Firework Collectibles & Vintage Firework Collections

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April 27, 2021
Firework Collectibles & Vintage Firework Collections

In this interview, listen to Chris and Gooch discuss vintage fireworks and the collectible firework marketing while interviewing Get Loud’s first-ever podcast guest, Tom Wilson of Black Market Fireworks.

Chris Noland:
Welcome to another episode of Get Loud with Black Cat Fireworks. I’m Chris Noland, VP of marketing here at Black Cat Fireworks along with Dave “Gooch” Guccione.

Dave Guccione:
That’s me.

Chris Noland:
The Director of sales at Winco Fireworks.

Dave Guccione:
Still have a job this week. That’s good.

Chris Noland:
Third episode, here we go.

Dave Guccione:
Third. Number three.

Chris Noland:
Number three. And what better to do? Then let’s talk about the collectible market.

Dave Guccione:
It’s amazing to think that people actually collect fireworks. I think every time I used to bring collectibles home, my wife says, “More trash.” Right? More trash. Her words, more trash. And if she even knew what I spent for this stuff, then she would really be mad at me.

Chris Noland:
Well, now she’s going to, right?

Dave Guccione:
Yeah.

Chris Noland:
We’re in trouble.

Dave Guccione:
I’m already in trouble. I’m already in trouble and we’re only 48 seconds into the recording.

Chris Noland:
So talk a little bit about… I know Black Cat collectibles are kind of a big thing in that collective and the fireworks collectible world which you’re heavily involved obviously.

Dave Guccione:
A quick little overview in the collectible world. It goes back to the 1960s and two collectors. Now I don’t want to disrespect anybody out there. I have a lot of friends who collect fireworks, but two people would come to mind for me. Number one is Orf Carlyle. He had a museum, I believe, in the Midwest and was one of the first people to really do it. And the other person is Dennis Manochio. Dennis was out in California and, really, he used to travel over to Hong Kong just to get firecracker labels. I mean, amazing. And they’re still selling his collection off on eBay 20 plus years later. So those two people really come to mind as far as really collectibles. I got into it as a kid saving old fireworks flyers. Once again, in California, it just didn’t have the kind of fireworks resources that people here in the Midwest had. But I started at the young age of probably seven or eight collecting fireworks stuff.

Chris Noland:
Now we talked about it, I think, maybe in episode one what is the… You said you’ve got a sign or something from the early nineties?

Dave Guccione:
Yeah, I have an old fireworks like flag sign and it’s from the Unexcelled Fireworks Company. And I believe it’s from 1905. Still have it. I haven’t sold it yet and many people offer me money for it. But it’s one of my prize possessions.

Chris Noland:
That’s awesome. That’s awesome.

Tom Wilson, Black Market Fireworks

Dave Guccione:
So anyway, talking about collectibles, I think we definitely have somebody who is really the king of Black Cat Fireworks and that would be Tom Wilson.

Chris Noland:
So as Gooch mentioned, we’ve got our first guest ever on our podcast.

Dave Guccione:
It’s our very first guest.

Chris Noland:
First guest ever. He’s known as Mr. Black Cat in the fireworks collectors circle.

Dave Guccione:
And I think in the fireworks business world actually too.

Chris Noland:
Fireworks business world too as well. Yes, he is widely known for his knowledge on fireworks and more importantly, the best fireworks, Black Cat Fireworks. The man, the myth, the legend, Tom Wilson.

Dave Guccione:
Hey Tom. Welcome.

Chris Noland:
Tom, how are you today?

Tom Wilson:
Hey. Thanks for having me, guys.

Chris Noland:
Good, good. I’m glad you’re here. As the first guest, what’s this feel like? I mean, are you excited?

Tom Wilson:
I feel privileged, man.

Dave Guccione:
There we go. Yeah. We don’t even know what we’re doing right now, Tom.

Tom Wilson:
Do I need to put my Black Cat hat on? Oh, wait. You can’t see that.

Dave Guccione:
It’ll be all muffled like that if you did.

Chris Noland:
Good thing this is just the audio. We don’t have the video yet, so that’s good. So Tom works for one of Black Cat’s certified retailers down in Joplin, Missouri. It’s Black Market Fireworks. So what do you do for Black Market, Tom? And what is Black Market all about?

Tom Wilson:
Black Market Fireworks has been in the business for over 50 years. We have been showing Black Cat for, I don’t know, probably over 30 years. One of Winco’s oldest customers and one of Black Cat’s oldest customers in the new generation era. My job, I do a little bit of everything. I do IT, I do our sales, I do our warehouse. I’m a janitor and I even cleaned the bathroom. So I have a wide array of paths, meaning the business mainly ran by myself and the owner, Aaron Colson, who is a great boss and a great person to work for. I started working for his dad when I was 12 years old in a fireworks tent and helped out in some aspects for the last 40 plus years, started full time with Black Market 17 years ago, and have learned things that I never thought I’d ever know.

Dave Guccione:
There we go.

