‘Just the tip of the iceberg’

Whitewater collectors display vintage, unique items


From left, Scott Wild inquires about Bobby Landsee’s collection of salt cellars, which were used in the Victorian era because salt was not yet shakeable from salt shakers. Landsee said she has over 1,000 salt cellars that she’s collected over the years.

Kimberly Wethal, Editor-in-Chief

Bobby Landsee sat behind a maroon-draped table in the Cravath Lakefront Community Center on Saturday with almost 100 salt cellars resting on the table in front of her.

The salt cellars – miniature bowls that were used during the Victorian era in formal dinner settings – held a small block of salt that was chipped off from a larger salt block in the kitchen in the days before Morton Salt added magnesium carbonate to their salt in 1911, a drying agent that allowed salt to be shaken out of containers.

The display Landsee brought to the Whitewater Collects event was nowhere near the size of her total collection – she says she owns around 1,000 of the salt cellars, buying them up from antique mall or estate sales whenever she finds one.

“It’s just the tip of the iceberg,” she said.

She’s even traveled overseas to collect them, Landsee said. While she couldn’t decide on any of her favorites – she’s got too many to do so – she said that one salt cellar in particular is special because she made the trip to Ireland to retrieve it.

“I just think they’re so pretty, and one’s prettier than the next, so when I see one that I don’t have, I just get so excited,” Landsee said.

The Whitewater Collects event, hosted by the Whitewater Historical Society and in its seventh year, brings people from Whitewater and the surrounding communities together to showcase their collections. There’s no requirements on what can be brought, or how old it needs to be, said Linda Robinson, secretary of the Whitewater Historical Society.

“What’s fun for me is each year, what you can look at is different from the year before,” Robinson said. She had cleaned off the walls of her living room for her 1920s art deco advertising display at this year’s event. “Even if it’s the same collectors, they’ll bring a different collection, and each year we have new collectors who have never been here before … right before it officially starts, I’ve got to get around and look at everybody else’s collections to see what they have.”

The event, which is free for people to both participate in and attend, also serves as a membership drive and a fundraiser through the sale of baked goods. The event also featured free professional estimates by auctioneer Carol Miller.

The event was the brainchild of Alan Marshall, who lived in the Whitewater area throughout his entire life and was a member of the Whitewater Historical Society. Alan died in March 2017.

Alan and his wife, Connie, who brought Whitewater memorabilia to this year’s event, started collecting four decades ago. The two Whitewater State Teacher’s College (now known as the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater) alumni weren’t picky, Connie said – anything and everything that was branded with the name “Whitewater, Wisconsin” was collected, such as small commemorative plates donning the image of the university’s historic Old Main building, which partially burned down in 1970, engraved pear-shaped salt and pepper shakers, spoons with “Whitewater” inscribed on the handle and pennant banners.

“He’d be so pleased to see everybody here,” Connie Marshall, Alan’s wife, said. “He wanted people to realize that Whitewater wasn’t just a university town, that we also have many businesses here and basically, that it’s a welcoming community.”