When Toby Shuster moves to her new residence, a couple of weeks or so from now, she will have quite a few crates and boxes to shift. That is largely due to her seemingly unbridled enthusiasm for collecting all sorts of artifacts, from across a broad sweep of cultures, consumer domains, aesthetics and artistic endeavor.
And for the past 30 years or so, Shuster has had a soft spot for one of the most iconic cars in the history of the automobile industry, the VW Beetle.
For three decades Shuster accrued a wide array of toy models of the German four wheeler, with some relevant paraphernalia slotted in betwixt the miniatures that, until a few days ago, adorned the walls and lintels of the hallway of her Rehavia home.
Originally from Philadelphia, Shuster made aliyah with her husband in 1973 “two weeks before the Yom Kippur War broke out. That was quite an introduction to life in Israel,” she laughs.
It all began pretty much in earnest, when Shuster got herself the real thing.
“I bought a Beetle and someone sent me a model car as a present,” she says. “That started the collection.”
The 400-plus strong VW compilation has now been taken over by the global manufacturer’s Israeli branch.
“When I realized I wasn’t going to be able to take the models with me to the new place, I got in touch with Volkswagen in Germany, and in Mexico where I think they still make the cars, and then I got in touch with Volkswagen Israel.”
The latter was more than happy to take the collection off Shuster’s hands.
“They responded in a few seconds, and they bought the whole thing.”
As yet the local VW’s plans for the compilation are unclear.
“I hope they put it on display, because it’s a conversation piece,” says Shuster. “I think it’s so interesting.”
Amit Ben David, manager of the Volkswagen Division of Champion Motors, Israel said the company will, indeed, be delighted to exhibit the fruits of Shuster's painstaking collecting efforts in the near future. "We are excited to discover, time after time, that the Volkswagen brand moves people and makes them happy in different ways. We found Mrs. Shuster's Beetle collection very exciting and we will display it soon, in Volkswagen's showrooms."
The real-size Beetle lasted for a couple of years before Shuster opted for a less fun but far more practical, stylistically very different mode of transport.
“I swapped it for a Land Rover,” she chuckles. “When I’d be on the road to Tel Aviv with the Beetle, it would be chug chug chug, and the other drivers would look at me and smile, and they’d all overtake me. But when I got the Land Rover, everyone stood away from me. No one came near, because I was high up. And the Beetle didn’t have an air conditioner. That was pretty tough in the summer.”
Shuster doesn’t recall too much about the technical specifications of her VW – aka Bug – but she harbors warm memories of the two-year ownership. “I don’t remember what the engine size was, but it was very slow. It was a cheap car. It was fun.”
IT’S NOT just about toy cars, which come in all sizes, from the very diminutive to more hefty versions. Shuster also had metal models, and others made of plastic, femur, china, wood, you name it. The other related merchandise she managed to accrue over the years dips into all sorts of quotidian areas.
“See, there are Beetle slippers,” Shuster says, pointing at a fetching purple pair of soft-looking footwear.
There were also a couple of T-shirts in there, one with four faces which resemble the Fab Four, with the legend “The Beetles Are Back,” a piggy bank and a key ring or two.
A yellow – my favorite color – model caught my eye.
“Yes, that’s a nice one,” Shuster concurs, “and I have a wire one over there,” she says, indicating a skeletal artifact that added a little artistic je ne sais quoi to the rollout.
The more fashionable items included a model with a leopard skin effect, and a zebra stripe effort.
So, it’s not just about the German car with the arched contours and friendly looking hood and simple but alluring headlamp design. “Anything with a Beetle theme interests me.”
Historians of the motor industry would probably be able to note the chronology and date some of the little models. There was a white exemplar of the new Beetle, which has been around for a couple of decades now, and there were some exhibits that pertained to much earlier stages of the car’s development.
Shuster did not disclose how many shekels had changed hands with the VW Israel acquisition, but she certainly wasn’t into it for the dineros. “Some of them are probably worth some money, but others are not.”
She feels there is a community spirit to her pastime. “It’s funny that when people hear you are collecting something, they’ll collect for you, and you’ll collect for them. It’s like a club.”
The relocation to VW Israel isn’t the collection’s first move.
“I’ve been living here for 10 years, and I had to pack up all the cars and things, very carefully, when I moved here from my previous apartment,” Shuster notes. “It was quite a job, and putting them back on the walls was quite a job, too.”
Shuster readily admits to be slightly obsessive about accruing artifacts that pertain to themes that catch her fancy.
“You know collectors are a little bit crazy. I’m moving and I’m trying to sell things, and what did I do? Last week I bought these two,” she laughs, holding up a couple of china Beetles.
Looking around her cramped but delightful apartment, one sees that collecting is clearly a passion for her. A couple of shelves running around near the top of her living rooms walls contain an impressive assortment of pewter and copper vessels, and a dresser serves as a showcase repository for multifarious crockery sourced from around the world. A bunch of black-faced cloth dolls sit demurely on a bench under a window, and there are some wild and wacky motorcycle models nestling in the mix, too.
“I like this one,” Shuster says, pointing to a polychromic wire motorbike. “I got that from someone who made them on the street.”
Up there in her current collecting preferences is a growing selection of pop-up books.
“I love these. Look at this,” she coos as she opens up a book and I am treated to a colorful rush of floral delights. “I’d like to get more of these.”
So, it doesn’t look like Shuster will have too much room to swing a proverbial cat in her new abode either, even after her lovingly amassed Beetle display has gone.
“I’m addicted to collecting,” she smiles. “But it’s a good addiction.”