1. The Largest Vinyl Record Collection in the World
"I’ve gone to therapy for 40 years to try to explain this to myself," he said when speaking to the NYTimes. "Maybe it's because I was alone… I don’t know." According to the NYTimes article, his obsession is tied up with his childhood memories of his father playing records. When he finished high school, he had already built up a collection of over 3,000 records. He now stores them in a 25,000 square-foot warehouse in Sao Paulo.
Aware that the collection is largely useless if people aren't able to access it, Freitas has now begun preparing the Emporium Musical - a non-profit organisation which will act as a music library, with listening stations set up amongst the shelves. He's also on a mission to digitalise as much of the collection as possible, as up to 80% of Brazilian music recorded in the 20th-century is yet to be transferred. "It’s very important to save this," he said. "Very important."
2. A Woman Makes A Shrine Of Her Used Condom Collection
3. Has she caught 'em all? Woman who owns the world's largest collection of Pokemon memorabilia consisting of over 16, 000 items
When it comes to Pokemon the aim is to collect them all but one fan has taken this to the extreme.
Lisa Courtney realy has trid to live up to the 'gotta catch em' all' tagline and is the owner of the world's largest Pokemon collection, with more than 16, 000 pieces of the Japanese memorabilia.
The 26-year-old has been a Pokemon fan from a young age and has been collecting and storing the trinkets for the past 17 years.
Lisa's fixation started at the age of nine when she saw a picture of the cartoon's protagonist, Pikachu in a Nintendo magazine.
Lisa, who lives in Hertfordshire, has thousands of the cartoon's famous collectible trading cards but her obsession doesn't end there.
Lisa's room is full to bursting with hundreds of the anime cuddly toys, models, clothing, badges, flannels and posters.
Lisa's collection of the Nintendo franchise has grown so large that her mother Sharon, whom she lives with, had to move from the largest to the smallest room in their house to make room for the possessions.
Lisa has held the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of Pokemon memorabilia since 2009 when she had 12,113 items but that hasn't stopped her from collecting more.
The devoted fan even traveled to Japan when the eleventh Pokemon movie was released to get hold of exclusive merchandise that wasn't available in Europe.
'With the help of my late grandparents, I visited Japan for my 21st birthday.
'I went for the release of the eleventh Pokemon movie in an attempt to get some exclusive Shaymin merchandise - it was amazing.'
Despite having to sacrifice her bedroom, Lisa's mum and the rest of her family are very supportive of her obsession and even buy her more items for special occasions.
Lisa's mum and grandmother had to order Lisa's first toy from overseas because Pokemon had not yet hit the UK.
'The first toy I ever got was a large Psyduck plush toy from Japan - my mother and grandmother ordered it from a mail order company before Pokemon hit the UK.
'We had to guess what we were ordering because the names of the Pokemon hadn't even been translated into English yet.'
For Lisa Pokemon isn't simply a cartoon, the programme really helped her through a very difficult stage of her life.
'I started collecting when I was getting bullied at school, Pokemon was the only thing that made me feel happy.'
She now spends seven hours a week on the internet browsing for new Pokemon releases to buy and trade, she also visits car-boot sales and charity shops at weekends hunting for rare memorabilia to add to her collection.
'I try and get new merchandise as soon as the new characters come out - it's often difficult as they are only available in Japan and America or are too expensive.'
Despite trying to save money where she can Lisa does own one particular item that she is sure must be worth a fortune.
'My most valuable piece is my large Ho-Oh plush toy, it was a prize in Japan, only available in raffles and in their amusement arcades.
'Only 100 were ever made but I bought mine for £60 online - it's probably worth several times that now.
'My favourite piece is my Absol PokeDoll, who I nickname 'Hiei' after a character from one of my favourite shows.
Despite her mammoth collection Lisa has no plans to slow her obsession any time soon.
'I will always collect Pokemon, I will never stop, there's always something new to get.'
4. Zionsville man has every beer can ever made, or so it seems
What was once a fad for teenagers in the 70’s—think modern-day Pokémon cards or Beanie Babies—is regaining momentum thanks to the craft beer boom, and the 5,000+ members of the Brewery Collectibles Club of America.
Central Indiana residents Gene Judd, Chip Viering, and Steve Paddack are part of a local chapter, Indy Brewery Collectibles. The group of 20-or-so collects “breweriana,” brewery memorabilia including cans, bottles, signs, trays, taps and more.
Now all grown up, Viering says the group is finding new 50-year-olds all the time that have all these cans, and they want to get back into it.
“We’re a couple of the nerds that didn’t stop,” he laughed.
Just peek inside Judd’s massive collection in his Zionsville home. And by “in,” that’s actually next door, because he has a separate can-cave to house his breweriana.
Judd, who owns a roofing company, spends spare time during the winter months to have shelves built to display his cans. Rows and rows of them line every wall from top to bottom.
Antique, new, and from all over the world, this guy has it all. A few of them are worth something.
“Beer cans can go anywhere from 50 cents to $50,000 dollars, it just depends on condition and rarity,” Judd said.
His rarest cans include Krueger’s Beer cans, some of the very first to go on sale in 1935, just following the repeal of prohibition. He also has a Fox Deluxe Beer can, one that wasn’t even known to the collector world until Judd purchased it in 2014.
Other cans in the men’s collections are only worth the cost of the aluminum, but that doesn’t matter to them. They collect because, well, they are collectors, and for any number of reasons like the graphics, interesting names, commemorative designs, or just a walk down memory lane.
“Billy Beers, Olde Frothingslosh, and some other beers from ’75 really started this craze,” Viering said.
One special series of The Olde Frothingslosh cans donned photographs of plus-size fashion model Marsha Phillips, known better as Fatima Yechburgh, the fictional winner of a beauty contest. Fatima become a favorite at beer can collector’s conventions, making appearances and signing autographs.
