Almost all of us at one point or another have stored under our beds or deep in our closets shoeboxes full of treasures. They may have contained rare baseball cards, vintage comic books or perhaps stamps from around the world.
But how many of us have started coffee stain collections or jotted down and stored away the locations of lost gloves?
David Toccafondi (C’95), IT support specialist at Van Pelt-Dietrich Library, gives new meaning to the word “collector.” His knack for turning the mundane—things like business cards and magazine ads—into objects of fascination is written all over his personal homepage. But quirky isn’t the only thing Toccafondi has going for his web site. It’s also chock full of useful information on the history and traditions that make up Penn as an institution.
Q. You obviously put a lot of time into your homepage. How did you get started?
A. I got started to teach myself HTML and to upgrade a web page. Once I got going, I just kind of never stopped creating more and more. I’ve always collected a lot of things and it kind of seemed a natural progression to move those collections onto the web so that other people can see them, not that they’d want to but it’s been fun for me.
Q. How do you decide what you’re going to collect?
A. I don’t pick the collection, the collection picks me. I kind of look down and realize, Oh look, I have three of these. Then I have four, five and six. Then I kind of actively collect them after that.
I used to collect things of monetary value, but I really can’t afford that, so I went to the free things I find or what people give me. I have business cards from several hundred Gaps from all around the world. The first couple of hundred were from me, I got them all. But now I actually have random people who I’ve never met mail them to me and say, Hey here’s one from Tokyo. Or here’s one from Wales.
Q. Of your collections, which one is your favorite?
A. The one I’m most proud of is the Calvin Klein ads. It’s the one I’ve put the most time, money and work into over the years. I’m very proud of the fact that if you go to Google and you search for Calvin Klein my page is the first one that pops up.
I occasionally get e-mails, Dear Mr. Klein. Even though I’m very careful to state on the page that I’m not affiliated with Calvin Klein at all, I still get things. People send me photographs of themselves saying, I want to be a model. Will you hire me?
I have several hundred magazine ads going back as far as 1980.
Q. You also collect facts relating to Penn’s history. Why is that?
A. I tend to be very interested in the institutions that I’m involved in and affiliated with. Since I graduated from Penn and now work at Penn, I’ve been very interested in the history of the University and the way it works and also the library specifically.
Q. How do you decide what goes on there?
A. Sometimes it’s just whatever I come across. This would be a good addition. Or something specific that I’m interested in, like the Ivy Stones or the Rittenhouse Orrery.
Q. Are you in contact with University Archives?
A. I have been now and then with specific questions or things, like [questions concerning] Penn’s tie to the Titanic. Archives was really helpful there, giving me a lot of information.
Q. Do you find that a lot of people use this part of your site as a resource?
A. I’m often surprised when I get an e-mail from someone, saying, Oh, I came across your page about the Titanic, did you know about this? or they offer me some more information. If it’s a really obscure web page that I have—like what kind of tea I’ve been drinking lately or what gloves I’ve found—I’ve had glove manufacturers e-mail me, Will you sell our gloves?
Q. You have so many collections. Do you ever lose track of them?
A. I do. And I forget about them for a while so they kind of languish. Something will spark my interest in them again and I’ll update it. But I have so many now that it’s hard to keep them all up to date.
Q. Where do get all the physical space to house your things?
A. [laughs] I bought a house a couple of years ago in West Philadelphia. It’s a nice, big three-story house. I used to cram it all into my efficiency apartment.
Q. How do you see your web site? How would you describe your approach?
A. It’s definitely a creative outlet from me. I don’t think about other people visiting most of the web pages with the exception of Calvin Klein because I get so much e-mail from it. There’s a web page of cakes I’ve made and decorated. Just recently, I got an e-mail asking me how I created a certain flower and could I tell her how.
Q. You’re a man of many hobbies.
A. Too many.
Visit Toccafondi and his collections at pobox.upenn.edu/~davidtoc.
Originally published on May 1, 2003