Welcome to my micro museum

The British gardening machine industry was the biggest and best in the world for well over a century. Our engineering ingenuity was second to none. What we’ve set out to do is save these mowing machines from the scrapyard in an effort to preserve their history, which otherwise was destined to be forgotten for good.

I’ve always been interested in anything mechanical. Nel 1940 my father opened a locksmith shop and was constantly taking on other items for repairs. When I was a kid, he was always fixing up lawnmowers. One day the back of our yard became so full of metal that we had no choice but to plan a trip to the tip. Most needed serious restoration, but as we tried to clear the yard out, the prospect of dumping them didn’t sit conformably. Anziché, we took them into the shop and put a few on display. Da allora in poi, customers would come in with old mowers they were planning on binning and offer them to us.

Today we have more than 1,000 machines and we still exhibit hundreds in that very same building. We’ve got original blueprints and patents, including of the very first lawnmower to be built back in 1830. Its creator was Edwin Beard Budding, and people thought he was crazy. Today we might buy millions of mowers annually, but he died penniless never knowing how popular his invention would become.

We have visitors from all over the world, tourists from as far as Japan and America. Our celebrity collection is definitely part of the attraction. You’d be surprised at how often someone famous offers us their old lawn mower… and we say yes. Brian May called me up and asked if I’d like his mower – he wanted to give his companion a happy retirement. We’ve had items from Eric Morecambe, Lee Mack and Paul O’Grady; there’s even a mower from Coronation Street’s Hilda Ogden.

The humble lawn mower might not be the sexiest of objects, but around the country there are thousands of collectors who rarely talk about their specialist interests… and it’s not hard to see why. Just imagine going to the pub and a bloke offering to give you a tour of his lawnmower collection – . You’d probably never speak to him again. This museum, I hope, is a proud nod to all those with their own peculiar passions.

From the outside, our museum doesn’t look so big. Then when people walk in, they freak out completely: that’s always fun. We’ve got two buildings stuffed with a record-breaking 44,700 bunny items, covering every inch – floor to ceiling – of our 22ft-high walls. Even the exhibition information cards are bunny-shaped. The best part is that it started with a love story that lives on.

When my husband Steve and I started dating, I gave him a nickname: my honey bunny. On our first Valentine’s Day together, he got me a big plush bunny as a gift. It was the cutest thing, so I bought him a porcelain bunny. From then, every holiday we gave bunny gifts. But Steve didn’t want to wait for months to do it. Anziché, he appeared with bunnies all the time. Soon it became a regular occurrence. For years now, we’ve given each other a bunny item every day.

By the time we got married, our loved ones knew about our bunny-buying bonanza. Nearly every gift was bunny-themed. Friends and family would say it’s too bad that strangers can’t see our collection. We opened up our home by appointment for people to hop through the house 23 anni fa. Eventually we incorporated to become a nonprofit, moving the museum to its current site in 2016.

Running a museum takes up a lot of time, but we have other interests. I’m an author; Steve runs a bicycle-repair store behind the museum site. I can jot down notes when we’re quiet, while Steve shuts up shop when a tour bus pulls up. Our museum relies on volunteers: we call them the fluffle family – the name for a group of bunnies in the wild.

I hear the word “wow” a lot. Visitors expect to find some Easter exhibits and bits about Bugs Bunny. When they get here, they learn that the bunny has touched everything, from transport to art; advertising to literature. We’ve 100 item categories, ranging from cookie jars to antiquity. There’s a members-only library, and a rainbow bunny wall. People leave feeling as if they’ve graduated in bunny studies, seeing how they affect culture in endless ways.

Nobody owns a museum. We’re its founders, but this place will live on after we’re gone. When we retire, Steve’s bike shop will become the third museum building so that we can grow.

We often have real bunnies living here, pure, although we’re without them currently; the last lot died recently. Visitors always ask us what our favourite items are. That’s easy, dico, it’s the first and second bunny – where this all started. If there was an earthquake, it’s those two pieces we’d rescue right away.

