Hunting for Dingbat

When she isn't decorating cakes, Toronto cake artist Vanessa Le Page can usually be found rummaging through boxes in thrift shops or scouring Web sites for unusual collectibles to add to her vast collection.

When she isn’t decorating cakes, Toronto cake artist Vanessa Le Page can usually be found rummaging through boxes in thrift shops or scouring Web sites for unusual collectibles to add to her vast collection.

The great-great-granddaughter of Canadian-born glue company founder William Le Page (whose mucilage empire turns 125 this year), has turned her home into a shrine for her 3,000+ collection of colourful figurines and pop culture icons.

The pieces come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from cereal box characters, like Kellogg’s Snap, Crackle and Pop, to the Pillsbury Doughboy and the more recent Bug’s Life character. They line the shelves from floor to ceiling in the living and dining rooms of her Hallam Street home. A walk up the stairs will reveal yet more of the spokestoys vying for space. Austin Powers characters, still in their boxes, are mounted on the walls and model airplanes swing from the ceiling. And if you dare peek around the door into her spare bedroom, you will see every inch of space has been given up to the growing collection.

Le Page began her collection of premiums as a young child. ‘As a kid I started sending away box tops for premiums, and then around 12 years ago I became a serious collector,’ she says. She still gathers freebies from food packages and sends off for special offers on cereal boxes, but nowadays, she doesn’t mind spending money to add to her collection and will happily spend hours searching through shops to find a particular character.

Toronto thrift and antique shops had always been her major source of new finds until she discovered auction Web sites such as eBay a few years ago. She now makes regular use of these sites to search for rare collectibles. ‘When I discovered eBay, I found almost everything that I had been looking for,’ she says. ‘One of the first things I found on eBay was this Labatt guy with the blue hat. I had been searching for him for about a year.’

She continues: ‘I also had the hardest time finding this Frosted Flakes character [Tony the Tiger] and eventually picked it up on eBay as well.’

Other favourites include a Guinness Toucan, which she first saw advertised on the side of a bus, characters from the tops of M&M tubes, and a clock lined with real jellybeans.

Le Page also points out a character called Dingbat, an elfin creature from the pharmaceutical company Frosst and one of the few true Canadian mascots. ‘This one has huge emotional attachments, because when I was a kid I went to the doctor’s a lot, and my doctor had all the Dingbat posters in his office,’ she says. ‘I didn’t even know this figure existed until I saw it in a thrift shop two years ago.’

Le Page moved in 1996, which, she admits, required a major operation in packing. ‘I’m running out of room now, so I’m going to have to calm my obsession down a bit,’ she says. ‘But I expect I’ll always be picking up something here and there.’

She hopes eventually to display her collection in her own museum or to present it on a Web site or in a book.