2020 – Collections: The New Jersey Turnpike

(Ignore May, 1 2017 publish date – this was published on February 7, 2020)

 

How (and why) does someone collect the New Jersey Turnpike (or any of the other things I’ve collected)? “How” is easy – just go to eBay. “Why” is an altogether different story that I’m not sure I know.

I think I’ll blame history for making me do it. At one time, I was the moderator for the online boards of both the Bergen County Historical Society’s site and that of the Hackensack city historian (I still do the latter).

My goal was to find everything of even slightly-historical interest having anything and everything to do with the County, its towns and especially, Hackensack. Buildings, landmarks, roads, bridges, tunnels, deeds, receipts, commemorative items, famous people, early settlers, postcards, nicknacks……………you name it.

And they’re ALL on eBay.

I wasn’t going to buy all these things……….personally, I didn’t care that much about most of them, but other people in all those other local towns did. So I would search eBay every day and find lots of auctions of local items being sold by people all over the country and elsewhere who knew nothing about almost everything they sold and I would post all these auctions – and all the provided pictures – on the two historical sites, so members could find all the available items connected to their towns and “bring them home” by buying them (and possibly donating them to the Bergen County Historical Society). And if no one bought any of these things, we’d still have all of the pictures preserved in the historical database.

It was a good system that cost me nothing………..until I saw some of the items that I wanted. And once you start doing that, fuhgeddaboudit – you’re hooked and you now have to be complete and get everything.

I have no idea what the first Turnpike item I bought was, but then I kept seeing other Turnpike items I never saw before………AND YOU JUST HAVE TO HAVE THEM!

Now I have them and they’ve collected dust for two decades, but THEY’RE MINE!

Does that make any sense?

 

I’m guessing the above picture may have caught your attention. I’m not even sure if the 5.25” x 3.5” piece is an ashtray or not, but I haven’t seen one since I bought it all those years ago. The image of the state on the right half looks misshapen and quite overweight and the depiction of the Turnpike across that state image looks like a sash on a very chubby Miss New Jersey. It’s interesting that the word “Morristown” is shown as being above (north of) “Geo Washington Bridge”. (Dear Out-of-Towners: it isn’t)

So while I’m here in Ashtraylia, I might as well go through the rest of the NJTPK ones I have.

I’m not sure that this 6.5” x 4.25” piece is an ashtray – there are no U-shaped side indentations to hold a cigarette and no burn marks, but it’s one of the many items you’ll see here that show the “famous tri-level crossing” at Woodbridge. Apparently, this was a big deal in the 50s, but I’m not sure why:

Although it looks like three overpasses in a row, my understanding is that this is where the Garden State Parkway intersects with the Turnpike. “But that only accounts for one overpass”, you say. For much of the Parkway, northbound and southbound lanes do not run together, so the GSP must count for two.

But if three roads are crossing the Turnpike, what’s the third?

 

Next up is a bronze-ish, grape-ified 6.25” x 5” version, showing the same scene:

Once again, there are no cigarette indentations or burn marks, so what is it?

 

This time, it’s a silvery 5.75” x 4”, un”famous” version with two old cars in the edge design:

A lot of the upcoming pieces also show ancient cars, but why? The Turnpike opened in 1951.

 

OK – this one (5” x 3.5”) shows a stretch of Turnpike with all red cars on it, a tollbooth with only one car…………..and at least half a dozen roses:

Why? Who knows? (but it looks good).

 

Finally! An actual (4.5” x 5”) ashtray!

(this one also doesn’t claim that the Tri-Level Crossing is “Famous”)

 

The center of this little 3” round ashtray pokes through the center of the packaging, whose side panel demonstrates how to use it:

Problem: that side panel shows a square ashtray.

 

Lastly, I have a 5.5” x 4” piece with roses and a tollbooth scene:

But what are those three odd-looking forms in the top half of the design edge? Does this crude, amateur-looking image mean anything to anyone?

It took a moment, but I recognized it:

HoJo’s! This souvenir could only be bought at the many Howard Johnson’s found at the Turnpike rest stops.

 

 

Plates, etc.

The prize in this group is this 9.75” beauty that was hand-painted in Germany and meant to be hung on a wall………………and who doesn’t want an image of a Turnpike tollbooth on their wall?                (me)

 

NOT meant for your wall is this 9” plate whose center image is that “famous” tri-level crossing. Two of the six other images are Delaware River Bridges that are technically not the New Jersey Turnpike and three even smaller spacer images show ancient cars that have nothing to do with the 1950s and later:

 

Yet another tollbooth depiction pops up on this 7.5” bowl. The car screams “CUSTOMIZED ‘54 MERCURY!”

 

 

Heavy Metal

Let’s start with this 3.5” x 1.25” brass bell that says “NEW JERSEY TPKE.” on it and still has its clapper:

 

Dunno what this “3.75 x 4.5” brass piece is………..a paperweight? Whatever it is, it’s got another ancient car on it (If they’re so integral to the highway’s image, how come I’ve never seen a photo or postcard of one of these relics cruising along on the Turnpike?).

The second photo shows the detail of both the vehicle and the dust it’s collected:

 

Before I started writing this post, I visited an old friend (eBay) to go through the hundreds of New Jersey Turnpike items that were currently available. It was mostly pennants and postcards. NONE of the ashtrays, plates, S&Ps, metal items, etc. were to be found EXCEPT for this 1.25” brass token. I saw three of them that ranged from $34.00 to $65.00 (which makes me wonder what the above better stuff would go for):

 

 

A 3” x 4.25” Turnpike bank! With a glued-on 1954 Denver Mint penny on the top (a certain family member will appreciate that)………….and Morristown is closer to where it should be:

 

 

S&Ps

 

Yes, the Turnpike put out salt & pepper sets for some reason. Here are three such sets:

1. Each shaker is 2” x 3” and has “New Jersey Turnpike” lightly scripted on the reverse:

 

2. These 2.5” x 3” S&Ps have to be among the weirdest I’ve ever seen. Why are the hands of these clocks-in-logs (I almost wrote “login clocks”) so crooked?

