Reflections on Collections

January 13, 2021  •  6 Comments

Reflections on Collections - Phil KennedyReflections on Collections —By Phil Kennedy—

The FDM's primary founding objective is to cover all topics relating to flying discs. As new information continues to flow in, and the Museum's scope and database continue to grow, it's interesting to see who's visiting the Museum and how the information is being used.

Perhaps the most visible signs of usage so far are the posts by those who have discs and are looking for information on them, especially sellers and collectors. Sellers want to know what they've got, hoping to improve their profits by providing accurate descriptions to potential buyers. Collectors want to learn what they've got and what they're missing, hoping to improve their collections.

It wasn't always so; disc collecting has evolved over the decades. Let me begin at the beginning…my beginning, anyway.

Yellow WPP1Yellow WPP1Wham-O's first style Pluto Platter, and Phil's first flying disc When I brought home my very first disc in the spring of 1957—a yellow, 1st Style Pluto Platter (WPP1) that Wham-O had just released to the public—there were no flying disc collectors. We didn't squirrel them away to be kept in mint condition for future financial gain (maybe we should have!)…we tossed them…as earlier flying disc tossers had done. (Visit the Antiques Gallery for examples of pre-Wham-O flying discs.) Most got beat up, scraped up, cracked up, tossed out. Those that survived were either boxed up with other household junk relegated to the attic, or continued to be tossed occasionally. My WPP fell into the latter category. It survived many rounds of (pre-"Frisbee") Pluto Platter Golf; getting run over by street traffic; fun fraternity flightfests on the Syracuse University quad, and shouldered about in my Navy seabag, until finally, in 1976, on a crowded Elizabeth Park field in Hartford, CT, I was informed by a talented player visiting from Florida that I "really should put that disc away. People are paying BIG bucks for those…like $40.00!"

A quantum shift in perception instantaneously occurred. What a moment before had been a leftover childhood relic, still capable of providing immense enjoyment, now had a price on its head…and, in 1976, $40 were significant simoleons!

Many other discs had arrived on the market by then, and as I soon found out, most of them outperformed my outdated PP. Having gained new respect, I gave it a well-deserved retirement. Thus began my collection.

Along with discovering that discs had improved came the realization that informal disc play had evolved into competition. According to my new buddy at the park (who was the first one I met who knew how to throw a long-distance sidearm with precision), Florida and California were hot spots. Where else? I soon met a local player with a friend in NYC named Peter Bloeme who was making a name for himself. There was an upcoming tournament in Central Park called "DiscOver NY" that sounded intriguing so we hopped in my VW Bug and headed for The Big Apple.

I don't recall many details about the actual competition. But I do remember the fun of playing disc golf on a different object course, and watching in awe the innovative, dazzling freestyle routine of the Velasquez brothers!

The DakotaThe DakotaHome of 1976 World Frisbee Champion Peter Bloeme (and John Lennon) Peter Bloeme—1976 Frisbee World Champion—Wham-O MiniPeter Bloeme1976 Frisbee World Champion And I especially remember that, after the event, my friend and I were invited up to Peter's apartment nearby in The Dakota (the filming location for Rosemary's Baby, and John and Yoko's abode). Peter had recently been crowned the 1976 World Champion (along with Monika Lou) and wanted to show us his modest disc collection. Prominently displayed on one wall was the '76 National Championship Series discs in red, blue, green, yellow, and black. Black?! I had seen all of the other colors before, but black? No way! Peter explained that they were a special, very limited run and really hard to get…especially the 50-Mold version. (It's been reported that possibly only 23 were made.) At that moment, I said to myself, "I have to find those."

Black Jimmy Set—1976 National Championship Series, Wham-O 40 & 50 moldsBlack Jimmy Set1976 National Championship Series, Wham-O 40 & 50 molds Jimmy Scala PhotoJimmy Scala Photo

Well, it took about 30 years, but I finally acquired a set of black "Jimmies" (named for Jimmy Scala, the player whose image is immortalized on the discs). In the meantime, as I discovered what more was out there, I branched out into other categories and brands of discs. What an assortment there was to be found: antiques, general retail, competition discs, tournament hot stamps, foreign brands, minis, fastbacks, novelty, promotional, etc., etc. And the assortment was growing. Exponentially!

