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Charleston goes nuts for convention

By Laura Reston

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The sweet smell of roasted peanuts used to waft through the Planters Peanut store on the boardwalk in Atlantic City.

Karleen Buchholz remembers munching on the salty and honey-roasted nuts when she visited the beach as a girl. She especially remembers Mr. Peanut -- the jovial, bespectacled legume who has represented Planters Peanuts for decades.

"Everybody has a memory of Mr. Peanut," she said.

Buchholz has collected Mr. Peanut memorabilia for years. On Friday, she attended the swap meet at the 34th annual National Peanut Pals Convention at the Charleston Marriott.

Buchholz sat at a table strewn with antique nut dishes, coloring books and giant plastic peanuts that once would have held the nuts.

Other tables featured similar merchandize. One booth housed a "tapper" -- a small mechanical Mr. Peanut that used to tap on the windows of Planters stores to attract attention from passers-by. The machine was priced at $25,000.

Collectors ambled through the aisles to buy or exchange memorabilia, greeting friends and examining merchandise. The group included doctors, coal miners and mailmen from around the country.

Connecticut resident Sherwin Borsuk travels to the convention every year and especially enjoys meeting people from various walks of life.

On Saturday, Borsuk tried to pinpoint why he collects peanut paraphernalia.

"[Mr. Peanut] is familiar and friendly," Borsuk said. "He's part of popular culture."

Borsuk added that collectors often simply enjoy stacking and arranging the tins, posters and jars.

"You're restoring them to the order they once possessed," Borsuk said. "It's a form of aesthetic satisfaction."

Borsuk first became interested while training to become a doctor. He went to an antique auction and spotted an old peanut jar. An older neurosurgeon at his hospital encouraged Borsuk to buy the jar, and -- just like many other Peanut Pals -- he was hooked.

Other collectors expressed similar stories.

At an auction, Buchholz stumbled on a peanut jar from 1940, the year she was born. She knew that she had to have it and, since then, she has amassed an expansive collection.

Judy Walthall remembers her 4-year-old daughter playing with the dapper Mr. Peanut. She then decided to let her daughter start collecting peanut items.

She and her husband subsequently founded the Peanut Pals.

They have attended every convention since then. On one trip to Suffolk, Va., they saw the original sketches of Mr. Peanut, designed by 12-year-old Antonio Gentile, who won the 1916 competition for a Planter Peanut logo.

These collectors have formed close friendships from the convention. They say those friendships -- like Mr. Peanut -- have stood the test of time.

Reach Laura Reston at laura.reston@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5112.


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