—By Davis Johnson—
====== Part I ======
It all started with an epic thunderstorm, the kind that seems to occur with dramatic sea changes in my life. It was a sultry mid-August Friday in the late 1990s, and Rick Williams had come to join me at my parents’ vacation home in northern New Hampshire for a disc golf tournament the following day in neighboring Vermont. We watched the storm come out of the north, then slam bang over our heads with torrential downpours before assaulting the slopes of Mt. Moosilauke in a light show with the drama and energy worthy of a Wagnerian operatic saga.
The Iconic Frisbie's Pies TinSquare shouldered with five venting holes surrounding the sixth at the center It was in taking the backroads homewards after that disc golf tournament that I got bit by the bug. I came across an antique store in a rural area of south-central New Hampshire, and there it was on a shelf—an iconic large letter Frisbie tin, the one with the center cooling hole surrounded by five others. It might have contained a stove warmed, plump apple pie for how excited I was. This Frisbie tin became an object of veneration on the mantle, the true sign of a developing obsession. The Bible does not counsel against worshipping false idols for nothing.
The AuthorWay back when, in his disc collector dissing-days Hyzer & Gyroan aerie tale My newfound “idol worship” was ironic because back before I knew better, I used to make fun of collectors. Seemed to me the only good Frisbee was a thrown Frisbee; why would anyone want to decommission one to a wall hanger? For Jim Palmeri’s short-lived but beautifully produced Flying Disc Magazine, I wrote a fanciful tale based on Hansel and Gretel—“Hyzer and Gyro, an Aerie Tale"—the protagonists being two young sibling Frisbees who having misbehaved, run away from home, spinning off into the deep, trackless woods and stumble upon the lair of a witchy Mistress (as opposed to a Master Frisbee or “Lid”) who’s out to melt them down. The other somewhat villains of the story are a roving band of collectors looking to bag any plastic they can find. Hyzer and Gyro, being very collectible, must improvise evasive flight tactics to avoid these predators.
So now I have become what I used to make fun of, with perhaps the most diverse and complete collection of Frisbie Pie Company memorabilia in existence. What follows is the account of how I gathered this collection along with some fun history of the pie company and how it intercepts with our beloved pastime.
From a Publicity HandoutA short primer on pie, Frisbie style…still looking for one of those wooden Frisbie pie carriers, he holds As most disc enthusiasts know, the Frisbie Pie Company, in business in Bridgeport, Connecticut, from 1871 until 1957, is the origin of “Frisbee,” the moniker universally associated with any kind of disc play. As Phil Kennedy has emphasized, this does not mean Frisbie pie tins were alone thrown or "scaled." What occurred was the Frisbie Pie Company distributed its plump crust products all over southern New England. So called influencers spreading the Frisbie name were Ivy League college students who found good use tossing the emptied tins as a way to work off the pie. Spreading through the well-connected Ivy League grape vines, pretty soon flipping anything—cookie can covers, paint can lids, pie tins, whatever—became known as “Frisbieing,” and the assortment of flung objects as “Frisbies.”
Flying FrisbeesSports Illustrated—May 13, 1957 Wham-O, no slouch at coming up with catchy names for its products (Hula Hoop!), acted quickly in the spring of 1957. Likely alerted, as Phil notes, by a Sports Illustrated article that its Pluto Platters were being called Frisbees by east coast devotees, Wham-O using the "ee" spelling registered the trademark.
With the Frisbee having long since attained legendary status, so too has the pie company that gave it its name. Today, when we want to copy something, we Xerox. When we blow our nose, it’s Kleenex, and when we’re truly desperate, we Dumpster dive. Like “Frisbee” these are all trademarked names that have become iconic. The Frisbie Pie Company is the origin of the iconic Frisbee name, and is thus immortalized.
This is why for flying disc aficionados, Frisbie Pie Company memorabilia is so sought after and valued to this day. Though I’d long known of and been interested in this history, it wasn’t until that fateful late summer’s day on my homeward trek that I truly got bit.
Of course, as one’s pathology blooms, having but a single object of one’s desire is never enough…. Sizing up the situation, I saw myself in the advantageous position of being located just north of the Connecticut border, and but a 15-minute drive from the famous Brimfield antique/flea markets that take place three times a year in fields along both sides of mile long stretch of Route 20. Anything and everything can be found on these fields. If you’re there at the right place and the right time—serendipity rules! I decided it was time to be about the business of seeking out whatever other Frisbie Pie Company memorabilia might be out there because they weren’t making any more, and the disc sports scene was becoming more and more popular.
So began my haunting of any and all dealers I could find on any of the Brimfield fields who displayed any kind of kitchen/cooking collectibles. Pretty soon I’d just walk into a tent and be greeted with, “Hey, Frisbie guy—what you been finding?” (Or they’d take one look at me and shake their heads—“No Frisbies today!”).
A “Holy Grail”Complete wood/glass pie case from the Frisbie Pie Company But persistence pays. My first big score was the Holy Grail of all Frisbie memorabilia, a pie case. I got in a conversation with a dealer from the New York City suburbs, and making the usual inquiries, found out he had a wood/glass Frisbie Pie case he was willing to sell. It just so happened that he was going to be taking Interstate 91 north in a few days, so on a beautiful late-May morning I rendezvoused with him at a pull-off in Holyoke, Massachusetts, with a great view east of the Pioneer Valley, paid him—and this precious artifact was mine, carefully secured on the back seat floor of my car.
The case came with three of five metal pie racks, but the copper cooling screen on the back side was mostly missing. These missing parts were to manifest with non-other than the timely interjection of Frisbee legend and pioneer...002, Mr. Victor Malafronte! Victor, an early and avid collector of all things frisbee, has an abiding interest in the Frisbie Pie Company for its foundational role in the history of our pastime. He had gotten wind of my pie case and contacted me as to precise details of the find. He also mentioned that he was in the process of writing an all-encompassing history of disc play, with a pictorial collectors’ guide which was to include the most comprehensive ever collection of Frisbie pie tin varieties and styles.
