TAMPA — To be a large, clumsy person in Mary and Dennis Schrader’s house is to feel fear.
You tread lightly upstairs, but even so, every step in the room containing row after row of cookie jars brings the sound of ceramic lids rattling on their oh-so-breakable bases.
You don’t dare take a step backward. During a tour, you swivel, slowly, in the room containing what the Schraders believe is one of the world’s largest collections of Hummels, the porcelain (and also very breakable-looking) figurines of whimsical children made by Germany’s Goebel company since the 1930s.
"It’s over $100,000 in Hummels, and that’s going by about half of the book value," Dennis Schrader, 71, said.
Each room, and corner and hallway is lined with the things that the Schraders collect: coins, paper money, checks endorsed by celebrities, spoons, shadowboxes displaying classic toys. You walk into a room filled with coffee mugs, tiny hotel liquor bottles and what appears to be every promotional giveaway ever given away by the Tampa Bay Rays, still wrapped in plastic, then into another room lined with antique chamber pots, where people conducted the business that wasn’t done in the outhouse. There are 23 of those, with wash basin stands.
Dennis keeps an inventory of the ever-growing collections: 1,138 cookie jars, 2,010 Hummel figurines, 143 snow globes, 3,953 key chains (4,154 of them if you include duplicates). Six butter churns. Dennis Schrader’s collection of thousands of signed baseballs, recognized by Guinness World Records as the world’s largest, is on display at the St. Petersburg Museum of History as "Little Cooperstown."
Why spend your weekdays and your weekends hunting Craigslist and flea markets and estate sales and antique stores, always bargaining, and talking down and negotiating, to fill this large, new home with such a collection?
"Because we can," Mary Schrader, 72, said.
"And because we have the money," Dennis Schrader added.
Dennis Schrader is former president of Jacobsen Homes, whose Pinellas County factory produced thousands of mobile homes every year. He’s now semi-retired, and a manufactured housing expert witness.
When they moved into their new house a couple years ago, Dennis Schrader transported the 4-foot-tall "Merry Wanderer," the largest Hummel ever made, by strapping it into the passenger seat of his Corvette.
Both agree, had they not found each other five decades ago — had they married almost anyone else in the world — it wouldn’t be like this.
"But we’re not hoarders," Dennis Schrader said, repeatedly. "The difference is, we keep everything organized and dusted."
But couldn’t a similar compulsion be driving them?
"Well, it probably is that," Mary Schrader said. "But we know exactly where everything is."