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At the Orange County Fair, no collection is too eccentric

Albert Roman, 40, of Hyde Park in Los Angeles, holds up the world tarot card.
Albert Roman, 40, of Hyde Park in Los Angeles, holds up the world tarot card as he stands in front of his featured exhibit at the Orange County Fair. Roman won first place for his fortune-telling novelties collection in the toys, dolls, games and novelty collections competition at the Home Arts & Collections Gallery.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Some people collect stamps and coins. As for Albert Roman?

He collects things that tell the future.

“I have the 10 [items] that are in the [toys, dolls, games and novelty collections] competition, but there’s another actual display case full of stuff I have,” said Roman, who won first place at the Orange County Fair this year in that contest and whose collection is a featured exhibit. “That’s all that I could find, but there’s probably still stuff in my house that I haven’t taken out.”

Roman’s collection includes items ranging from tarot decks to a little plastic fish that can supposedly predict a person’s future. It is one of 50 adult collections on display, according to Christine Gunst, who supervises home arts and collections.

Part of his interest, Roman admits, is just the novelty of it. Collecting a veritable treasure trove of knick-knacks wasn’t something he intended to do when he started picking fortune-telling items up in 2016. At the time, it had been a way to cope with a break-up.

“I started questioning everything about what I thought before and what would be in store for me in the future,” Roman said. “What’s a better way to explore that with things that you can buy that tell you the future, things that will tell you what’s going to happen instead of having to guess what will happen?”

First place for the toys, dolls, games and novelty collections competition was given to Albert Roman.
First place for the toys, dolls, games and novelty collections competition was given to Albert Roman for his fortune-telling novelties collection in the Home Arts & Collections Gallery at the Orange County Fair.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Roman said he’s had an interest in fortune telling and divination since he was a child, but he never collected anything because he’d grown up in what he describes as a “conservative household” wherein fortune telling was considered part of the occult.

“It [eventually] turned into an introspective thing: What does it mean about our society that we have these commercial devices that say you can look into the future, but they’re commercial?” Roman said. “They’re sold everywhere. It was a funny capitalist idea to me that you could purchase something that will guide in seeing things that can’t be seen. That’s how I started my collection.

“I started to find the weirdest things, interesting, the most unique and the most novel and thrown away type of things. These things you can purchase at a Chuck E. Cheese. They’re so disposable. I wanted to collect things that were everywhere but are not believed to be things that actually work. The whole premise of you buying it is that it actually does work. It’s sort of this lie that we tell ourselves that — just for the sake of the novelty of it, I guess.”

This is Roman’s first time sharing his exhibit with anyone, he said, having developed the itch to show his collection while wandering around the fairgrounds last year. Roman, a Hyde Park resident, said he grew up in Downey and has been going to the Orange County Fair since he was a teenager.

One of his favorite items displayed at the fair is his Regula Elizabeth Fiechter deck, a mystical lenormand deck of 36 cards, which is not to be confused with a traditional 78-card tarot deck. He carries them everywhere with him when they’re not on display.

“They’re like a little tiny museum that you can carry around. I think that’s really beautiful and kind of magical,” he said.

In-N-Out Collectibles

An honorable mention for the toys, dolls, games and novelty collections competition was given to Karen Dean.
An honorable mention for the toys, dolls, games and novelty collections competition was given to Karen Dean for her In-N-Out Burger collection in the Home Arts & Collections Gallery.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Mission Viejo resident Karen Dean said she didn’t mean to start accruing her collection of In-N-Out memorabilia either, which has grown to 40 to 50 items marketing the chain.

Dean, laughing as she described herself a hoarder, said she started collecting things when her son was working at In-N-Out Burger back in 2008 straight out of high school.

“He would receive really cool things from work and other things. The food was just delicious,” said Dean. “He’d be like, ‘Mom, do you want this?’ and I’d be like, ‘Yeah, hello. Absolutely.’ It just started from there and the closest In-N-Out was kind of far from us. When he started working at Foothill Ranch, we enjoyed a lot of In-N-Out.”

She said her son would buy her husband T-shirts every Christmas and bring home nametags. She’d buy a lanyard, a few stickers here and there, and the collection just kept accumulating. The Midwest native describes In-N-Out as an icon of the Golden State.

“In-N-Out screams California to me, and the fair is obviously in California. O.C. loves In-N-Out. I just thought that it was like ‘Hey, this has got to go in,’” said Dean, who is now in her eighth year of exhibiting at the fair and won an honorable mention in the toys, dolls, games and novelty collections competition.

Her favorite on display is a baseball jacket, but she said her favorite item in her entire collection — not on display at the fair — is an In-N-Out chess set that features little hamburgers as chess pieces.

‘Most Zany’

The Most Zany award was given to Leilani Smith for her shell creatures collection.
The “Most Zany” award was given to Leilani Smith for her shell creatures collection in the Home Arts & Collections Gallery at the Orange County Fair.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

First-time exhibitor Leilani Smith has amassed a shell creatures collection, the product of a childhood fascination that began on Catalina Island, where her family has vacationed for generations.

Smith, a resident of San Juan Capistrano, won for the “Most Zany” award for her collection that features roughly 30 shell creatures. She said they first piqued her interest when she was a child and her mother took her to a now-closed souvenir shop called the House of Wood.

“It was a trinket shop. It would have all of these shell creatures. We never could really buy them. My mom would take us there and we would spend hours poring over these shell creatures. It was like going to the museum,” said Smith.

It wasn’t until she was an adult that she stumbled into a shell creature again and decided to buy it secondhand.

“I started buying them and … I would repair some of them. Maybe they ended up [on a discounted shelf] because an eye or an arm fell off. I would start buying them and repair them and add them to my collection. I’ve loved them … you never know when you’re going to find them,” said Smith.

Her favorite on display is a pair riding a motorcycle with a sidecar because of the terrified expression of the riders.

“There’s just a lot of emotion wrapped up in that one little creature all made out of shells,” said Smith.

Smith said she tries to go to the Orange County Fair with her four sisters every year and that they spend a lot of time in the Home Arts & Collections Gallery every year. She’d encouraged her sisters to also submit their collections this year too.

“I think you can share a part of your joy with others,” said Smith of collecting and sharing her collection at the fair. “I think that’s really what we all need to do is share with others what makes us happy. I think people really appreciate that. They share back, and that builds community.”

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