PIPCO FS1 Mint-In-PackagePIPCO FS1 Mint-In-Package PIPCO—FS1—PackagingPIPCO FS1 Packaging Too many items, too little space, and too meager funds to collect everything, so choices had to be made. In other words: downsize, prioritize, specialize. Having begun with Wham-O's very first foray into flying discs in 1957, Antiques naturally commanded first priority (and remain so to this day…more on that in a minute). Beyond that, I decided that I would focus on "quality" over "quantity." Only the most interesting and choicest representations of any category would be considered for inclusion. For the most part, that philosophy remains and has served me well. I've limited my collection to a reasonable number of choice discs.

From the 1970s through the 1990s, disc collecting was generally a lot of work requiring much time, patience, and a lot of luck. (Unless, of course, you had insider connections at the manufacturers…which I didn't.) Frisbee World offered some choice items from their Factory Connection mail-order store, and several early entrepreneurs such as Roger Barrett, Michael Hadenfeldt's Shade's Trades, Jim Palmeri's Frisbee Pro Shop, Ron Kaufman's Disc Covering The World, and others issued their own catalogs of collectable items. It behooved you to scan the lists as soon as they arrived in the mail, and order quickly. Still, sometimes your order arrived with a refund check for items you missed out on. There were no instantaneous "Buy It Now" buttons.

There were a few trades going on among pals, but another major way to acquire discs was to attend events. Many tournament discs were produced in small numbers primarily for the attendees, and occasionally in variations not available to the public. Some larger events featured flea markets where sales and trades might offer rare or unique items. Thrift shops and old toy stores proved to be good hunting grounds. One owner invited me to his store's basement where he stashed outdated merchandise; it proved to be a goldmine!

I collected complete sets from all the major national events, plus regional tournaments I attended. By the mid-1980s, new golf disc designs were exploding on the scene. I saved a few, but my attention and priorities had turned elsewhere. I took a hiatus from collecting.

Complete Book of Frisbee, The—Victor Malafronte—Front CoverThe Complete Book of FrisbeeBy Victor Malafronte Three major events in the 1990s changed the disc collecting scene forever. The advent of the Internet, the founding of eBay, and the appearance of The Complete Book of Frisbee published in 1998 by Victor Malafronte. During his research Victor had contacted the top players and collectors and asked them to contribute what they knew about their discs which he then photographed and presented in color in a well-thought-out format. His book was also the first to include estimated values. While the prices listed for many of the discs have radically changed (both up and down) over the years, the catalog of discs remains a valuable tool.

Soon after Victor told us what was out there, eBay began to make it available. I signed up for an account in early 1998 just as the floodgates were opening. The sudden appearance and availability of rare and undocumented antique discs also caused a reawakening of my interest in the history of flying discs. Both Goldy Norton's 1972 book, The Official Frisbee Handbook, and Dr. Stancil Johnson's book, Frisbee, published in 1975, painted their pictures of how flying discs had come to be, and other authors over the years simply copied their accounts without further independent research and verification. (And if something is repeated often enough, it's got to be true, right?) However, Victor's book presented new documentation that seemed to bolster many of the earlier claims.

But a number of the new items I obtained from eBay countered some of the pivotal claims of who did what and when. Questions accumulated and I wanted to know the answers.

By 2002 my piqued curiosity had peaked! Fred Morrison was named as an early inventor of plastic flying discs, and I figured he might be able to provide some real answers…if he were still alive. He was, and warmly responded to a letter I sent. He invited me to stop by for a visit on a cross-county driving trip I was planning. Thus began our four-year collaboration, culminating with Flat Flip Flies Straight, True Origins of the Frisbee.

Meanwhile, previously undocumented models, styles, and variations of older discs from the late 1940s through the 1970s continued to show up frequently, inspiring the second half of our book, The Essential Guide to Collecting. From the book:

Fred MorrisonFred Morrison

Because the early history of flying discs has often been misrepresented in the past, published descriptions of the discs from that era have been sketchy at best or, more commonly, just plain wrong. Limited available resources, gap-filling guesses, incomplete research, and erroneous conclusions by recognized experts have painted a blurred composite of what was produced, when, and by whom. Accepting these accounts at face value, collectors are searching in vain for discs that never existed, while not recognizing the significance of rare items passing under their very noses. As with many pursuits, maintaining a roving mind and a skeptical attitude can reap tremendous benefits.