Quiet, sleepy Cheshire probably isn’t the right place for our museum of cuckoo clocks, but this is where my brother, Maz, and I were born and raised. We’ll never leave. The two of us have been in clocks all our lives. Today our collection is more than 700 items, recognised as the largest private collection of cuckoo clocks – and the only museum dedicated to them – in the world.

The clocks are all set to different times; there is constant cuckooing. We’ve a quail clock and a monk clock; every type of animal. We have the art nouveau collection, six painted clocks found in Shanghai. Cuckoo clocks have always been a cottage industry and the makers don’t receive the recognition they deserve.

It started when we were kids. We were poor; the cuckoo clock in our family home was a prized possession. In our teens, my brother and I would sit and watch our neighbour, a clockmaker, at work.

After school, around 1970, I found a job working at a Manchester clock and watch repair shop. Every time I picked up a cuckoo, my mind would fill with questions: where was it made? By who? How did it get here? Inside, the intricacy of each movement drew me in time and again.

We bought our first ever cuckoo clock from a Preston antique fair. The seller wanted £110 for it. We managed to scrape together £80. per fortuna, she said yes.

invecchiato 28, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The doctor gave me three years to live. To leave behind a young widow seemed unfair. I decided to collect clocks for as long as I had left instead. The thing is, I’m still here.

Over 30 years ago we moved the collection, and ourselves, into our current building, a school built in the 1800s. Those early days were fabulous, we were inundated with visitors – coach loads of Women’s Institute groups and travelling tourists. Over time, numbers reduced. Holidays were spent abroad; WIs wouldn’t come back until a whole generation had died off. Ancora, word of mouth meant we did just fine.

And then Covid hit and the gates were shut. We’ll never go bust – we could take a clock off the wall and sell it – but the last 18 months have been a struggle.

It’s a labour of love, a career that has been all consuming. Cuckoo clocks are what we eat, breathe and sleep. My brother and I still live here together in the headteacher’s cottage, working day in and day out as we always have. Tonight we’ll be here until 10pm. We’re past retirement age now, not that we plan on stopping. At some point, anche se, we’ll have to.

Sadly, my search for someone to take over the museum or to find a future home for the clocks has failed. What I want most is to ensure the collection is kept together.

My parents own Teapot Island, but now I run the business. I can’t remember a time before teapots were all I lived and breathed.

When I was two, my parents bought a new house. The kitchen had two large cabinets for curios, which they didn’t have enough stuff to fill. My great-grandmother and great-aunt had a couple of teapots that needed a home – old wedding gifts. If they’d had milk jugs, vases or figurines going spare, who knows where I’d be today?

Mum decided to find a few more teapots, to fill up the cupboard. If she saw one at a charity shop, she’d buy it. Somehow, by the time I started school, we had 300 teapots, collected in only a couple of years.

From then, it became an obsession. We’d pile into the car at dawn to arrive at car boot sales just as they opened. On holidays, I’d be squeezed up closer and closer to the window as new teapots filled the car. All'inizio, Dad wasn’t that bothered – he was just pleased Mum was happy. In time he’s grown to love them as much as her.

By the early 2000s our house was overrun with 3,000 teapots: on the stairs and in the attic; lining every surface and wall. Friends of friends would come to visit and marvel at what we’d created.

Mum always talked of making the collection public. It seemed sad to her they were stuck behind closed doors. We went on the hunt for a space big enough, with a tea-serving café. Nel 2003, we moved into our current location: it was a dream come true. Today we’ve got around 8,500 teapots, plus hundreds for sale in our shop.

We’ve got some cheap, tacky pots, and others worth thousands. Some are shaped like musical instruments, others like celebrities and animals. Getting married? We’ve got a bride and groom pot; if you’re a bricklayer, surgeon or fire officer there’s one for you.

Sometimes people send us teapots, but most come from collections we buy from sales and auctions. The ones we don’t have are added to the museum, while doubles are put on sale. At first this was Mum’s thing, but I’ve grown to share her vision. She still helps out, but now she’s in her early 70s I run the place day to day. I’ll carry on until one day – I hope – one of my kids takes the reins.

