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A burning passion for toasters

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Each year, a convention for old-toaster enthusiasts pops up in a different spot across the country. At these eagerly awaited events, approximately 100 toaster collectors gather for toaster show and tell, auctions, and competitions.

They are the sort of enthusiasts who spend long hours hunting through garage sales and thrift shops, hoping to find a grime-encrusted treasure.

All of this activity has attracted a certain amount of attention beyond the antiques and collectibles field. In October, Bergdorf Goodman displayed 100 of Sheafe's toasters in its Manhattan store windows.

"We didn't think anybody had ever seen that many vintage toasters at one time," says David Hoey, who manages the window displays for the large department store. "Everybody loved it."

Who buys old toasters?

Window-shopping is one thing, but purchasing is another. And who is willing to spend more than $1,000 on a vintage toaster? Sheafe's customers have ranged from a therapist and a lawyer to a man seeking kitchen equipment appropriate for his 1920s-era home.

He has buyers who live as far away as France, Holland, and Germany. In fact, people in the US Embassy in Beijing brown their bread in one of Sheafe's fine vintage toasters.

When Sheafe gives a toaster demonstration, he speaks in a hushed voice, as if reading a suspenseful story to a child. "When you turn this lever," he whispers, as he drops bread into the jaws of his 1920s-era Sunbeam Toastwitch, "it starts the current, and you can hear the clock timer ticking."

The toaster, which could be mistaken for your grandmother's jewel box, sells for about $600 and is festooned with Bakelite handles and knobs.

Almost one toaster per square foot

The toaster ticktocks as Sheafe sips tea in his 360-square-foot apartment, which is home to 300 shiny chrome toasters varying in design, size, and age.

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