- Associated Press - Friday, March 7, 2014

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - It all started in 1983 with the purchase of an old tin that once held Campfire brand marshmallows. Pam and Dave Sorensen liked the tin’s graphic design.

The purchase kicked off a 30-year collecting project that involved buying other tins - for teas, peanut butter - as well as dry goods cases, shop displays and candy racks.

Now, not only do the Sorensens live among their collection of what’s known in the trade as “country” or “general store” items, but they’ve also converted an entire room in their house into a kind of time capsule. A few friends get to see the collection from time to time, but it’s not open to the public.

“We tell people we have this collection,” said Dave Sorensen. “They expect to see a couple of tin cans.”

That’s not quite the situation.

Walk into the room - past a barber chair and glass milk bottles from old Boise dairies, filled with white styrofoam beads to look full of milk, past the jukebox and the shoe store bench, where wooden animal heads divide the seats - and you’ll encounter shelves salvaged from the old Ustick Mercantile.

The shelves hold hundreds of retro packages that once contained spices, saltines and coffee. The Sorensens’ collection includes items that go back decades.

It’s all about the beautiful graphics on the packaging, they say. It’s all about attention to detail. Small metal price tags hang on shelves. The tags hark back to a time that predated individual price stickers.

An obelisk shaped like the Washington Monument holds a selection of Hohner harmonicas. Wind up the obelisk and it will rotate for hours, said Dave Sorensen.

A glass case holds a collection of detachable men’s collars. Another case holds hairnets for the ladies.

A Dr. Scholl’s display still contains a torturous-looking toe straightener and other foot-correcting items made of now-desicated flesh-toned padding.

Other cases hold tobacco tins with wonderful names: Dixie Queen, Green Turtle, Hand Bag. When all the tobacco was used up, kids used the tins as lunch boxes, the Sorensens said.

Children were lucky in this particular era of commerce. Other tobacco tins were “rolly pollies,” spherical tins resembling porcine men and women that must have delighted the younger set.

The Sorensens’ collection includes a 1920s-era promotional tin train made from multicolored Tasty Food coffee tins. Parents could buy different colors of cans. When the coffee was gone, the tins became train compartments. The company stashed the toy’s train wheels and other accoutrements inside the tins, buried in the coffee - not unlike prizes in Cracker Jack, said Pam Sorensen.

“We’re lucky,” said Pam Sorensen. “We both love collecting the same kinds of things.”

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