“I made my parents drink so much cheap, cheap beer back then, just because I wanted the can and we would trade them,” Paddack recalled. As teenagers, they didn’t care about drinking the beer. It was a hobby.
Judd’s collection also includes cans from old Indianapolis breweries like the Indianapolis Brewing Company and Drewrys, which recently reopened in South Bend.
The Indianapolis Brewing Company shut down in 1948. It wasn’t until 60 years later that Indianapolis saw beers canned locally again. That was in 2009, when Sun King Brewery began canning.
With the continued rise of microbreweries, the portable, unbreakable, and air-tight vessel is getting a second chance to shine.
“In the height of the craft beer boom, a lot of guys are starting to hang out their empties and display them,” Paddock said. “But they are very difficult to keep up with, because there are now hundreds of cans appearing on a monthly basis across the country.”
For Judd, that just means an addition to his can-cave. And building more shelves.
5. 300 Ultra-Realistic Dolls
Marilyn Mansfield has spent tens of thousands of dollars on her incredible doll collection, which includes 300 ultra-realistic handmade dolls. Every room in her Staten Island, New York home is filled with them, and she cares for them like they are her children.
Marilyn, 36, takes them for walks in a stroller, feeds them, and cuddles them. Husband Zoth Ommog, 40, fully supports her obsession, and the family always makes room for additions. While Marilyn sometimes receives negative criticism for her inanimate family members, some people are fooled by their realistic qualities.
6. Man has every Christmas No1 since 1952
But they are music to Gordon Lewis’s ears – because he has collected every festive No1 since 1952.
He has added US rockers Rage Against the Machine’s Killing In The Name Of to his collection of 57 Christmas chart-toppers.
Gordon hates rock and disapproves of the language in Rage’s surprise hit but says he is delighted for them.
Gordon, 48, from Totton, Hants, said: “They are not my cup of tea but perhaps now the Christmas number one will be an event again.”
Gordon’s obsession began in 1971, when Benny Hill’s Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West) pipped T-Rex to top spot. He spent years searching to complete his collection with Dickie Valentine’s 1955 Christmas Alphabet the most expensive at £100.
7. Meet the Man with the World's Largest Private Rum Collection
So many people say they “don't do rum." Why do you think that is?
Rum has a lingering bad reputation from the practices of numerous liquor store owners in the late 1930s. After Prohibition was repealed, there was very little whiskey for sale in the United States, but there was an awful lot of rum just sitting dockside in the Caribbean, and it flooded the market. The store owners would make you buy a case of rum - which was very cheap, but often undesired - in order to buy a good quart of whiskey. I think in many ways that bitterness has persisted.
Maybe it is that so many people are exposed to bad rum that they don't appreciate good rum?
Nobody starts out sipping extraordinary rum. They start out with the light rums in this country that come from Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands and they drink them in poorly made cocktails. They drink rum in sweet carbonated beverages, it ends up being too sweet for their taste and they blame it on the rum. If the rum is well made, all the natural sugar is converted to alcohol. Now, nobody realizes that. They say, "Rum is made from sugar, so what do you expect?"
One of the bad things that's been happening recently, rogue shippers of rum are having sugar added to the barrel before they are emptied into the bottle. At least spiced rum is labeled with additives. There are a lot of sins that have crept into the industry that would be eliminated with proper labeling.
How did you first encounter rum?
Well, when I was in college I lived in a city, Washington D.C., that had one of the classic Polynesian-style tiki bars and a very high quality branch of the Trader Vic's chain. Oh, man, when I discovered that, I thought I had found heaven. But the problem was as a student, you can't afford to drink that kind of stuff often. And the recipes were a trade secret. But if you were really industrious, and I was at the time, you found a few of the recipes were accessible. As years went by, it became more so. Finally Trader Vic, by the time he wrote his fifth recipe book, had spilled out all his recipes.
I loved the drinks, so I was buying rum to replicate them at home as best I could. What I discovered over time, as more information about the recipes was revealed, I realized that the flavoring syrups and the fruit juices weren't making the difference in drink - it was the caliber of rums. Once you get above the really inexpensive light rums, you find rum has incredible and varied flavor. So that told me, I can't just buy one bottle of rum anymore, I'm going to need six. And then I needed 15 different types of rum to make all the drinks properly and I just went from there.
It's exciting that all across the country you see more and more tiki bars popping up. Even in regular bars you're seeing hints of it. My local bar, the Black Penny in the French Quarter, is known for their vast beer selection — but there's a fantastic bartender, John Peterson, that makes his own orgeat. Right there in my little corner bar, I can enjoy one the best Mai Tais I've ever had.
That's the whole point of this craft cocktail movement. These people are so fanatical about authenticity and everything has to be completely natural. I know Jeff "Beachbum" Berry, his nightmare in anticipation of opening Latitude 29 was that some fool would accuse him of using high fructose corn syrup, meanwhile he's hard at work hand-brewing his own simple syrups made of all different types of sugar. If he was using anything artificial, the craft cocktail people would turn on him like sharks smelling blood in the water. But that didn't happen.
Is that your favorite tiki bar in New Orleans, Latitude 29?
Some people say that Cane & Table is their favorite tiki bar, but to me it feels less tiki and more a bar you would find in Havana.
Cane & Table has a very good rum selection and also the Rum House in New Orleans has a phenomenal collection of rum. It's a great place if you are into rums you could make an evening out of stopping there. Cure also has a shelf full of rum. All these people are fanatics. One thing that's boosted me, early on — pre-internet — I connected with Dr. Cocktail, Ted Haigh, who wrote the book "Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails," which I feel provoked the craft cocktail movement. If you look in his glossaries he'll tell you where to get herbs by mail order that you've never heard of.