The Complete Book of FrisbeeThe History of the Sport & the First Official Price Guide, by Victor A. Malafronte, edited by F. Davis Johnson Now, Victor is an intrepid and dogged researcher—I was amazed of what he knew from 3,000 miles away that I, in the middle of pie country, had no clue of. However, as a writer, Victor would be the first to admit he needs help. So, it was a no-brainer—me the English major and a teacher of writing at a community college—I offered my assistance and became the editor of Victor’s, The Complete Book of Frisbee.
This was the beginning of a fun and revealing collaboration—the best of it, Victor traveling east to stay with me and my family for the better part of a week as we took off like hounds to sniff out Frisbie treasures. We immediately struck a mother lode. I think it was the same day Victor arrived; no sooner settled in, I took him to an antique shop along that fabled Route 20 Brimfield fair stretch.
It was November and the fair was not to be active again until spring, but a couple of antique stores along it were open year-round. No sooner did we walk in the door of one then I spied a very familiar looking wood/glass case. “That’s a Frisbie pie case!” I exclaimed. Victor at first was skeptical as the case contained no label, but sure enough when we examined the bottom, there was etched the familiar inscription—“Property of the Frisbie Pie Company.” Of course, I bought it on the spot which proved to be very providential because it came with the missing ingredients I needed—two metal racks and an intact copper screen, all of which I cannibalized and added to my other, to make a rare to find, complete Frisbie’s pie safe.
The other notable event of Victor’s visit was going through the process of dividing up 150 Frisbie Pie tins. From California, Victor had sniffed out a prolific collector of kitchen collectibles who lived near Hartford, Connecticut. This fellow must have had overwhelmingly fond memories of grandma’s cooking or something, because his home was jam-packed with every form of yum-yum enticement one could imagine, including hundreds of pie tins. Of course, the ones we were interested in were the 150 Frisbie tins he was willing to sell us. Victor and I had agreed to split the cost and split the tins, so we sat eye to eye with stacks of the finest of Frisbiedom between us—and went to work. I’m glad to say we both found the process to be fair and fun.
The First Incomplete Pie Tin Spotter's GuideBy Richard Pancoast This would be a good time to discuss the major varieties of Frisbie’s pie plates and as best we know, a chronology of their manufacture. The easy-to-understand system that follows was created by Victor for his book and is the standard for Frisbie tin categorization.
But first, not many people know that years earlier, in the late 1970s or early 1980s, the first stab at cataloging Frisbie pie tins was compiled by a Richard Pancoast of Connecticut in a pictorial print-out along with descriptions. Richard also had the presence and foresight, when the long-closed Frisbie factory located on Kossuth Street was being demolished in 1979, to purchase about 200 bricks of the venerable old pie palace.
The bricks were easily distinguishable with the manufacturer, “Stiles” embossed on each. Plus, to guarantee authenticity, Richard procured a signed affidavit/receipt from the demolisher stating the price paid, and number of Frisbie bricks he had sold to Richard. In the course of my seeking of all things Frisbie, I contacted Richard, and sure enough, he still had quite a few of the bricks left and was willing to sell them to me. He had other Frisbie treasures too—a green painted, label intact, wood/glass Frisbie pie case, and taking up just about the whole back wall of his garage, a well-weathered Frisbie sign that had adorned the Kossuth Street headquarters.
Well, I loaded the bricks into the back of my Subaru wagon, plus a couple of Frisbie tins also purchased from Richard, and with the help of eBay, found myself in the brick selling business. I can remember having dinner with my parents and my Dad giving me a somewhat amused/skeptical look, saying something to the effect, “so you’ve convinced people to put down 75 bucks for a brick, have you?” Parents are often proud of their offsprings' entrepreneurial endeavors, but I think he was a bit worried that I’d stumbled a step too far into hucksterism. But value is what people put into it—I would never buy nor sell a Beanie Baby and would probably stay clear of pet rocks too!
Of course, with Frisbie bricks in demand to this day, I must briefly discuss their cataloging. The most desired are those with as few chips or missing pieces as possible. And yes, there are “Holy Grail” Frisbie bricks! Those are the very few extant with rounded ends, meaning they constituted cornice edges on the Kossuth Street Frisbie factory. I have two on my shelf, the only two I know of. (Can only imagine that if the Holy Grail of legend had been a clunky brick, Arthur and his fellow knights of the round table would have quickly given up the quest.)
And so, the story of my quest to unearth and explore as many slices of Frisbie history and lore as possible comes to a pause for now. But there’s at least another half of plump pie to relish in Part 2, with the solemn promise it will be a lot more fun and worthy of your consumption than the endlessly boring quest to calculate 3.14 to the whatever power!
About the Author:
Davis Johnson, born in Boston, came into the world wanting to throw and has spent his entire life scratching that itch. When Frisbees flew into his life, he simply wanted to throw them—far. That translated to farthest in the 1970s when he held multiple world distance titles, including becoming the first to throw over 400 feet. Dave is a published poet and songwriter, and just completed 30 years teaching writing at a community college. He’s also worked as a radio weathercaster, health educator, and motivational speaker. Dave’s also an author, having written and published a children’s book, and he edited Victor Malafronte’s The Complete Book of Frisbee. Check out Dave’s website of creative work, Photopoetica. When comes time to be sorted into the Cosmic Compost Bin, Dave prides himself on being 100% recyclable; his titanium right and left hip replacements to the metal bin, teeth implants to the plastics. The rest he gives back to the stars.