Janesville25.6°

Man’s collection boasts nearly 200 thermal beverage containers

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
June 21, 2010
— Pieces of Kurt Buggs’ collection of thermal beverage containers (Thermos is the most common brand name) dangle from a ladder in his Race Street shop.

They line a shelf and sit in groupings on the floor and on trunks and on the counter.


It’s the colors and patterns of the containers that fascinate Buggs, who has a background and interest in art and design.


Groupings of 1950s Skotch Koolers made by the Hamilton Metal Products Co. of Hamilton, Ohio, are among the mid-20th century containers in his collection.


The insulated pails, covered with a plaid design, capture the most famous work of designer Petra Cabot, who was 99 when she died Oct. 13, 2006, at her home in Woodstock, N.Y.


“She was a hot designer of some sort,” Buggs said as he showed the barrel-shaped container to a guest.


Buggs finds most of his containers at rummage sales and consignment shops. They have cost him as little as 50 cents to as much as $20.


“I collect them for their ambience they add to my shop,” he said.


Among them is his most unique container—a late 1800s half-gallon black and silver Stanley super vac. It has a German silver cup with a handle and a cobalt blue and ceramic interior. Its lid is a lathe-turned piece of wood with a glued-on cork stopper.


“I paid maybe $10 for it,” Buggs said.


Scattered throughout Buggs’ Signworks shop, which is housed in an old train depot, are hundreds of containers.


Among others in his collection are:


-- Small Sears-brand thermos with a plastic red cup lid.


-- Tam O’Shanter green, red and beige plaid gallon jug with a snakeskin pattern on top, glass liner, steel shell, fiberglass insulation and plastic-covered steel handle.


-- Green half-gallon Hamilton Jolly jug with a white polka dot design, Ball Mason jar glass liner, steel shell and fiberglass insulation.


“A lot of old jugs were made with Mason jar liners,” Buggs said, letting his guest peer inside the thermos, where Ball lettering was visible.


The 56-year-old Janesville native mostly collects duck decoys.


But the local sign maker in 2001 expanded his hobby to collecting mid-1900s thermal beverage containers. He was inspired after finding a 4-gallon cylindrical Skotch Kooler and later a matching picnic basket.


“I thought it was neat. I like old stuff,” he said.


Once Buggs realized the wide variety of decorative patterns in the containers, he began to buy more. Today, he has nearly 200 pieces, ranging in size from 1 cup to 5 gallons and dating from the early 1800s to the late 1970s.


Buggs said those considering collecting thermal beverage containers should simply collect what they like.


“There’s not much of a profit mode in thermos bottles,’’ he said. “Mainly it’s a decorative thing that fits well in the country or lodge look.’’


Buggs continues to stop in antique and junk shops in search of thermal beverage containers and duck decoys when he travels.


But he admits he has enough of the collectibles that “I don’t have to pay that (high) price for them now unless I find something unusual.’’



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