Have you traveled to Cuba?
No. One of my closest friends in New York was a Cuban immigrant, but his family had a pretty tough time after the revolution. His family had lost everything and suffered considerable hardship. Now I probably haven't laid eyes on this guy in seven or eight years, but I wouldn't be able to look him in the eye and tell him that I went down there and spent my hard-earned money supporting the Castro regime.
How do you think the rum market is going to change when Cuba opens up and everyone can get Havana Club?
It will be time enough coming, won't it? The Cuban rum industry is effectively owned by Pernod Ricard, an absinthe maker in France. They'll ramp up the production. In the 1990s — and you can taste the difference — the French took over the marketing and the demand for Havana Club outpaced the supply, but they were so starved for foreign currency that they bottled what they could anyway. There was definitely a period where the top of the line seven year anejo was not aged for seven years and the best rum that Havana Club had was their 5 year, which is still my favorite of the old early Castro Havana Club labels.
I'm a real believer that a rising tide raises all ships, so my hope is that all those people that say they are not rum drinkers may be curious enough to try Cuban rum and discover other rums that way.
It will spark the market. Just like the resurrection of the tiki bar craze has done.
What is your favorite rum destination?
Oh, it used to be Jamaica. The first five years I was working and could afford a real vacation, I spent them all in Jamaica. And there I picked up a lot of wonderful bottles of rum that quickly became discontinued. They were just on the shelves of these small, rural grocery stores.
Do you have a favorite distillery there?
Well, the big dog, even back in the 1970s, was Wray and Nephew. They were starting to buy up all the smaller producers. My favorite rums were theirs.
I see some rums on your bar from 1905. What is your oldest rum?
This one from St. Croix, or as the old books would call it, Santa Cruz, and it's from 1860. That's when it was made, but it was bottled in 1906.
I notice a lot of your bottles haven't been opened.
I call this my permanent collection. Most of the bottles displayed are unopened. Maybe a handful are, but no more than five or six. But I've always had good luck for finding bottles, even the very old ones, that are unopened. What's the purpose of looking at empty bottles? If a collection has any purpose at all, it's to show how rums of a certain origin or a certain producer have evolved over the years. For instance, I have every bottle of aged rum that Wray and Nephew ever made.
I practically have to beat people off the front stoop during Tales of the Cocktail. You meet people and they always want to see the collection. When I host people, especially during Tales, I do open my duplicates.
It seems to me gin had its day a few years back. Is this rum's time?
Oh, it's booming. This is the best market for rum in the United States since the 1930s.
If you were out for an evening cocktail, what would you order?
I probably would get one of the two older Appleton rums from Jamaica. The Appleton 12-year-old.
Do you have a favorite mixed drink?
The old-style Jamaican Planter's Punch. And if I find somebody who makes a good one, that's what I'll drink. It has to be with freshly squeezed juice. I remember going to Bar Tonique when it opened, I got their version of a Dark and Stormy. Instead of reaching for a bottle of organic ginger beer, the guy gets out a couple of little squeeze bottles filled with homemade sweeteners and fresh-pressed ginger. Then he tops it with soda water, which they probably make themselves and I remember laughing and thinking, "Ok. I'll go with this."
Steve, I could talk to you for days about rum, but I'll let you get back to your evening. Any parting words?
"I feel sorry for people who don't drink, because when they wake up in the morning that's the best they're going to feel all day." That's my favorite quote by Frank Sinatra. He was a Jack Daniel’s drinker, but you can't hold that against him.
8. Unbelievable Nintendo fan collects every single Nintendo Wii game
NintendoTwizer talked about the extensive set on the NintendoAge forum, explaining why the Nintendo Wii and what his history with the console is.
"The Wii is a fascinating system. It sold over 100 million units. It was an insane success for Nintendo. No other Nintendo home system including the original Nintendo could touch it in sales. Think about that. Everyone had one (including my grandma). For me, I felt it would be an interesting challenge. The Wii was unexplored territory. Not many people have gone for a complete set," wrote NintendoTwizer.
Not only does he own all 1,262 games, he owns the console in all four different colors and the Wiimote in all twelve different colors.
While one would think that a collection this big would take a long time, NintendoTwizer started his collection in late 2015 after buying a new house.
"By 2014, I’ve acquired over 100 games over the lifetime of the Wii, lots of really fantastic titles, one’s I’ve put countless hours into. In early 2015, I sold my collection to build a house, every game I owned found a new home, all as one huge lot. My Wii game count was back at zero. By December of 2015 my new house was complete. I designated a spare space for the new game room. I spent the next year picking up Wii games I saw them," wrote NintendoTwizer.
9. This man owns the largest collection of Nazi artifacts
The next year, at a car auction in Monte Carlo, he asked his multimillionaire father for a Mercedes: the G4 that Hitler rode into the Sudetenland in 1938.
Tom Wheatcroft refused to buy it and his son cried all the way home.
When Wheatcroft was 15, he spent birthday money from his grandmother on three WWII Jeeps recovered from the Shetlands, which he restored himself and sold for a tidy profit. He invested the proceeds in four more vehicles, then a tank.
After Wheatcroft left school at 16, he went to work for an engineering firm, and then for his father’s construction company. He spent his spare time touring wind-blasted battle sites in Europe and North Africa, searching for tank parts and recovering military vehicles that he would ship home to restore.
Wheatcroft is now 55, and worth $190 million. He lives in Leicestershire, England, where he looks after the property portfolio of his late father and oversees the management of a racetrack and motor museum.