Flat Flip Flies Straight—Fred Morrison & Phil Kennedy—Front CoverFlat Flip Flies StraightBy Fred Morrison & Phil Kennedy

As a result my collection took on an important new purpose and goal. Instead of randomly collecting interesting discs from a wide spectrum of categories, I focused on building a complete historical timeline of the early evolution of plastic flying discs. For the most part, that's now been accomplished and represents the backbone of the FDM's Antique Gallery. While totally new surprises are now down to an occasional drip, it's still a thrill when a previously unknown disc or variation suddenly pops up!

I've told you about my interests and motivations, but there are many, many other reasons for collecting flying discs and associated items—none of them either right or wrong; they're all very personal. I'm neither a psychologist nor a sociologist so I will leave the "why some humans need to collect things" to those more knowledgeable. I just know that for some reason that urge has always been with me. I enjoy the comfort and satisfaction that comes with holding onto objects that have had significance to me; things that bring back memories of good times, and maybe help define who I am.

If you're interested in collecting—either just thinking about starting or already have a growing collection—the FDM is the perfect place to visit. Wander through the galleries to see what sparks your interest, or zero in on your established pursuits to see what you have and what awaits.

And if you want to talk Antiques, I'm all ears!


About the Author:
Phil KennedyPhil Kennedy

Phil Kennedy is one of a scant handful of current players who can say they are pre-"Frisbee," having bought his first disc months before Wham-O heard of and adopted the name. He thought up playing "Pluto Platter Golf" one spring day in 1957 when no friends could come out to play. When "Disc Golf" finally arrived in the mid-1970s he was assigned PDGA #190. Later he coached his son Shawn, the 1988 World Junior Frisbee Champion. Alongside the world of flying discs, Phil is a graphic designer, illustrator, photographer, and writer who was VP/Creative Director of an ad agency for almost 30 years. In 1990 he established his own creative services business which he continues to run to this day. Phil is also the co-author, editor & publisher of two books: Flat Flip Flies Straight, with Fred Morrison, the inventor of plastic flying discs, and A Chain of Events, with disc legend Jim Palmeri. Phil is a leading flying disc historian, has one of the finest antique disc collections in the world, and is one of the founders of the Flying Disc Museum. He also loves driving his 1932 Dodge Brothers Sedan, solving Sunday NY Times crosswords, and spouting puns.

 


Comments

Brian Hayes(non-registered)
This was a really enjoyable and informative read!!
Davis Johnson(non-registered)
Nice account, Phil! All your dedicated "work" intercepting the flight paths of our antique treasures, and cataloguing them from out of your "butterfly net," plus all you are doing establishing this magnificent Flying Disc Museum, couldn't come at a better time with disc golf exploding to undreamed of popularity. This is no doubt resulting in a significant minority of aficionados curious as to the history of flying disc pastimes-- and here it is! And, for those looking to snag a great read, "Flat Flip Flies Straight" is perhaps the most entertaining, page turner Frisbee book ever written. It does a great job of capturing the creative, fun, irreverent spirit of Fred Morrison-- irreverence, fun and creativity that permeates our pastime to this day.
Stork(non-registered)
Well, that was fun! Thanks for sharing those great stories, Phil. It’s always fascinating to follow different individual threads through the fabric of our history and see how we all have woven together in such surprising ways.
Steve Lee(non-registered)
Thank you Phil
Your vision has opened minds like mine to dream bigger and to have more passion in collecting the perfect collectable. When reading Flat Flip Flies Straight I would at times stand up and say “Yes” to things you had said. History is a never ending test of accurate facts. You have proven. Thanks for sharing your sense of passion, once again.
Scott Zimmerman(non-registered)
Great stories Phil! We're fortunate that you've been at this so long and were influenced by seeing those black Jimmy's in Peter's apartment.
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