Published: January 23, 2017
Ellen Schaefer-Salins, an assistant professor at Maryland’s Salisbury University and mental health therapist specializing in work with deaf and hard of hearing individuals, finds collecting Alice in Wonderland-related items was very much a family affair, beginning with her grandmother. Things have come full circle with her recent project to translate the beloved children’s classic into the Maori language in New Zealand. Once the book was published, she raised funds so 300 copies could be distributed to schoolchildren. She also has about 180 Alice in Wonderland teapots, possibly the largest private collection.
Collecting Alice in Wonderland has been a family passion for three generations. Tell us who started this and how it has been passed down.
The collection was started in the 1890s with my grandmother collecting Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland books in different foreign languages. When my grandparents died my parents took over the book collection and helped to start the Lewis Carroll Society of North American (LCSNA) in 1974. There was already a British Lewis Carroll Society at that time. I grew up surrounded by Alice books and ephemera and my parents helped to run the LCSNA out of my childhood home for many years.
When your mom passed on, you were not so passionate about the collection. What changed that for you and what did you start buying?
My mother had ten Alice in Wonderland-themed teapots when she died in 1996. She was very proud of her collection. I thought that I would continue it to honor her after her death. She died just as the internet was becoming a new thing for all. This helped me to collect more teapots than I expected! I find Alice teapots mostly online, but I do also find them in shops and friends who are Alice collectors around the world sometimes send them to me. Recently I found an artist in Maine who makes Alice teapots. We met in a coffee shop between our homes so that I could purchase one of her stunning pieces. Another time I bought a rare Disney Alice teapot from a collector who lived about an hour away from me. We met in a parking lot and exchanged the teapot for money out of the back of his car. It felt like a drug deal but it was just an innocent teapot deal. I have remained good friends with this “dealer” ever since. You can meet some very wonderful and interesting people from collecting.
Your collection of Alice teapots is said to be the largest in the world. What are some of the rarest or most interesting teapots in your collections?
The rarest Alice in Wonderland teapots are ones that are made by artists. They are both a teapot and a piece of art. But I have many teapots that are lovely that are also mass produced. All of my teapots have a character or saying from a Lewis Carroll book on them. Two of my teapots show pictures of Lewis Carroll. The teapots are from all over the world, with many from England and Japan. Less than ten percent of the collection is teapots from Disney. Most have other illustrations on them such as the original illustrations of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland done by John Tenniel.
Tell us how you got about the recent project to translate Alice in Wonderland into Maori language.
The Lewis Carroll Society of North America (LCSNA) had a 150th celebration in New York in October 2015 in honor of the original publication of Alice in 1865. There was a project by several LCSNA members to have Alice translated into as many new languages as possible. I did a small thing to help with this large project. I helped to find a Maori translator since my daughter did a semester abroad in New Zealand. She introduced me to her professor, who became the translator. Once the book was translated and published, I offered to have a fundraiser so that Maori school children could have access to the book. I raised $2,500, and 300 Maori translations of Alice were published and sent to Maori elementary and middle schools in New Zealand. I raised the money mostly from people in the United States. The publisher is in Ireland and the books were sent to New Zealand! An international effort was made! This just happened at the beginning of December 2016. I was very happy to help with this endeavor! It did not really have anything to do with the teapot collection, but just with my interest in Lewis Carroll. I am also on the board of the LCSNA.
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