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A burning passion for toasters

Michael Sheafe gave up a corporate job to indulge his enthusiasm for collecting the lowly kitchen appliance.

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As a crowd looks on, a slice of soft cinnamon bread disappears silently into a toaster.

Nothing unusual there, but this isn't just any appliance. This is a sleek chrome-sheathed 1949 Sunbeam T-20 Automatic, the Grace Kelly of toasters, which automatically lowers the bread and turns on the current. It has no cumbersome buttons or unwieldy levers.

A minute later, a slice of crisp, golden toast appears. The crowd lets out a collective gasp - or is it an appreciative sniff? Is that the smell of cinnamon?

This bread transformation takes place every Sunday at Manhattan's Green Flea Market where the "Toast Master" of New York, Michael Sheafe, dazzles passersby with the joys of using nondigital technology to produce a piece of golden-brown bread.

You wouldn't necessarily think this would attract crowds - but it does.

A toaster for every whim

As the owner of 800 antique toasters, Mr. Sheafe has one for practically every mood.

Feel like conserving electricity? Try the manual Bromwell pyramid-shaped toaster, so you can hold your bread over a flame just as your ancestors did at the turn of the 20th century.

Looking for a toy for a good little girl or boy? Try the Excel Electric Toastoy, a miniature working toaster from the 1920s, which costs $325 (pictured at right).

And if you're seeking to entertain the family some snowy Saturday morning, consider the 1928 Universal's E9410 Push-Button Toaster. This ornate nickel-plated treasure flips toasts in delicate baskets like a mechanical juggler. It's a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.

Sheafe is founder and proprietor of Toaster Central, which repairs and sells vintage toasters. He is also part of a small, sometimes-eccentric coterie of collectors whose enthusiasm for toasters has mushroomed into a full-time enterprise.

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