The ruling passion of his life, though, is what he calls the Wheatcroft Collection — widely regarded as the world’s largest accumulation of German military vehicles and Nazi memorabilia. The collection has largely been kept in private, under heavy guard, in a warren of industrial buildings. There is no official record of the value of Wheatcroft’s collection, but some estimates place it at over $160 million.
Since that initial stormtrooper’s helmet, Wheatcroft’s life has been shaped by his obsession for German military memorabilia. He has travelled the world tracking down items to add to his collection, flying into remote airfields, following up unlikely leads, throwing himself into hair-raising adventures in the pursuit of historic objects.
He readily admits that his urge to accumulate has been monomaniacal, elbowing out the demands of friends and family. The French theorist Jean Baudrillard once noted that collecting mania is found most often in “pre-pubescent boys and males over the age of 40”; the things we hoard, he wrote, tend to reveal deeper truths.
Wheatcroft’s father, Tom, a building site worker, came back from WWII a hero. He also came back with a wife, Wheatcroft’s mother, Lenchen, whom he had first seen from the turret of a tank as he pulled into her village in the Harz mountains of Germany.
He made hundreds of millions in the post-war building boom, then spent the rest of his life indulging his zeal for motor cars.
Tom supported his son in his early years of collecting; Wheatcroft speaks of his late father as “not just my dad, but also my best friend.” Tom died in 2009. Despite being one of seven children, Wheatcroft was the sole beneficiary of his father’s will. He no longer speaks to his siblings.
It is hard to say how much the echoes of atrocity that resonate from Nazi artifacts compel the enthusiasts who haggle for and hawk them. The trade in Third Reich antiquities is either banned or strictly regulated in Germany, France, Austria, Israel and Hungary.
None of the major auction houses will handle Nazi memorabilia and eBay recently prohibited sales on its site.
Still, the business flourishes, with burgeoning online sales and increasing interest from buyers in Russia, America and the Middle East; Wheatcroft’s biggest rival is a mysterious, unnamed Russian buyer.
Naturally, exact figures are hard to come by, but the market’s annual global turnover is estimated to be in excess of $47 million. One of the most-visited websites is run by Holocaust denier David Irving, who in 2009 sold Hitler’s walking stick (which had previously belonged to Friedrich Nietzsche) for $5,750. Irving has offered strands of Hitler’s hair for $200,000, and says he is currently verifying the authenticity of charred bones said to be those of Hitler and Eva Braun.
There is also a roaring trade in the automobiles of the Third Reich — in 2009, one of Hitler’s Mercedes sold for almost $7.8 million. A signed copy of Mein Kampf will set you back $31,000, while in 2011 an unnamed investor purchased Joseph Mengele’s South American journals for $473,000.
As the crimes of the Nazi regime retreat further into the past, there seems to be an increasing desperation in the race to get hold of mementos of the darkest chapter of the 20th century. In the market for Nazi memorabilia, two out of the three principal ideologies of the era — fascism and capitalism — collide, with the mere financial value of these objects used to justify their acquisition, the spiralling prices trapping collectors in a frantic race for the rare and the covetable.
In Walden, Henry David Thoreau observed that “the things we own can own us too”; this is the sense I get with Wheatcroft — that he started off building a collection, but that very quickly the collection began building him.
‘I was in the area’
When I went to Leicestershire near the end of last year to see the collection, a visibly tired Wheatcroft met me off the train. “I want people to see this stuff,” he told me. “There’s no better way to understand history. But I’m only one man and there’s just so much of it.”
He had been trying to set his collection in order, cataloguing late into the night, and making frequent trips to Cornwall, where, at huge expense, he was restoring the only remaining Kriegsmarine S-Boat in existence.
Wheatcroft had recently purchased two more barns and a dozen shipping containers to house his collection. The complex of industrial buildings, stretching across several flat Leicestershire acres, seemed like a manifestation of his obsession — just as haphazard, as cluttered and as dark.
As we made our way into the first of his warehouses, Wheatcroft stood back for a moment, as if shocked by the scale of what he had accumulated. Many of the tanks before us were little more than rusting husks, ravaged by the years they had spent abandoned in the deserts of North Africa or on the Russian steppes.
They jostled each other in the warehouses, spewing out to sit in glum convoys around the complex’s courtyard.
“Every object in the collection has a story,” Wheatcroft told me as we made our way under the turrets of tanks, stepping over V2 rockets and U-boat torpedoes. “The story of the war, then subsequent wars, and finally the story of the recovery and restoration. All that history is there in the machine today.”
We stood beside the muscular bulk of a Panzer IV tank, patched with rust and freckled with bullet holes, its tracks trailing barbed wire.
Wheatcroft scratched at the palimpsest of paintwork to reveal layers of color beneath: its current livery, the duck-egg blue of the Christian Phalangists from the Lebanese civil war, flaking away to the green of the Czech army who used the vehicles in the 1960s and 70s, and finally the original German taupe.
The tank was abandoned in the Sinai desert until Wheatcroft arrived on one of his regular shopping trips to the region and shipped it home to Leicestershire.
Wheatcroft owns a fleet of 88 tanks — more than the Danish and Belgian armies combined. The majority of the tanks are German, and Wheatcroft recently acted as an adviser to David Ayer, the director of “Fury” (in which Brad Pitt played the commander of a German-based US Sherman tank in the final days of the war). “They still got a lot of things wrong,” he told me. “I was sitting in the cinema with my daughter saying, ‘That wouldn’t have happened’ and ‘That isn’t right.’ Good film, though.”
Around the tanks sat a number of strange hybrid vehicles with caterpillar tracks at the back, truck wheels at the front. Wheatcroft explained to me that these were half-tracks, deliberately designed by the Nazis so as not to flout the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which stipulated that the Germans could not build tanks.
Wheatcroft owns more of these than anyone else in the world, as well as having the largest collection of Kettenkrads, which are half-motorbike, half-tank, and were built to be dropped out of gliders.
