From Skipper to steins, collectors bring meaningful mementos to OC Fair

Collectors, by definition, understand and appreciate widely and deeply.

Collections on display at this year’s Orange County Fair in Costa Mesa include dragons, “Gremlins” memorabilia, slips of wisdom from fortune cookies, restored vintage radios, concert ticket stubs and more, representing individual passions and life experiences.

Here are a few of the assortments housed in those glass cases, on display through Sunday:

Skipper dolls

Lori Breen became reacquainted with Skipper, Barbie’s little sister, about four years ago.

A lifelong doll collector, but not necessarily of Skipper or anyone else in the Barbie universe, she was at a doll show in Buena Park when she came across a red-haired 1964 issue of the little fashion doll. It was like the one Breen, 59, had as a child, only in much better shape.

The price was right, so Breen, of Fullerton, brought Skipper into her doll collection, which includes child-size Annette Himstedt dolls from Germany, high-end ball-jointed dolls and 1950s-era Alexander-kins dolls with walking mechanisms.

Breen’s Skippers are highly curated: only first-year dolls with first-year outfits. Ten of the 12 are there, per the fair’s maximum display size rules.

The two others stayed home, and just as well, as she would have missed them. And no doll should be alone.

Skipper, with her Mona Lisa smile and fringy bangs, was sold in three basic hair colors, so Breen’s redhead was joined by a brunette, then a blonde. They needed period-appropriate clothes, so Breen started acquiring the outfits and tiny accessories issued in Skipper’s debut year — all 12 of them, and a model for each.

The outfits include a red velveteen swing coat with matching pillbox hat, a ballet recital costume with a pink tulle tutu and pink satin bag to carry her white pointe shoes with functional lacing, and a schoolgirl outfit with a pink knitted cardigan and a scaled-model bowl of yarn rubber-banded to her hand.

Skipper is detail-oriented.

Breen, who is an assistant teacher for deaf children with the Orange County Department of Education, joined a Facebook group for Skipper enthusiasts to catch up. The factory errors, variations and limited editions enliven her quest.

“I had no idea it was so involved,” she said. “In the last four years I’ve gotten quite the education.”

The jewels in her collection are three 1963 test-market or sample Skippers, distributed mostly to Mattel employees in limited quantities, and slightly different from the mass-produced model, with a wider stance, thicker legs and coarser hair.

Breen is what is known in the toy-collecting world as a “deboxer” (it’s what it sounds like).

“I’m not one to really keep them in boxes, because they’re there to enjoy,” she said.

McDonald’s apple pie sleeves

It didn’t win the “most unusual” ribbon, but talk about specific.

People collect McDonald’s memorabilia. They collect food packaging and ephemera. But Mark Staubach of Brea said he might be the only one who collects the cardboard sleeves for McDonald’s fried apple pies — the “fried” part is important — and specifically, from foreign markets.

“I’m so into my pie collection,” he said.

The turnover-style hot apple pies take him back to his childhood, when he and his grandfather would go to McDonald’s for a treat. “He would get a coffee and I would get an apple pie.”

Staubach, 34, lost interest in the pies after McDonald’s started baking them in 1992. Without the crispy outside and molten inside, it wasn’t the same.

But the baked pie was an American thing. International markets still fry.

In 2011, while on vacation in Japan, Staubach walked into a Tokyo McDonald’s and saw people eating proper apple pies — fried ones.

The deep-fried angels sang, and a greasy cloud parted.

He kept the sleeve. It looked unique, with its hiragana text.

Staubach travels often for leisure and for work as a music video director. Knowing that most countries and their major airports have a McDonald’s, he makes it a point to pick one up from each nation he visits.

His full 19-sleeve collection also includes specimens from Austria (“heiße apfeltasche”), England, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates (in Arabic script) and Australia. Most are in Granny Smith green.

His sleeves are mostly unused, pristine and smooth — he asks the employees for an extra, which they find a little odd, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

As it turns out, for the truly committed, McDonald‘s still sells fried pies at a few U.S. locations — in Hawaii, and at the oldest operating location in Downey. A culinary adventurer also can find non-apple flavors in international markets: red bean or pineapple in China; banana (no cream, just banana) in Malaysia; taro in Hawaii.

“I really want a taro pie sleeve,” Staubach said. “I gotta get back to Hawaii.”

Beer steins

Don Smith has 350 beer steins.

That’s a relatively small number, he’ll say.

Modest or not, they do well in the OC Fair.

Smith has entered steins in the collections competition several times over the years, in categories such as household and glassware. This year, he went for the fantasy and science fiction class, where his antique steins depicting scenes from fantasy and folk tales won four ribbons.

“Each stein is a piece of art,” said Smith, 76, of Laguna Beach. “Most people look at them as something to drink a beer out of.”

Smith was a young Army officer in 1961 when he got his first authentic, though inexpensive, stein as a souvenir. Many collectors got their starts that way, he said.

He is drawn to the workmanship, the colors, the symbols, the history. One of his steins was a trophy from a fencing competition in the late 19th century. Others have personalized inscriptions.

Steins spread out in four rooms around his beach cottage and in his office at the Newport Beach property management firm he owns.

There are more sub-types of steins than there are trees in the Black Forest. Smith listed a few: regimental steins, personalized for soldiers after they left the service; smaller children’s and ladies’ steins; whimsical, delicate character steins. They can be made of clay or porcelain or pewter or hand-painted glass. They can be collected by era or by artist or style, like art nouveau. Novelty steins can be the size of a thimble or the size of a man. Smith’s are in the 8- to 18-inch range.

Stein design is a lost art, Smith said. There are many surfaces for creative, intricate details, not just on the curved sides but the handles, lids and thumb lifts.

“They’re amazing little animals to get involved with,” he said.

Smith’s collecting isn’t limited to steins, and he has submitted several diverse collections to the fair over the years. He also enjoys German beer coasters, brass hose nozzles, matchbooks, pins, miniature books inherited from his grandmother, marbles, glass insulators from telephone poles, and rocks and masks from around the world.

“Oh yes,” he said. “I’m one of those people.”

His girlfriend understands. She’s a collector, too, of antique baby dishes, of Depression glass candlesticks and of phosphorescent green uranium or “Vaseline” glass. And: Vaseline glass steins.

hillary.davis@latimes.com

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