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J.R. Leach of Palm Aire removes a pair of carnival glass bowls from his display case at home. He is the vice-president of the Tampa Bay Carnival Glass Club.
East County Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015 2 years ago

Heater: Collecting turns into his personal carnival

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When I met Palm Aire's J.R. Leach, I thought he was going to be another in a long line of treasure hunters. He is the vice president of the Tampa Bay Carnival Glass Club so I couldn't wait to ask him about his biggest score.
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

Your mind drifts back to the days when you walked through town looking at that darned pay phone next to the Acme supermarket.

In the blink of an eye it turned into a collectable item.

Jay Heater
Jay Heater

Why oh why didn't I yank that phone off the wall?

For me, phones were scarce in dairy farm country. So I think about those glass insulators that were more common than ants along the railroad tracks.

Now I look on eBay. Twenty bucks. Apiece.

I had a Mercedes Benz right under my nose, but I didn't know enough to pick it up. 

Perhaps it's that knowledge that turns us into collectors. Have you seen "Storage Wars?" If you have an old vacuum cleaner in the basement, some museum has an empty spot to hang it.

That knowledge feeds the frenzy because where there is demand, there is a profit to be made. Moolah for me.

When I met Palm Aire's J.R. Leach, I thought he was going to be another in a long line of treasure hunters. He is the vice president of the Tampa Bay Carnival Glass Club so I couldn't wait to ask him about his biggest score.

He walked over to a glass display case in his living room and pulled out a carnival glass bowl, then set it gently on a kitchen counter along with other pieces.

It was a darker bowl, but the colors flowed together like they do in a rainbow. It's iridescent quality seemed to mingle with the low level of light in his kitchen.

"My wife (Sheila) and I both saw it at the same time," Leach said. "We both grabbed at it."

 Yes, but how much money is it worth?

"I think it is beautiful," he said, "It makes me feel good."

He, indeed, was the other side of the coin that you've heard about.

At 6-foot-3 and a bit under 300 pounds, the 71-year-old Leach resembles the young man who threw the shot put at the University of Florida.

Let's put it this way, if you reached for the same bowl with him, you probably would back off and wait for another one to come along. If you conjured up an image of a carnival glass collector, his mug shot would not be attached.

Then again, he is a walking bundle of carnival glass information.

He can tell you its origin at the beginning of the 20th century and why it died out after the Depression. He can describe in detail how it was made and why it became a lost art. He knows that people bought it because their homes were dimly lit at the time, and the colors of carnival glass would stay strong in those conditions.

Mostly, he wants to share his passion for his hobby. That goes back to the part where carnival glass just makes him feel good.

He knows that "you can't make other people feel the way you do about something," but if someone has an interest in carnival glass, he hopes they call him at 266-1197 to get information about his club.

"We meet at other members' homes and see their glass," he said. "In January we will be at my home and we will have six to eight of the most knowledgeable people in the world about carnival glass."

With this hobby, knowledge is important. Recognizing an old payphone is a lot easier.

"You need two things when you start collecting carnival glass," he said. "You need a reference book, and you need to join a club. When you belong to a club and you are out somewhere, you take a picture of whatever you are looking at, send it to somebody in the club, and you get an answer back fast."

That could be important if you are trying to make a score.

"I'm not buying to re-sell," he said. "Some people figure they can put their grandkids through college. That ain't going to happen."

I guess I'll stop looking for glass insulators.

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