“They just look very cool,” he said with a grin.
Alongside the machines’ stories of wartime escapades and the sometimes dangerous lengths that Wheatcroft had gone to in order to secure them were the dazzling facts of their value. “The Panzer IV cost me $25,000. I’ve been offered two and a half million for it now. It’s the same with the half-tracks. They regularly go for over a million each. Even the Kettenkrads, which I’ve picked up for as little as $1,500, go for $235,000.”
I tried to work out the total value of the machines around me, and gave up somewhere north of $78 million. Wheatcroft had made himself a fortune, almost without realizing it.
“Everyone just assumes that I’ve inherited a race track and I’m a spoilt rich kid who wants to indulge in these toys,” he told me, a defensive edge to his voice. “It’s not like that at all. My dad supported me, but only when I could prove that the collection would work financially. And as a collector, you never have any spare money lying around. Everything is tied up in the collection.”
Leaning against the wall of one of the warehouses, I spotted a dark wooden door, heavy iron bolts on one side and a Judas window in the centre. Wheatcroft saw me looking at it. “That’s the door to Hitler’s cell in Landsberg. Where he wrote ‘Mein Kampf.’ I was in the area.”
A lot of Wheatcroft’s stories start like this — he seems to have a genius for proximity. “I found out that the prison was being pulled down. I drove there, parked up and watched the demolition. At lunch I followed the builders to the pub and bought them a round. I did it three days in a row and by the end of it, I drove off with the door, some bricks and the iron bars from his cell.”
It was the first time he had mentioned Hitler by name. We paused for a moment by the dark door with its black bars, then moved on.
‘My real love’
Sometimes the stories of search and recovery were far more interesting than the objects themselves. Near the door sat a trio of rusty wine racks.
“They were Hitler’s,” he said, laying a proprietary hand upon the nearest one. “We pulled them out of the ruins of the Berghof [Hitler’s home in Berchtesgaden] in May 1989. The whole place was dynamited in ’52, but my friend Adrian and I climbed through the ruins of the garage and down through air vents to get in. You can still walk through all of the underground levels. We made our way by torchlight through laundry rooms, central heating service areas. Then a bowling alley with big signs for Coke all over it. Hitler loved to drink Coke. We brought back these wine racks.”
Later, among engine parts and ironwork, I came across a massive bust of Hitler, sitting on the floor next to a condom vending machine (“I collect pub memorabilia, too,” Wheatcroft explained). “I have the largest collection of Hitler heads in the world,” he said, a refrain that returned again and again. “This one came from a ruined castle in Austria. I bought it from the town council.”
“Things have the longest memories of all,” says the introduction to a recent essay by Teju Cole, “beneath their stillness, they are alive with the terrors they have witnessed.” This is what you feel in the presence of the Wheatcroft Collection — a sense of great proximity to history, to horror, an uncanny feeling that the objects know more than they are letting on.
Wheatcroft’s home sits behind high walls and heavy gates. There is a pond, its surface stirred by the fingers of a willow tree. A spiky black mine bobs along one edge. The house is huge and modern and somehow without logic, as if wings and extensions have been appended to the main structure willy-nilly.
When I visited, it was late afternoon, a winter moon climbing the sky. Behind the house, apple trees hung heavy with fruit. A Krupp submarine cannon stood sentry outside the back door.
One of the outer walls was set with wide maroon half-moons of iron work, inlaid with obscure runic symbols.
“They were from the top of the officers’ gates to Buchenwald,” Wheatcroft told me in an offhand manner. “I’ve got replica gates to Auschwitz — Arbeit Macht Frei — over there.” He gestured into the gloaming.
I had first heard about Wheatcroft from my aunt Gay, who, as a rather half-hearted expat estate agent, sold him a rambling chateau near Limoges. They subsequently enjoyed (or endured) a brief, doomed love affair.
Despite the inevitable break-up, my father kept in touch with Wheatcroft and, several years ago, was invited to his home. After a drink in the pub-cum-officers’ mess that Wheatcroft has built adjacent to his dining room, my dad was shown to the guest apartment.
“It was remarkable,” he said, mostly for the furniture. “That night, my dad slept in Hermann Göring’s favorite bed, from Carinhall hunting lodge, made of walnut wood and carved with a constellation of swastikas. There were glassy eyed deer heads and tusky boars on the walls, wolf-skin rugs on the floor. My father was a little spooked, but mostly intrigued. In an email soon after, he described Wheatcroft to me as “absurdly decent, almost unnaturally friendly.”
Darkness had fallen as we stepped into the immense, two-story barn conversion behind his home. It was the largest of the network of buildings surrounding the house, and wore a fresh coat of paint and shiny new locks on the doors. As we walked inside, Wheatcroft turned to me with a thin smile, and I could tell that he was excited.
“I have to have strict rules in my life,” he said, “I don’t show many people the collection, because not many people can understand the motives behind it, people don’t understand my values.”
He kept making these tentative passes at the stigma attached to his obsession, as if at once baffled by those who might find his collection distasteful, and desperately keen to defend himself, and it.
The lower level of the building contained a now-familiar range of tanks and cars, including the Mercedes G4 Wheatcroft saw as a child in Monaco. “I cried and cried because my dad wouldn’t buy me this car. Now, almost 50 years later, I’ve finally got it.”
On the walls huge iron swastikas hung, street-signs for Adolf Hitler Strasse and Adolf Hitler Platz, posters of Hitler with “Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer” written beneath.
“That’s from Wagner’s family home,” he told me, pointing to a massive iron eagle spreading its wings over a swastika. It was studded with bullet holes. “I was in a scrap yard in Germany when a feller came in who’d been clearing out the Wagner estate and had come upon this. Bought it straight from him.”
