It might be the way sunlight diffuses through amber, green or blue glass, or perhaps it’s the connection that comes with holding something a glassmaker made in the 1800s in a shop across the country when communication and electricity depended on the work.
Insulators were part of connecting a growing nation with the telegraph wire and later could be seen everywhere as efforts went out to bring electricity to rural America. The glass and later porcelain insulators, stamped with the names of their manufacturers, provide a link to that past, its history and in the mix created a community of collectors.
The glass insulators were first produced in the 1850s for telegraph lines to insulate the lines from the wooden poles high above the ground. Collectors Weekly noted peak production was from the 1920s through the 1940s with millions of insulators manufactured.
Insulators of all colors, sizes, shapes will once again converge for the free North Western Insulator Club’s Swap Meet, set 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Aug. 24, in Nisswa, 1126 Ebert Drive.
It’s an event open to those already bit hard by the collector bug, or curious novices, or those with a box of insulators wondering if they’ve hit the jackpot with a rare find.
“There will be experts that will help identify their insulator and tell them more about them,” Karen Yennie said.
Karen and her husband Colin Yennie host the swap meet at their cabin in Nisswa. Vendors put up tables and displays in the yard or driveway and more insulators are set up in the garage. “We’ll have an auction in the middle of the day where anyone can bid on and buy pieces that are donated by the members,” Karen said.
Last year, she said, a lot of people from the community came who weren’t aware of the hobby or wanted to learn more, or were just curious to see what it was all about. “Anyone is welcome to come, even if they don’t want to buy or sell anything,” Karen said.
Colin Yennie noted there will also be pieces related to insulators, like meters and tools such as Bell telephone system tools and accessories. The insulators cross a variety of hobby areas, including telecommunication and railroad enthusiasts as some insulators carried railroad signals and insulators stood as sentinels along railroad tracks.
Collectors Weekly noted insulators came in fancy colors because the manufacturing houses didn’t just make insulators and sometimes used what they had leftover from other glassware -- like cobalt blue candle holders -- to make insulators.
In a 2008 interview with Ian Macky, Collectors Weekly noted the design of insulators adds to the interest in collecting -- like the diamond-shaped depressions made by a manufacturer in Chicago to the raised points on Hemingray’s insulators marketed as a way to shed water and dry faster.
For those interested to see just what is available, Karen Yennie said there will be pieces on display that won’t be for sale but will provide an example of what’s been revamped or turned into something new.
Making the day an event, people bring food for lunch with water and pop available.
Beyond the brilliantly colored glass that can be seen in window ledges or near kitchen sinks of even the most casual collector, there are hobbyists who display their collections on original wooden poles and cross arms, or who find a new way to use an insulator as a lamp or water fountain.
Through it all, Karen Yennie said there is a sense of community with the collectors.
“The history is a big part of it, learning about the history and learning where the pieces came from,” she said of collectors. “Some people go out into the wilds hunting for insulators.”
When insulators were replaced they were often discarded along the line or buried in a hole along the way.
Collectors, she said, range in age from children to those in their 80s -- all bound by the common interest in collecting, always trying to find something new.
At the swap meet, insulators may be available from $1 to $100 or more. Karen Yennie said a lot of trading goes on and most of the collectors will trade. For more information, contact email@example.com or call 507-271-3457.