And that view from above…………the less said, the better. And to refill these things, you have to pull a cork out from between its legs.

But seriously, the biggest problem I had with these was handling them. So much of the “bark” was lost just setting them up to shoot that they now look pretty bare

 

3. My favorite of the S&Ps is 4” x 3” and should probably be in the “Heavy Metal” section, but those four holes in the cars’ roofs dictate otherwise.

We’ve seen the tollbooths and the ancient cars before, but never with the Swiss Alps right behind them. Pay a toll for the privilege of running smack into a mountain range? I’m not familiar with that part of the Turnpike.

Fortunately for the two cars, they’re too big to fit through the tollbooth, so your condiments are safe (though one of the cars needs some green paint for two of its wheels……………and what is that brown stuff leaking from its bottom plug? Depends may be in order):

 

 

Plastic

This is a commemorative New Jersey Turnpike “50 Years of Service” (1951 – 2001) toll ticket that was supposedly picked up at Exit 10 southbound in 1951. It’s encased in acrylic and embossed with Turnpike logos. It measures 6” x 2.5” x 0.75”:

 

This is a 3” x 1.25” New Jersey Turnpike acrylic paperweight with the never-seen-in-real-life red and yellow tollbooth:

 

 

Glasses/Mugs

This glass is 3” x 6.75”:

 

This mug – including the handle – measures 4.75” x 5”:

 

 

PAPER

1. Postcards

This packet of little PCs is 3.75” x 2.5”. Most of the views are either boring or too obscure for most local people to relate to, so I’m adding two full-size linen postcards that are found in the packet as miniatures:

 

 

Remember that mention of an “overweight” New Jersey depiction in a previous item? I’ve combined it with one of the above cards that shows more state-shape accuracy:

Every part of the state is off in the right image. Look at the barrier islands – they look like small island countries. Even the route of the Turnpike is forked-up.

 

 

Brochure

“Ten years of service” would make this a 1961 foldout brochure:

 

At the bottom of the foldout page is a box that tells you what the tolls were in 1961. To drive the full length of the Turnpike back then would have cost you $1.75:

Today, that same drive will set you back $13.85.

 

 

NJTPK Deck of Cards

Regulation size, showing the top and bottom of the box:

 

Ever seen a joker card that looks like this?

 

 

Books

The New Jersey Turnpike Authority’s 1950 book on Standard Specifications for the Turnpike is 5.5” x 7.5” and contains 253 pages:

 

This copy belonged to the infrastructure design firm of Howard, Needles, Tammen and Bergendoff (as stamped on top of the title page). The inside cover was signed in October of 1955, but the signature is difficult to read. I think the first name might be “Charles”. The Turnpike Authority’s chief engineer is listed on the title page as “Charles M. Noble”, so perhaps it’s his signature……..but that’s just a guess:

BTW – I found an 8-12-99 receipt inside the book made out to me. I paid $6.50 plus $2.00 S&H for the book.

 

I almost forgot I had this 1992 book:

Overview

Two American Studies professors from Rutgers University here show how the New Jersey Turnpike—that “ugly icon,” America’s “widest and most traveled” road—has found its way into the minds, if not the hearts, of artists and drivers alike. In poet Allen Ginsberg, singer Bruce Springsteen, commuters and roadside home owners lulled to sleep by its drone of traffic, this 12-lane asphalt monster has inspired powerful reactions, from admiration to anger. The authors consider the first asparagus patch plowed up to lay the road; the $70,000 salary a contemporary toll-taker can earn with hefty overtime; and the not infrequent lawlessness of the highway patrol. From the gray-flannel-suit diligence that built it, to the mixture of necessity, practicality and venality that maintains it, the New Jersey Turnpike proves to be an enthralling though unlikely subject.

 

There’s something written on the book’s first blank page:

I have no idea who wrote it or who owned the book before me, but it sounds like something I should explore.

 

 

Miscellaneous

This is an NJ TP tie clip. On the bottom of the cracked plastic case it’s in, it says,      “T CH 10yr”:

 

Patches – the Turnpike may have opened in 1951, but the Turnpike Authority was created in 1949:

 

This shows both sides of a 6-square-inch1974 enamel commemorative piece:

 

I’m guessing that this NJ TPK stamp was for receipts:

 

I found some old ink and a dried-out inkpad and tried to see what I could get out of this stamp. This is the best I could come up with:

 

OK – time for the big finish.

In 1993, when Christine Todd Whitman was running for NJ governor, she promised Howard Stern that she would name a rest stop after him in exchange for his support.

He did and she did.

Some people think it’s on the Turnpike, but it’s really just off Rt 295 (but it’s less than a mile from the Turnpike, so it maybe sorta kinda-like qualifies to be here):

 

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you this 2.75” treasure to close out the proceedings:

 

 

 

Late addition:

If you think that’s offensive, look what was allowed on a Massachusetts Turnpike item:

(Yes – I bought it. I couldn’t believe such a thing existed.)

Good thing the Boston Braves had left for Milwaukee before this road was built, but still……………..

 

 

One Comment

  1. Lisa February 7, 2020

    Bob,
    You have great patience and passion for all things.

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