An online museum of signed toilet papers
Richard and Floralee Newman, members of the Tagyerit band in which are also songwriters, started collecting toilet paper in 1978 as a fun alternative to their other collecting habits. They ended up being completely surprised by the amazing variety of the world’s toilet paper at that time which were different in colors, textures, imprinting, embossing, weights, and manufacturing qualities.
Every time one of their friends traveled or went to a special event, they’d ask them to bring back a toilet paper sample, just a few sheets annotated with date, place, event, and the collector’s name.
Things kept getting more and more interesting as these in-the-field collectors began adding stories, artworks, and even celebrity signatures on the toilet paper.
Early on, they discovered that regular ballpoint pens are best for writing on toilet paper (other markers would tear the paper or the ink would run). They started to realize there were different categories for the collection.
Geographic locations/occupational (i.e. spacesuit maker; train engineer, etc…), historical events/antique pieces/creative artistic (i.e. elaborate drawings on the paper; poetry, etc…), celebrity signed (including musician-signed toilet paper), bookmarks/lengthy pieces that are signed by groups of people; pieces with interesting stories, …
After they created a website for their band Tagyerit’s music in 1995.
“We decided to have fun with our website and add some of our other interests. We called the toilet paper collection ‘The Whole World Toilet Paper Museum’, though it’s a museum in name only since it’s visible on the internet throughout the world”.
Then, people they didn’t know began contributing pieces and they even received some other people’s collections.
“We were really surprised to find out how many old and antique pieces of toilet paper actually survived in their original condition”.
The collection numbers about 1,500 annotated pieces. Here are just a few of the examples:
- A clown shoemaker in Massachusetts signed a piece of toilet paper for us. He made half the shoes for the movie The Grinch Who Stole Christmas;
- Madonna signed a piece when she was working on the movie set of A League of Their Own;
- Woody Allen signed a piece at the Cannes Film Festival and wrote on the toilet paper “Why This?”;
- A piece from the Kremlin when Gorbachev was under house arrest during an attempted coup d’etat;
- McMurdo Station in the Antarctic was signed by the entire janitorial staff.
“We’ve watched the quality of toilet paper from around the world change over these decades. Now it’s becoming more standard soft and white, which is unfortunate for us as we revel in the vast variety of shades of color and textures that used to be so prevalent”.
“At home, the majority of our tissue use is for toilet paper. We do use a small number of paper towels and paper napkins, but probably a package of each lasts us a year. Our goal in tissue use, as in much of our other purchases, is to be as environmentally-friendly as possible”.
For many years, they have bought recycled tissue but lately have found tree-free options which are actually kind of exciting. A year ago, as a gift, a friend bought them 100% bamboo toilet paper from an online store, Who Gives a Crap. Not only is it environmentally-friendly, but these people donate 50% of their profits to bring toilets to places that have none. It’s reasonably priced, and they market it with a sense of humor too.
“Flo and I both grew up in or around Boston, Massachusetts, in the 1950s. Good strong quality tissue was all around. In diners, the dispensers were filled with paper napkins and only in the fanciest restaurants were cloth napkins provided”.
“We’re not big travelers, and that is part of the original impetus for our collection. In 1978, a friend was flying to Europe and asked us what we’d like her to bring us back”.
The couple has put photos of much of their collection online at naming it the Whole World Toilet Paper Museum.
“At some point, though, it started getting over the top. Friends would get creative in what they brought us. One friend, who is an artist, drew a picture on the sheet of every toilet she went to. Then people started competing to see who could get the craziest piece. Three people have sent us toilet paper on their wedding days”, she said.
Someone thought of getting famous people to contribute a signed piece of their own toilet paper, and many were more than willing, Madonna, David Lynch, Sharon Stone, Joan Jett, Penny Marshall, Harrison Ford, Barbara Walters, among others.
There were unexpected discoveries, though.
“A friend had to go shoot an AD at Martha Stewart’s house. He had to use the bathroom, and he came back with a piece for us. It was one-ply. That was a big surprise”, Newman said.
There were also unexpected dangers.
“I had a friend who went to Ireland in the days when they were having all the problems. She was getting ready to go on a ferry, and she decided to go to the bathroom to get a sheet of toilet paper for us. But she left her suitcase in the hall”.
“The bomb squad came, and two big guys went into the bathroom wanting to know why she left the suitcase there. She couldn’t just say, ‘I was trying to get a piece of toilet paper for my friend'”, she said.
However, the collection has never been about fame, nor has it been a serious undertaking, Newman said. Their philosophy has been more about humor and fun than anything else.
“That’s our life, lived in jest.”