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A burning passion for toasters

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Finally, a bell dings, a little door pops open, and fingerlike metal prongs lift the toast out. "So you don't burn yourself!" he exclaims.

Sheafe hasn't always been a vintage-toaster enthusiast. Four years ago, he was clocking long days as a project manager in the operations division of American Express. The work was challenging, but Sheafe was restless: "I finally asked myself, 'Why am I doing this?' "

Deciding that he could live off of his 401(k) and other savings, Sheafe left his 12-year career in the corporate sector. "American Express just couldn't believe it," he says with a laugh.

He didn't have an immediate plan when he quit the company, but wanted to indulge his love for antiques and dabble in the art of finding treasures.

One day, while pacing his apartment, Sheafe's eyes rested on his toaster - a Sunbeam T-9, dating back to the 1940s, which he had used every morning for the past 30 years.

Were there other interesting toasters out there, he wondered.

To find out, Sheafe picked his way through estate sales, antique stores, fundraisers, and thrift shops. He collected grease-covered, rusty toasters as though they were stray animals: rejuvenating them with a good soaking, and then reconditioning and polishing them.

"Some looked like a dog's dinner, but you never know what you'll find under all that grease and dirt," he says.

Collecting toasters is also educational. When he comes upon a toaster that's new to him, Sheafe also sees if he can find out more about its designer and patent, often unearthing unusual facts in the process.

For example, he learned about his Toastmaster 1B5, which he describes on his website (www.toastercentral.com): " 'Cheek to Cheek' by Irving Berlin topped the charts and '42nd Street' was running on Broadway when Toastmaster produced this stunning architectural design."

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