Geneva Olstad’s sister is an avid collector of salt and pepper shakers. Thirty years ago, Geneva decided she needed a collection that would rival that of her sister.
“My aunt gave me my grandmother’s toothpick holder and I thought, now I know what I’d like to collect,” said Geneva of her hobby.
Geneva, a retired research technician for the Department of Agriculture, fills her retirement days with many enjoyable hobbies, but her toothpick collection gives her the greatest joy. A history buff, she enjoys bringing home a new toothpick holder from an antique store and researching it in one of her many collector’s books.
From North Dakota souvenir pieces, to antique glass, to metal, her collection encompasses many different varieties of tooth pick holders.
“My husband is a sheet metal worker, so I had to get some of those, too,” she said as she pointed to a section of heavy, dark holders, citing one unique toothpick holder as one of her favorites.
Between her collections and her husband’s hobbies – he likes antique cars – the couple travels the United States throughout the year. Geneva explained that instead of being snow birds, the pair prefers to stay at their own home, year-round, to enjoy their hobbies and their granddaughter who lives in Minnesota. Although they like being at their home, just north of Fargo, they take to the road often, which she explained is adventure enough.
A native of Wishek, Geneva enjoys looking through the antique shops in North Dakota.
“I’m always on the lookout. We stop at antique shops when we travel. The North Dakota souvenir ones, I try to pick up anything with a souvenir of North Dakota towns on it. I am a North Dakota fan,” she explained.
For the most part, toothpick holders are all antiques. According to Geneva, they’re just not made anymore because people don’t use them. When she was a child, they were a fixture on the table, part of the china set.
“Things have changed. It used to be fashionable, you didn’t set a table without a toothpick holder on it and now, when was the last time you sat at a table with a toothpick holder? I remember as a child, my mom had a toothpick holder on the table. My husband says, all these toothpick holders and not a toothpick in the house. I tell him, well, you better not pick your teeth in front of me!
Many of the toothpick holders in her collection are cut glass from the late 1800s and early 1900s. The silversmith holders are from the late 1800s. Although her favorite way of finding a new piece for her collection is to seek one out at an antique shop, she has bought some on EBay. Each toothpick holders worth ranges from $5 to $1000.
Always interested in history, Geneva enjoys reading about the companies that made the holders and finding which era they are from. She also collects postcards and in the summer months is busy recording headstones at cemeteries to help people trace their genealogy. She’s an avid quilter and does scherenschnitte, which is German paper cutting.
Geneva’s favorite holders include one that is a pattern called Geneva.
“That was one of the more expensive ones, but I just had to have it because of the name. It’s not one of the prettiest ones. And of course the one that was my grandmothers.”
For Geneva, each toothpick holder has a story. She picked up a marigold holder at an antique shop for $5. The shop had it marked as a vase. When she got home, she looked it up in one of her collector books and found it was worth $300. Her favorite metal one is “heavy and ugly as sin”, but it was made in the late 1800s and is very unique.
Geneva belongs to the Toothpick Holders Club of America. She and her husband enjoy going to the conventions where people bring in their most valuable or special toothpick holders and talk about them.
“I don’t know what I’ll do with them eventually. I am not going to worry about it, I am going to enjoy them while I can,” she said of her collection.