Guinness World Records collection on display at Santa Fe College

A Guinness World Records certificate sits on top of a sample of the 5,000 letter openers on display at Santa Fe College. (Courtesy of Santa Fe College)

Published: Saturday, May 18, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 17, 2013 at 5:29 p.m.

When William L. Brown saw his wife collecting spoons during one of his business trips overseas, he decided that he wanted to become a collector himself.


If you go

What: Exhibit of Guinness World Records letter opener collection
When: 2-4 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Santa Fe College, 3000 NW 83rd St., Wattenbarger Student Services Bldg., room 29
Admission: Free

So in the late 1950s, Brown bought his first letter opener in Rome while on business for John Morell & Co., the processed meat company he worked for.

"It's made of brass and it looks like a dagger, but it's too small," Brown said.

Part of Brown's vast collection will be on exhibit at Santa Fe College's Wattenbarger Student Services Building on Tuesday.

The portability of letter openers on trips is what made Brown decide to continue collecting them when he was living in Iowa, he said.

Eventually his collection grew to about 5,350 different letter openers, each obtained in interesting places such as England's Portobello Road, China, Panama, Spain, Australia, New Zealand and many other places. His favorite places to purchase them include antique shops and shows, he said.

He had so many letter openers that he decided to donate 5,000 of them to Santa Fe College. The collection has made SFC a Guinness World Records holder, he said.

The letter opener collection is worth about $180,000 and he gave a gift of $5,000 to build custom cases, said Kathryn Lehman, coordinator of cultural programs at Santa Fe College. Although he donated thousands of letter openers, he's still left with more than 300 and continues to add to the collection.

He also collects bronzes and donated about $90,000 worth of bronzes to the college.

Brown, who's currently president of ABC Research, a food safety testing laboratory, said he decided to donate the letter openers to Santa Fe College because he had college students as interns.

Because he made donations for fellowship at the University of Florida, he decided that it was time to donate something to Santa Fe.

The letter openers are made of different materials, Brown said. Some are made of either brass, copper, aluminum or pewter, and others are even carved with wood. He said European royalty used ivory to make letter openers, and jade is a material commonly found in Chinese letter openers.

His two favorite designs include one opener he bought in Omaha, Neb., which has an eagle on the handle, and a bronze letter opener that has the devil on it along with the creator's signature.

"The last one I bought was a lady carved out of marble and the blade is made out of brass," he said.

Besides the different materials used to make the openers, Brown was able to point out changes in the past 50 years of letter openers.

"They used to cost $1 or 50 cents and were used for advertising or banks had them for advertising," he said. "Now they cost $35."

He also mentioned how the Internet and emails have affected the supply of letter openers.

"Not that many people are using them," he said. "One day we won't have letters or we will have few of them, and because of that the number of letter openers is getting scarce."

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