk and trade buildings. Learn all you can about manufacturers, quality, rarity, prices, and variations. That way, when you are bidding against someone on eBay, you will have a level playing field.
ephemera: What resources and tools do you recommend?
Here is a list of the publications that I use and enjoy:
The SBCS newsletter
Monumental Miniatures: Souvenir Buildings from the Collection of Ace Architects
Souvenir Buildings Miniature Monuments: From the Collection of Ace Architects
Coin Banks by Banthrico*t
The Penny Bank Book: Collecting Still Banks : Through the Penny Door (Schiffer Book for Collectors)
Penny Banks Around the World
Souvenir Buildings : A Collection of Identified Miniatures
World's Fair Collectibles: Chicago, 1933 and New York, 1939 (Schiffer Book for Collectors)
ephemera: Thanks for sharing your passion for souvenir building miniatures, Mike. They seem like wonderful items to collect.