We climbed a narrow flight of stairs to an airy upper level, and I felt that I had moved deeper into the labyrinth of Wheatcroft’s obsession. In the long, gabled hall were dozens of mannequins, all in Nazi uniform. Some were dressed as Hitler Youth, some as SS officers, others as Wehrmacht soldiers.
It was bubble still, the mannequins perched as if frozen in flight, a sleeping Nazi Caerleon. One wall was taken up with machine guns, rifles and rocket launchers in serried rows. The walls were plastered with sketches by Hitler, Albert Speer and some rather good nudes by Göring’s chauffeur.
On cluttered display tables sat a scale model of Hitler’s mountain eyrie the Kehlsteinhaus, a twisted machine gun from Hess’s crashed plane, the commandant’s phone from Buchenwald, hundreds of helmets, mortars and shells, wirelesses, Enigma machines, and searchlights, all jostling for attention. Rail after rail of uniforms marched into the distance.
“I brought David Ayer in here when he was researching Fury,” Wheatcroft told me. “He offered to buy the whole lot there and then. When I said no he offered me 30 grand for this.” He showed me a fairly ordinary-looking camouflage tunic. “He knows his stuff.”
We were standing in front of signed photographs of Hitler and Göring. “I think I could give up everything else,” he said, “the cars, the tanks, the guns, as long as I could still have Adolf and Hermann. They’re my real love.”
I asked Wheatcroft whether he was worried about what people might read into his fascination with Nazism. Other notable collectors, I pointed out, were the bankrupt and discredited David Irving and Lemmy from Motörhead.
“I try not to answer when people accuse me of being a Nazi,” he said. “I tend to turn my back and leave them looking silly. I think Hitler and Göring were such fascinating characters in so many ways. Hitler’s eye for quality was just extraordinary.”
He swept his arm across the army of motionless Nazis surrounding us, taking in the uniforms and the bayonets, the dimly glimmering guns and medals. “More than that, though,” he continued, “I want to preserve things. I want to show the next generation how it actually was. And this collection is a memento for those who didn’t come back. It’s the sense of history you get from these objects, the conversations that went on around them, the way they give you a link to the past. It’s a very special feeling.”
The greatest find
We walked around the rest of the exhibition, stopping for a moment by a nondescript green backpack. “There’s a story behind this,” he said. “I found a roll of undeveloped film in it. I’d only bought the backpack to hang on a mannequin, but inside was this film. I had it developed and there were five unpublished pictures of Bergen-Belsen on it. It must have been very soon after the liberation, because there were bulldozers moving piles of bodies.”
The most treasured pieces of Wheatcroft’s collection are kept in his house, a maze-like place, low-ceilinged and full of staircases, corridors that turn back on themselves, hidden doorways and secret rooms. As soon as we entered through the back door, he began to apologize for the state of the place. “I’ve been trying to get it all in order, but there just aren’t the hours in the day.” In the drawing room there was a handsome walnut case in which sat Eva Braun’s gramophone and record collection. We walked through to the snooker room, which housed a selection of Hitler’s furniture, as well as two motorbikes. The room was so cluttered that we could not move further than the doorway.
“I picked up all of Hitler’s furniture at a guesthouse in Linz,” Wheatcroft told me. “The owner’s father’s dying wish had been that a certain room should be kept locked. I knew Hitler had lived there and so finally persuaded him to open it and it was exactly as it had been when Hitler slept in the room. On the desk there was a blotter covered in Hitler’s signatures in reverse, the drawers were full of signed copies of Mein Kampf. I bought it all. I sleep in the bed, although I’ve changed the mattress.”
A shy, conspiratorial smile.
We made our way through to the galleried dining room, where a wax figure of Hitler stood on the balcony, surveying us coldly. There was a rustic, beer-hall feel to the place. On the table sat flugelhorns and euphoniums, trumpets and drums. “I’ve got the largest collection of Third Reich military instruments in the world,” Wheatcroft told me. Of course he did. There was Mengele’s grandfather clock, topped with a depressed-looking bear. “I had trouble getting that out of Argentina. I finally had it smuggled out as tractor parts to the Massey-Ferguson factory in Coventry.”
Wheatcroft briefly opened a door to show the pub he had built for himself. Even here there was a Third Reich theme — the cellar door was originally from the Berghof.
The electricity was off in one wing of the house, and we made our way in dim light through a conservatory where rows of Hitler heads stared blindly across at each other. Every wall bore a portrait of the Führer, or of Göring, until the two men felt so present and ubiquitous that they were almost alive. In a well at the bottom of a spiral staircase, Wheatcroft paused beneath a full-length portrait of Hitler. “This was his favorite painting of himself, the one used for stamps and official reproductions.” The Führer looked peacockish and preening, a snooty tilt to his head.
We climbed the stairs to find more pictures of Hitler on the walls, swastikas and iron crosses, a faintly Egyptian statuette given by Hitler to Peron, an oil portrait of Eva Braun signed by Hitler. Paintings were stacked against walls, bubble wrap was everywhere. We picked our way between the artefacts, stepping over statuary and half-unpacked boxes. I found myself imagining the house in a decade’s time, when no doors would open, no light come in through the windows, when the collection would have swallowed every last corner, and I could picture Wheatcroft, quite happy, living in a caravan in the garden.
We passed along more shadowy corridors, through a door hidden in a bookshelf and up another winding staircase, until we found ourselves in an unexceptional bedroom, a single unshaded light in the ceiling illuminating piles of uniforms.
Wheatcroft reached into a closet and pulled out Hitler’s white dress suit with careful, supplicatory hands.
