Sparking Interest in Old Spark Plugs
Lowly old spark plugs becoming highly collectible
Rex Spark Plug
I have always been a collector. In my youth, it was bottle caps, then rocks. From there I progressed to Coca Cola items, and finally to the niche I've occupied since 1972: antique gas engines originally used on the farm.
At an engine show in 1985, a friend introduced me to the hobby of collecting old spark plugs. I had known Craig Solmenson as a collector of gas engines. But the words he greeted me with on that February day were:
"Got any old spark plugs?"
"Why?" I asked.
"Well, I've been collecting them for a while now," he said.
A collection, I thought. What are there, maybe a half a dozen different brands? But I politely said "Really. How many do you have?"
"Quite a few," he said. "In fact, I have a few with me. Would you like to see them?"
He pulled out a new old stock Tungsten spark plug made in Marshalltown, Iowa. It was beautiful, with a cobalt blue insulator and a shiny nickel-plated base.
Craig showed me some other plugs he had, and they could have been the rarest plugs in the world. But the shining Tungsten had caught my eye.
I asked him if he knew where I could get a plug like that. He said it was an extra; if I wanted to buy it, he would sell it for $5. I was sort of taken aback: I mean, $5 for a spark plug ... let's get real here. But I said OK; besides, it was the only old plug that I was more than likely ever going to own.
Later, I visited his home to view his collection. He showed me the brass Dow, Champion primers, Bethlehem plugs made in Minnesota, and the Red Head priming pump. I fell in love with the Red Head, and decided that one of those would look really good in one of my show engines. Well, he didn't have an extra, but he gave me the name of another collector – Cornelius Bergbower from Illinois – who might have one to sell. The price would be spendy, he said: as much as $40 to $50.
Craig also showed me a book by Jack Martell on automobile collectibles. It had pictures of spark plugs, and I wrote down the names of 12 that really caught my eye. Those I'd picked, he said, were some of the rarest plugs in the book, and chances were slim that I'd ever find any of them. As I left, Craig told me "These things are really addictive; you'll be the next one collecting them." "No way," I said. "I have enough collections."
Thirteen years and 1,500 plugs later, I have to admit he was right. The Red Head? Well, "Bergie" did have a Red Head Primer that he sold me for $35 (My wife was ready to have me committed when she found out how much I had spent. From that day on, we never did discuss plug prices any more, for both of our sakes ...). And the list? On Sept. 24, 1993, I picked up the last plug I needed to complete the list of 12. I still have that handwritten list, in a frame now, to remind me of where it all started.
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