The process of making toast really hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years. Wayne Konkel’s 1909 toaster holds a slice of bread near a coiled wire that gets hot. The more modern toaster in Margaret Konkel’s kitchen performs the same function.


The process of making toast really hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years. Wayne Konkel’s 1909 toaster holds a slice of bread near a coiled wire that gets hot. The more modern toaster in Margaret Konkel’s kitchen performs the same function.

Today’s deluxe 4-slice toasters are not new — Konkel’s favorite in a collection that numbers close to 250 is a 4-slice estate toaster made in 1927. The difference between that one and new ones is that the bread has to be hand-turned to toast both sides. And it doesn’t pop up when it’s done.

Pop-up toasters, operated manually, were made in 1937 and the fully automatic model, operated by a clock spring, came on the scene about 1945.

Konkel started his collection about 45 years ago, with two old toasters he found in his mother’s basement. The pair became a collection as he picked up more toasters at yard sales and auctions. Occasionally someone will stop by and give him a toaster.

He estimates that 90 percent of them work. He has made some repairs, but if the toasting wire itself is broken, it requires silver solder, which is very expensive.

Old toasters, especially the more decorative models made before 1945, are valuable. In a New York auction house, a fancy chrome toaster might bring $350.

“Cut that in half and in half again, and that’s about what they’ll bring here,” Konkel explained.

He hasn’t sold any, but would be willing to swap, but there are not other collectors in the area with enough to trade.

He is not, however, alone in his appreciation for old toasters. A Toaster Collector Association was organized in 1999 and Konkel is aware of chapters in Wisconsin and California. A woman in upstate New York (she emphasized “upstate” several times in their phone conversation, he said) claims to have a collection of 500 toasters.

Most collectors are men, Margaret Konkel said.

Her collections of angels and dolls are displayed throughout their home.

“They’re prettier,” she said smiling.

Most of the toasters, along with waffle irons and clothes-pressing irons, are on display at the Pratt County Historical Museum. Konkel took about 30 toasters out in August to display at the Southwest Kansas Antique Engine and Thresher Show, held at the Konkel homeplace near Haviland. He will show them again on Nov. 7 in conjunction with the St. John Victorian Tea.

Konkel and his bread-browning machines will be on hand from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. on that Sunday at the American State Bank Hospitality Room, at the corner of Third and Main in St. John. An $18 ticket includes entry to the tea, an exhibit of paintings by the late Mace John, an acclaimed painter and St. John native, and Konkel’s exhibit.

Advance purchase of tickets is recommended by Nov. 1, as the two seatings, 1:30 and 3:30 p.m., at the tea usually fill up. Pratt’s Jack Ewing will portray “Tudor the Merchant” at the tea, held in a 100-year-old Tudor building, now the Lucille M. Hall Museum at 302 N. Main in St. John. Tickets can be purchased by calling 620-549-6391 or 620-549-3813 or mailing payment to Victorian Tea, 709 SW 10th Ave., St. John, KS