“I was in Munich with a dealer,” he said, showing me the tailor’s label, which read Reichsführer Adolf Hitler in looping cursive. “We had a call to go and visit a lawyer, who had some connection to Eva Braun. In 1944, Eva Braun had deposited a suitcase in a fireproof safe. He quoted me a price, contents unseen. The case was locked with no key. We drove to Hamburg and had a locksmith open it. Inside were two full sets of Hitler’s suits, including this one, two Sam Browne belts, two pairs of his shoes, two bundles of love letters written by Hitler to Eva, two sketches of Eva naked, sunbathing, two self-propelling pencils. A pair of AH-monogrammed eyeglasses. A pair of monogrammed champagne flutes. A painting of a Vienna cityscape by Hitler that he must have given to Eva. I was in a dream world. The greatest find of my collecting career.”
Wheatcroft drove me to the station under a wide, star-filled night. “When David Ayer offered to buy the collection, I almost said yes,” he told me, his eyes on the road. “Just so it wouldn’t be my problem any more. I tried to buy the house in which Hitler was born in Braunau, I thought I could move the collection there, turn it into a museum of the Third Reich. The Austrian government must have Googled my name. They said no immediately. They didn’t want it to become a shrine. It’s so hard to know what to do with all the stuff. I really do feel like I’m just a caretaker until the next person comes along, but I must display it, I must get it out into the public — I understand that.”
We pulled into the station car park and, with a wave, he drove off into the night.
On the way home I stared out of the train window, feeling the events of the day working themselves upon me. The strange thing was not the weirdness of it all, but the normality. I really don’t believe that Wheatcroft is anything other than what he seems — a fanatical collector. I had expected a closet Nazi, a wild-eyed goosestepper, and instead I had met a man wrestling with a hobby that had become an obsession and was now a millstone.
Collecting was like a disease for him, the prospect of completion tantalizingly near but always just out of reach. If he was mad, it wasn’t the madness of the fulminating antisemite, rather the mania of the collector.
Many would question whether artifacts such as those in the Wheatcroft Collection ought to be preserved at all, let alone exhibited in public. Should we really be queueing up to marvel at these emblems of what Primo Levi called the Nazis’ “histrionic arts”? It is, perhaps, the very darkness of these objects, their proximity to real evil, that attracts collectors (and that keeps novelists and filmmakers returning to the years 1939-45 for material).
In the conflicting narratives and counter-narratives of history, there is something satisfyingly simple about the evil of the Nazis, the schoolboy Manichaeism of the second world war. Later, Wheatcroft would tell me that his earliest memory was of lining up Tonka tanks on his bedroom floor, watching the ranks of Shermans and Panzers and Crusaders facing off against each other, a childish battle of good and evil.
After I sent him a copy of Laurent Binet’s 2010 novel “HHhH,” a brilliant retelling of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, one of the principal architects of the Holocaust, Wheatcroft emailed me with news of an astonishing new find in the house of a retired diplomat. “I’d fully intended to ease up on the collecting,” he told me, “to concentrate on cataloguing, on getting the collection out there, but actually some of the things I’ve discovered since I saw you last, I’ve just had to buy. Big-value items, but you just have to forget about that because of the sheer rarity value. It’s compounded the problem really, because they were all massive things.”
His latest find, he said, was a collection of Nazi artefacts brought to his attention by someone he had met at an auction a few years back. The story is classic Wheatcroft — a mixture of luck and happenstance and chutzpah that appears to have turned up objects of genuine historical interest. “This chap told me that his best friend was a plumber and was working on a big house in Cornwall. The widow was trying to sort things out. The plumber had seen that in the garden there were all sorts of Nazi statues. He sent me a picture of one of the statues, which was a massive 5 ½ foot stone eagle that came from Berchtesgaden. I did a deal and bought it, and after that sale my contact was shown a whole range of other objects by the widow. It turned out that this house was a treasure trove. There’s an enormous amount I’m trying to get hold of now. I can’t say an awful lot, but it’s one of the most important finds of recent times.”
The owner of the house had just passed away; he was apparently a senior British diplomat who, in his regular trips to Germany in the lead-up to the war, amassed a sizable collection of Nazi memorabilia. He continued to collect after the war had finished, the most interesting items hidden in a safe room behind a secret panel.
“It’s stunning,” Wheatcroft told me, by telephone, his voice fizzing with excitement. “There’s a series of handwritten letters between Hitler and Churchill. They were writing to each other about the route the war was taking. Discussions of a non-aggression pact. This man had copied things and removed them on a day-to-day basis over the course of the war. A complete breach of the Official Secrets Act, but mindblowing.” The authenticity of the papers, of course, has not yet been confirmed — but if they are real, they could secure Wheatcroft a place in the history books. “Although it’s never been about me,” he insisted.
It seems our meeting in the winter stirred something in Wheatcroft, a realization that there were duties that came with owning the objects in his collection, obligations to the past and present that had become burdensome to him.
“It’s the objects,” he told me repeatedly, “the history.” It also seemed as if Wheatcroft’s halfhearted attempts to bring his collection to a wider public had been given a much-needed fillip.
“An awful lot has changed since I saw you,” he told me when we spoke in late spring. “It refocused me, talking to you about it. It made me think about how much time has gone by. I’ve spent, I suppose, 50 years as a collector just plodding along, and I’ve suddenly realized that there’s more time behind than ahead, and I need to do something about it. I’ve pressed several expensive buttons in order to get some of my more valuable pieces restored. Because you did just make me think what’s the point of owning these things if no one’s ever going to see them?”
10. This Woman Turned Her Collection of Unsolicited Dick Pics into an Art Show
"I Didn't Ask For This: A Lifetime of Dick Pics" features about 200 framed photos of dicks, arranged in a replica of the artist's living room to show how pervasive unsolicited dick pics have become.
