Spark Plugs by The Numbers

New York man’s collection ignites a passion for the past

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by Jordan Heintz
These quick-detachable spark plugs were designed for fast and easy disassembly for cleaning, while the base remained in place in the engine.

Rick Cicciarelli has been collecting spark plugs for just a few years, but he’s already firmly entrenched in the hobby. Elected president of the Spark Plug Collectors of America (SPCOA) in 2021, he is an enthusiastic ambassador for the hobby.

The Ithaca, New York, man says networking with longtime collectors is a perfect way for those new to the category to learn about spark plugs, their values and variations. When it comes to spark plugs, the variety of style, composition, colors, designs and markings are nearly limitless. Here’s Rick’s take on the hobby, by the numbers:

1

Rick’s number one tip when it comes to cleaning spark plugs: Avoid using wire-wheel brushes. “For New Old Stock spark plugs, you can clean surface rust by wiping it away with WD-40,” he says. “A lot of plugs have information stamped into the bases, so hitting them with a wire wheel could wipe away any lettering, like patent dates and names.”

2

Rick has authored two books chronicling the history of spark plugs. Initially, he intended the research to be for his eyes only, but fellow collectors asked him to publish his work. Spark Plug Advertising: The Brass Era, 1896-1915 and Spark Plug Advertising: The Nickel Era, 1916-1929 are hardcover books available for purchase directly through him.

two spark plugs next to a small cardboard box

4

Rick’s been collecting spark plugs for just four years. He says joining the SPCOA is the ideal way to network with other collectors and learn more about the hobby. “I’m constantly sending out emails with questions, asking for photos from other people’s collections,” he says, “and collectors are always willing to help out, especially when you get into expensive plugs. It’s best to get advice.”

11

Rick caught the collecting bug at age 11. Growing up in upstate New York, he was inspired by his parents’ interests in antiques. His spark plug collection was born out of a love for early automobiles: He finds it to be a less expensive and more accessible way to stay connected to that niche.

black double spark plug

50-100

The average collectible spark plug sells for $50-100. “I’ve been pretty picky about what I pick up,” Rick says. “I have a particular look I go for, certain earlier designs, and condition I try to stick to. Ninety percent of plugs (I’m interested in) will not cost more than $100.”
Spark plugs of lesser quality can be had for as little as $1 each – especially if you don’t mind digging through buckets of them at sales. Less expensive plugs often date to the 1950s and ’60s and, in his opinion, lack the eye appeal of earlier plugs. He especially likes varieties with unusual designs or interesting logos.
Early plugs’ insulators were made of porcelain or mica. The earliest U.S.-made spark plugs used higher quality French porcelain. Insulators were marked using stamps (baking markings onto the porcelain), decals or hand-painted lettering.

170

SPCOA has approximately 170 members around the globe. The non-profit was founded in 1975 by Bill Bond, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Members receive four issues a year of The Ignitor, the club’s official publication. The magazine contains information on club events, members’ collections, new finds, vintage ads and a marketplace for selling and trading. Learn more at www.spcoa.net.

spark plugs laying in front of colorful boxes

300

Rick’s collection numbers nearly 300 spark plugs. A discerning collector, Rick favors plugs from the Brass Era (1896-1915). That period encompassed the early years of automotive manufacturing, when brass was a major component in construction of gas lamps, horns and radiators. Spark plugs of the era are also constructed of brass components. Rick likes pieces made by early manufacturers, like A.R. Mosler & Co. and Benford Mfg. Co.
The oldest spark plugs in his collection date to 1904. One of his plugs was produced specifically for the single-cylinder Cadillac built from 1903 to 1908. “Early automobiles ran on a gas mixture that had a lot of oil in it, so the plugs would foul,” Rick explains. “There were designs to prevent that.”

1,000

A single rare spark plug could sell for as much as $1,000. While online auction sites are a good resource for finding obscure pieces, Rick prefers to buy in person at flea markets, engine shows, auto shows, and from collectors and club connections. He also enjoys the camaraderie of interacting with people who share his interests.

european spark plugs bunched together on a table

2,000

More than 2,000 U.S. patents were issued for spark plugs. “At first glance, they may all look the same,0fter 1930 due to what he describes as a “standardized, industrial look,” preferring the brass and nickel finishes of 1900 to 1920.

4,000

Some avid spark plug collectors have as many as 4,000 plugs and plug-related items in their collections. Many house their collections in wall-mounted display cases. Because of the small size of these collectibles, they also fit in shoeboxes and drawers. Related items – signs, display cases, spark plug wrenches, spark plug testers, cleaners, paperwork, boxes and ads – are popular as well.

three men looking through boxes of spark plugs

50,000

There are at least 50,000 types of spark plugs known to exist. Nostalgia motivates some: Collectors may be drawn to plugs like those they remember from the farm where they grew up, for instance, or to a plug manufactured in their hometown. And collectible plugs are not limited to automotive pieces. Spark plugs were manufactured for tractors, airplanes, automobiles, motorcycles, boats, trucks and stationary engines.

four spark plugs on a table

For more information contact Rick Cicciarelli by phone at (607) 229-7140; email at rick@sparkplugcollector.com and online. Sara Jordan-Heintz is an award-winning writer, editor and historian. Follow her on Twitter or contact her at rose111@netins.net.

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