My mother passed away in 2015; that’s when my brother and I took over the museum. This was never in question. It had always been a family endeavour, e, practically speaking, what else was I going to do with 20,000 salt and pepper shakers?

Mom and Dad ran a jewellery business when I was growing up, spending weekends at art fairs. While she moseyed around sales, Mom also started to collect salt and pepper shakers. It was an accident; she’d just been trying to find a good pepper mill. She kept buying ones which didn’t last, but kept the broken ones on the window sill rather than chucking them out.

She became fascinated by how their trends and patterns changed through the decades. Having spent much of her working life as an archaeologist, that’s not a surprise.

The idea of opening a museum only came years later. In an effort to log her collection one Christmas, we brought up boxes of shakers from the basement. As we went through the thousands of items, we joked about opening a museum. Soon, we thought: why not?

Back then we lived in Texas – it wasn’t the right place to do it. Anziché, we looked for a site in Gatlinburg, a Tennessee tourist town on the edge of the Smoky Mountains – and home to Dollywood – which gets 12.5 milioni di visitatori all'anno.

We found a plot and from scratch built our museum. Nel 2002, we opened the doors. The site was designed to be a home for 17,000 shakers. The problem was, we’d entirely underestimated how many we had. With Mom still collecting, we had to sell up and move to a bigger space within two years.

The museum explores the history of salt and pepper, although it’s the designs themselves which are special; all that creativity squeezed into something so small. Lawnmowers? Jonah and the whale? Prince Charles? You name it, we’ve got it. There’s a Christmas room and vegetable patch; food and drink, animal and celebrity sections, pure. We even have the space race. Kids now drag their parents here having found us on TikTok. People walk out overwhelmed – it’s a lot to take in.

We don’t have a huge budget: admission is $3. Ancora, we’re never closed – you will find either my brother or me right here every day of the week. And I wouldn’t change it for the world. Because the museum keeps us connected to Mom, keeping it alive is my way of paying her tribute, ensuring her legacy. Mom was in love with this world; she took joy from the smallest things, and never stopped being curious about things big and small.

It’s hard to believe that this month my museum celebrates its 35th birthday. Especially given before all this I probably cared about mustard just as little as you.

Nel 1986, I was a lawyer, working as an assistant attorney general in Wisconsin. My job was to keep bad guys behind bars. I’m a baseball lover and that October my team, the Boston Red Sox, lost the World Series. Hugely depressed, I found myself roaming a grocery store at 3am.

In the condiment aisle, I decided I needed a new hobby – I just couldn’t take that disappointment again. I passed the ketchups and mayonnaises, not expecting inspiration. I made it to the mustards and heard a voice: “If you collect us," ha detto, “They will come.” Confused, I grabbed a handful and paid.

Over the next months I grew my collection. The following year, I received another sign. I was arguing a case at the US supreme court when, on my way to the courtroom, I saw a sealed jar of mustard on a discarded room-service tray in the hotel corridor. I picked it up, and with it in my pocket won the case.

Within a few years I had 900 mustards, and decided to quit my job and start a museum. All of my friends thought I was crazy, but I’d spent too many years working on criminal cases: murders and rapes are miserable. Putting smiles on faces, ho pensato, might be more fulfilling than cuffs on arms.

We opened in April 1992, and today have more than 6,300 specimens, from all 50 US states, across Europe and beyond. There’s our collection of old pots and advertisements and, ovviamente, the Colman’s display. I’m constantly on the hunt for new mustards, but finding them is getting harder, so wide is our selection. We got a new one sent in last week from Oregon; it was an exciting day.

I look at mustard as a metaphor: it’s something small we take for granted. But when you start to examine it you see the wonders and the history beneath. Each tin is a work of art.

Pre-covid, we had about 35,000 visitors annually. Admission is free – a real respite from life’s trials and tribulations. A lot of people first come simply not believing the place can be real. And I’ve often questioned whether it is myself. I’m still amazed that I actually did this. I pursued my passion. I enjoyed lawyering, but life always felt dark and seedy. My world feels a lot brighter now.

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