Ah, the unsolicited dick pic. Technology has made it all too tempting for men's penises to pop up on a woman's phone while she's reading on the train or walking home from work. This is a fairly recent invention, because who would've taken their rolls of film to the local drug store to get their dick pics developed? But now that everyone has a camera phone, dick pics are ubiquitous, despite the fact that most women really, really don't want them.
Whitney Bell is one of these women. Last weekend, she premiered her Los Angeles–based art show "I Didn't Ask For This: A Lifetime of Dick Pics," which showcased the magnitude of the unsolicited dick pics she's received.
Upon entering through the exhibit's front doors, I noticed white walls adorned with framed art, like a traditional art gallery, where work from 30 contributing artists was displayed. Behind another door, Bell had recreated her home, where framed dick pics hung around her stuff. About 200 dicks, to be exact. Bell said she wanted the unsolicited dick pics presented this way to show exactly how pervasive they are. Even when she's alone, in the privacy of her own home, she's not safe.
We sat down on her couch, pretending it was her actual living room, and got to talking about everything dick—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
VICE: So tell me how this all started.
Whitney Bell: It all sort of began with a really beautiful dick shadow picture I was sent by a guy I was seeing. I sent it to one of my friends who said, "That picture is so beautiful it should be in a museum." That's when I thought of having a gallery of dick pics.
Wait, the inspiration for this came from a dick pic that you actually thought was beautiful?
Yes! The thing is, this isn't dick-hating or man-hating. I love a good dick. I just don't love harassment. That's what this needs to start being seen as. All of these dicks are unsolicited. They didn't come from requests. I've asked for dick pics personally. But I don't want to see a dick from some guy I've never met, or someone I went on one date with when it's not condoned.
How did you get all these pictures?
Most of the photos were sent to me and other women unsolicited. I reached out to women I know, feminist organizations, and spent a little bit of time on Chatroulette and Reddit, talking to these guys who send them. I was on Reddit mainly to talk to these guys—to gather some knowledge about why they do it, trying to learn the psychology behind the dick pics—but once the doors to that conversation were open, a lot of men just sent the pictures, without any provocation. And on Chatroulette, the dicks were just there, sort of shoved in your face. All the photos on display here were sent unsolicited.
Why do they do it? Did you find anything startling?
It's really what I thought it would be. All harassment. It's not about sex. It's about power. It's about these guys wanting to exert that control. These guys, they get off knowing that they forced some girl to see it. They know that girl is not going to turn around and say, "Let's go on a date."
It's not a pick up. It's like screaming at a woman from a car. You're just doing this because you can, and because the world has taught you that that's OK.
To be expected, even.
Yes, and that's something I would like feminism to change. I think a lot of people view feminism as this aggressive thing when in reality, all it is is equality. That women are equal to men, and in the same right, men are equal to women. This patriarchy that says men can't control themselves and all they can do are these lewd advances, that they can't help but harass women, is wrong. It's feminism that holds that men are more than that. They're better than that. That's what I want to show.
Do men try to defend these dick pics by talking about times they've received unsolicited, I don't know, tit pics? Does that even happen?
Here's the thing about that, because I've thought about this too: When I get a dick pic from a guy I'm dating, generally it's like some body. It's not just a close up of his taint. When women send sexy photos, I'm not spreading my labia. No one wants that. I feel like that's the difference. These are just focused on the penis, and that's the aggressive part. I do think there is a difference between a woman sending a scantily clad picture versus a guy sending one. It's systematic. It's not that women can't sexually harass men—
It's just different.
Yes, it's different. When it's unwanted, and when it's to exert your control, that's when it's bad. It's harassment.
How many unsolicited dick pics do you think you've gotten?
About four years ago, I had a ridiculous prank pulled on me, and for months, I was getting unsolicited dick pics from private emails. I thought I had some weird porn virus or something. Finally, after four months of this, I was visiting my friend in San Francisco, and she asked if I had been getting any weird emails and I was like, "Funnily enough, yes I have." Turns out any time a man had asked her for a sexy picture on OkCupid she said, "pic for pic," and sent them my email address. That's definitely what sort of spurned my hatred for the dick pics. But I don't have any of those photos anymore; I deleted those emails immediately.
"I love a good dick. I just don't love harassment." — Whitney Bell
There are some interesting dicks on display here. Do you think these men actually think their dick pics look good? Like, what's going on in this one?
That's his thumb, I think. Strangling his dick. My friend said that one looked like a ball of dough with a toupee on it. [Whitney pointed at another picture, of a middle-aged man whose head was partially blocked by an iPad.] This one was DM'd to me on Instagram, which meant I could click on his profile and see his whole life. His wife and his children. His face is in the actual picture, but I had to remove it for this.
Wow. So obviously the internet has made dick pics easier to send, but do you think there's anything more to account for the rise of this?
Yeah, it's definitely the anonymity guys feel behind technology now. Even if that's not true, it feels more anonymous than flashing on the subway. Guys who would probably never do that have the balls to do it now behind the guise of their phone or computer.
It's just because they can. I think that's it. These guys have never had anyone call them out on their abusive, harassing behavior before. They feel like there are no consequences. Now I'm trying to show maybe there are.
Do you think there should be a punishment for this sort of thing?
Yes. It is indecent exposure, and I understand it will likely never happen that it's put into law, but I do think these men need to be held accountable.
Right. That's what I'm trying to do—shame them. The internet gives people the ability to be their worst selves if they want to be. A lot of dudes just don't think it through, because they don't need to. No one ever told them that they can't act like this. That applies to more than just dick pics. We're taught as women to protect ourselves and to avoid things, but men aren't taught about consent.
What would you tell a woman to do in this situation, when she receives an unwanted dick pic?
Send back a picture of a better looking dick.