Architectural Kitsch: What Do You Collect?

As much as I love architecture, I also love Americana tchotchkes, especially those featuring American architecture.  The mid part of the twentieth century was perhaps the height of collectible memorabilia, as the automobile made tourism and travel popular and easy. Hitting the road was a favorite American pastime, and all along the way roadside stands offered tourists different knick-knacks to remember their travels by, from coffee mugs to refrigerator magnets. A particular favorite was the souvenir plate.

While most of the plates are food safe, they have many decorative features that make them more for looking at than eating on. Many feature decorative gold paint, elaborate pictorial scenes, scalloped edges, and sometimes, three-dimensional effects. All 50 states in the US had different plates, most decorated with scenes featuring the most prominent and important buildings of the time. It is interesting to me what the plate designers thought architecturally significant during the period, and even more interesting to see what buildings still exist today, or how the thoughts about them have changes. For example, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center feature prominently on all the New York City plates I have found from the 1950s and 60s.


In addition to plates dedicated to states and significant American cities, particular events have also garnered enough importance to get a souvenir plate dedicated to them. For example, one of my favorites is this three-dimensional plate for the World's Fair held in Seattle in 1962. As it was the introduction of the Space Needle to the world, it stands tall, proud, and pink on the plate, built out with clay to add some dimension.



Also, natural landmarks and parks often get their own plates. I own several of these, and the California Redwoods is one of my favorites. It reminds me of a childhood vacation to the giant talking Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues and the drive-thru tree.



As you can see, I hang the plates salon style on my kitchen walls. I pick them up for between 25cents and $5 at rummage sales and thrift shops and, while I don't often buy plates for landmarks or states I already own, I love checking out the architecture important enough to be featured on different plates during different decades in the twentieth century. It's a fun collection, and one people love to browse when visiting my home. Do you collect any architectural-related memorabilia? If so, what kind?


NYC plate

Hi Amy!

I just picked up the exact NYC plate photographed in your article above, here in a second hand shop in Australia. Do you know what year / decade it's from?



NYC plate

Thanks for reading and for your comment! I don't know what year the NYC plate is; my guess is that its from the 1970s or 80s. It's certainly pre-2001, as the Twin Towers are present. Have fun researching and collecting! Amy

Thursday, Sep. 22


Hi Amy,

I'm really sorry I must miss your Thursday lunch and architecture gig in Boise. I have an unavoidable conflict. Next time, though.....

Jan Boles
Sunny Slope

Jan! Sorry you'll miss it - I

Sorry you'll miss it - I think you'd really love it. Thanks for reading the blog, though, and stopping by to leave a note. Amy


coincidentally, I have plates, too, but I just collect Idaho ones.

I do have a bunch of non-Idaho plates I'm looking to ditch, if you're interested. :)

Sharon- Thanks for reading!

Thanks for reading! I'd love your plates. Email me at amy@idahomodern.org if you're really looking to find them a new, good home. Amy

Idaho plate

I forgot to mention that my Idaho plate features several natural landscapes in our state, including Balance Rock and Craters of the Moon. Two prominently featured architectural treasures are the capital building in Boise and the old Potlach Paper Mill in Lewiston.

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