by Phillip M. Pollock
As seen in Antiques & Art Around Florida, Summer/Fall
All photos are from the author's collection.
When it comes to Florida kitsch, you can hardly
serve it up any better than on old Florida souvenir plates. Through
the years, these plates have been offered as gifts over and over
again to hungry tourists anxious to take them home and put them
up on the wall, mind you, not on the table. Many still hang in
mom and dad's kitchen, a wonderful reminder of a whole string
of attractions that the family visited on vacation in Florida.
The airborne dust
and grease that has settled on them in no way clouds the adventures
these plates represent. Oh sure, there may have been a few no-see-ems,
mosquitos, cockroaches and a gnat now and again, but this is
part of Florida. When you drive all the way from Ohio, what difference
does a bug make, after all? And so what if you ate the shrimp
tails, too. Who would have known? It's not like they tell you
this before you leave Cleveland.
For many of the
kids who made the trip in family autos with tail fins taller
than themselves, the souvenir plates are now significant collectors'
items. They are reminders of sunny days. That's how they remember
Florida! The souvenir plates harken back to those wonderful trips
filled with one great roadside park after another.
souvenir plates find them mostly in junk shops and flea markets,
though antique dealers have now been known to taint a whole table
full of Picard China with a souvenir plate. They, too, have now
realized the collectibility of these souvenirs. In a way, they
offer way more plate for your money. For example, when was the
last time you saw a piece of Picard with a map, a fish, a speedboat,
a couple of bathing beauties, flamingos and a building generic
enough to be your home back in Cleveland or an elegant hotel
You can also find
these souvenirs at garage sales, where it's possible to buy one
right off mom and dad's wall. Collectors take them home and wash
off the dust until they are as bright as the Florida sun, then
hang them like fine art. As a collection they serve as rainbow-like
trim around the walls of a Florida great room, or they are grouped
to form a single piece of art-a colorful mosaic of funky attractions
in a kitchen or dining area.
These plates are
fun because they offer a whole myriad of styles, designs and
places. They often evidence considerable overlap, since the idea
was to show as many tourist spots as possible. Several landmarks
appear over and over again. The Singing Tower in Lake Wales is
certainly one of them, as well as The Old Capitol building in
Tallahassee, (though one plate listed many Florida cities, but
did not list the state capital at all). Silver Springs is also
highlighted on many souvenir plates, along with Cypress Gardens.
Pyramids of men and women on water skis often represented Cypress
Some plates were produced to appeal to visitors
who stopped at less-well-known places like the Key West Aquarium,
Lincoln Road in Miami Beach or the Monkey Jungle, also in Miami.
"Florida's Oldest Friend-Old Uncle Allie," an alligator
so famous as to be named, is shown on another plate. Since "Old
Uncle Allie" appears so infrequently, it's likely he wasn't
much of a draw. On another plate, an event known as the "Sailfish
Derby" is promoted near West Palm Beach, a happening that
apparently had appeal at one time.
Dating these collectibles
is often a challenge. There are usually a combination of images
that can give an idea of time, though you can rarely date the
plates definitely. Plates that show the capitol can be dated
somewhat by its elongated entrance which was foreshortened in
1980. Combine this with the use of "Cape Canaveral"
or "Cape Kennedy" or, in one unusual instance, "Cape
Canaveral Guided Missile Base," and you can get a sense
of time of production. (Cape Canaveral's first American launch
occurred in 1950, was then renamed "John F. Kennedy Space
Center" in 1963.) Look closely at the race cars on Daytona
Beach or the speedboats scattered here or there. These little
graphic clues are often very useful.
age, all the plates have a certain whimsical flare-they were
produced quickly, which is quite evident. On one plate, Florida's
capital city is spelled "Tallamassee," while another
listed Tallahassee as the "State Capitotol." Three
colorful parrots grace a plate advertising Busch Gardens, and
an inscription on the back describes this beautiful garden site,
resplendent with its breathtaking
plants and animals. Oh, and by the way, "the birds shown
on the plate are Dolly, Trudy and Betty." Oh, and also by
the way, the plate was manufactured in Watertown, Wisconsin,
where it's kinda obvious just how many parrots these folks see
in a year!
Probably the neatest
thing about the old Florida plates is that they're moderately
priced and still easy to find. The further north of Florida you
travel, the less expensive you'll find them, where perhaps the
sunny memories of Florida fade quickly with the onset of winter.
In Florida, where the demand is greater and the sun is always
shining, prices are higher, but still reasonable. These colorful
(some might say gaudy!) souvenirs of mom and dad's big adventure
are truly a case of "the cheaper the better!"
About the author:
Phil Pollock is an author and photographer for Florida Heritage
Magazine as well as an avid collector of political buttons and
Art Around Florida
The Best Antiques Guide Magazine
in the U.S.!
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