Mike Campbell only has a few small blue plates in his china cabinet.
There's not much room, given that his expansive collection of antique vibrators takes up most of the space.
Gleaming brass devices that look more like vintage power tools or implements of torture are piled up on the shelves; some of the older varieties are made of Bakelite or even wood (hopefully splinter-free). The oldest pieces some date as early as the late 1890s are particularly fascinating ... and frightening.
Campbell, 43, began collecting around 1997 when he stumbled across a few ancient massagers in his quest to add to his extensive antique typewriter collection. An avid collector, Campbell has several areas of interest. His modest home in a quiet suburb in southeastern Michigan is |littered with vintage staplers, old video games, African masks and even a few pieces of antique aircrafts out in the garage. He also has a strong interest in old examples of medical "quackery" such as the box of Asthmador Cigarettes curing your asthmatic symptoms for just 60 cents!
But the vibrator bug bit Campbell hard, and he began pursuing his antique massager collection the most aggressively. About five years ago, he created vibratormuseum.com to share his growing collection with the world (today, he guesstimates he has over 300 pieces). A sort of cyber museum, the site is divided into several collections: electric, battery-operated, air-powered and hand-cranked. The latter, looking something like a mutant version of the hand drills you used in high school shop class, were produced by the thousands in the early 1900s the most popular was manufactured by a company by the name of VEEDEE. Seriously.
There are a few other antique vibrator collections in the country, notably at the Bakken Library and Museum of Electricity in Life in Minneapolis (thebakken.org) and at San Francisco's Good Vibrations store (you can view a small portion online at goodvibes.com; look under "outreach and education"). Campbell says he knows of a few other antique vibrator collectors mostly the ones he competes against on eBay, his main source of material. He does frequent antique shops, but says most of his additions these days are found online, not "out in the wild." He says he's paid anywhere from $10 to several hundred dollars for pieces in his collection.
Many were marketed as health aids or cures for "hysteria" in Victorian women. Some actually are intended for sports injuries, such as the massively girthed bullet-shaped massager from the WWII era, or the electrically heated rolling pin. Others are more overt in their sexual purposes, such as the brass box straddled by a naked woman, her face twisted in ecstasy. (As Campbell says, "It's what made the roaring '20s roar!") Suffice to say, this piece definitely isn't masquerading as a neck massager.
And some are just plain horrifying, such as the rolling pin covered by suction cups it looks sort of like a wooden leg for an octopus.
Campbell says reactions to his collection range from "kind of baffled" to "scandalously amused."
But not everything is necessarily a sex toy (even though most can be used in that manner with a little creative ... um ... positioning). Campbell has a large collection of vibrating razors from the 1920s. His favorites are the multi-purpose vibrators, which perform a number of duties thanks to assorted attachments a favorite is the device that also acts as a portable hand-held fan (a metal one with particularly sharp blades).
Some of the older Victorian pieces look like they could dim the lights; a box several inches high, the vibrator is attached to several oversize dry cell batteries. And for the bored '50s housewife, there are several massagers that attach to your average household vacuum.
In the '70s there was the Scratch-o-Matic vibrating back massager, with a small red plastic hand, and two attachments a hand holding the peace sign (you know, make love, not war) and a fist (for the lovely female Black Panther on your guest list).
He also has quite a few novelty vibrators, such as the Mr. Potato Head with "massaging foot action." One of his most modern pieces is the "Slick Willie" presidential massager in the shape of Bill Clinton (aka the "Billdo"). In addition to vibrating, press a button and ol' Willie talks: "Times are hard but so am I!"
Upon mention of the popular PBS TV series Antique Roadshow, Campbell says he heard the show is coming to Toledo and plans to get tickets.
"The big question is, what do I bring?" he says. "I'm probably one of the world's experts onthese, so I probably wouldn't learn much ... but it would be interesting."Sarah Klein is the culture editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]