Chris Noland:
Yeah. We’ve been down there numerous times. We’ve seen you hard at work down there, but we’ve also seen the collection. That’s the infamous collection. Didn’t you guys just do some renovations to kind of highlight that collection?

Tom Wilson:
Yes. Well, we did some renovations. We only had one bathroom in the warehouse which kind of skunk during the busy season. Yeah, literally. So we did away with one office and added a bathroom and added some more offices upstairs. And in doing that, we kind of made a showroom for our customers. And my boss was like, “Let’s give you an area to highlight part of your collection.” So I had two custom built cabinets that are 50 inches wide, 7 foot tall that display maybe 20% of my collection. Maybe 15%, I don’t know.

Dave Guccione:
That’s crazy.

Tom Wilson:
It’ll be hard to estimate that.

Dave Guccione:
These are very large display cases by the way. So Tom, it’s probably 5% of your collections.

Tom Wilson:
Yeah. I’m being modest.

Chris Noland:
When did you first start collecting, Tom? How long ago?

Tom Wilson:
I started collecting about 15-16 years ago. When I first started full time, I went to a collectors’ event and one of the biggest collectors events in the United States which is that PGI. They have the collector’s corner there and I met a lot of nice individuals, older individuals than myself, believe it or not, that taught me a lot and helped me start building my collection. And at that time, I was kind of like I didn’t know what I wanted to do, what I wanted to collect because there were so many things out there. Started centering my collection mostly on Black Cat items. I do have… So in my collection, everybody knows me as Mr. Black Cat because I have the largest Black Cat firecracker pack and brick collection anywhere around. This means-

Dave Guccione:
Tom, I think on the planet… Sorry to talk over you. I think you have the largest Black Cat fireworks collection on the planet.

Tom Wilson:
So that being said, I’m not the only… There’s a lot of big collectors out there and everybody has their expertise. We all kind of sound off of each other which is a nice thing. People my age and a little older that are in the industry that are really trying to help some of the new people coming in. Just learn the hard thing is, as we all know, there’s good people out there in the world, there are bad people out there in the world, and you got to learn to be smart and ask questions so you don’t get taken advantage of. Yeah.

Tom Wilson:
As far as what’s the oldest thing I have, probably the oldest Black Cat items. And I’ve not been able to get a clear answer on this question, but there’s what we all call the scruffy cat, or I call it the wild cat. It’s the only Black Cat label that doesn’t say Li & Fung on it. And I do know that that label was made by [inaudible 00:09:02] Peters. I don’t know if he specifically made that label for Li & Fung or if he made that label and then Li & Fung bought it from him, but we all know that Black Cat started in 1952. That is when they trademarked it and that’s when the feather… I call it the feather-eared cat. Real similar to the modern-day cat, but his ears are a little more defined and it shows the fur.

Tom Wilson:
So some of the older items from 1955 through… Well, actually from 1952 when they started through to somewhere in the sixties or late sixties. Early seventies is when they went to the cat version that we see today, the smoothy-er. We still see a few changes throughout time in the nineties. They thought they’d make cool change and that’s when you’ll see the red eyes instead of the traditional black cat eyes. Just a lot of fun. There’s a lot of things to learn. And obviously, in this short podcast, we can’t talk about all of them.

Dave Guccione:
What’s your most valuable item you think you have, Black Cat wise?

Tom Wilson:
The most valuable item would probably be a class three, 800 count, one inch five 800 brick. It would have been made somewhere in the mid-fifties. It has the feathered ears. Somewhere after that, they started with the smoothy-er cat. And that would probably be the most valuable item I have.

Dave Guccione:
What do you think the dollar value today is on that?

Tom Wilson:
I’d say that brick’s probably were $1,500 to $2,000 if I were to try-

Dave Guccione:
So $2,000 for a brick of firecrackers, correct?

Tom Wilson:
$2,000. Yes.

Chris Noland:
Wow.

Tom Wilson:
I recently sold a later brick in an auction at a swap meet. Went for 1200 bucks. So I think 2000 might be modest, and it wasn’t quite as old as this.

Chris Noland:
Really cool.

Dave Guccione:
I think for the general public out there who’s listening to this podcast today saying, “A brick of firecrackers is $1,500.” You’re starting to hear $2,000. It’s like any collectible. People who collect porcelain signs. Some of these, there are real avid enthusiastic who will spend big money on something for them and it’s all about memories, it’s about their childhood, whatever triggers them. Tom, you and I have both been involved with some auctions where stuff was going for five, six, seven thousand dollars, correct?

Tom Wilson:
Oh yeah. We’ve seen some salesmen sample kit that are just really cool. A lot of that came from the Schneitter Fireworks who’s been in the business since the 1800. And some of that stuff is just… I mean, it blows your mind that the preservation and some of the stuff that has been preserved over the years is just amazing. And we have stuff that dates back into 1900s.

Dave Guccione:
I think Schneitter has still some of the most preserved paper goods I’ve ever seen. Pristine Black Cat posters from the 1960s that look like they were printed yesterday, I mean, ain’t just incredible what they have. It’s unbelievable. Here’s another question for you. Tom, what’s your most prized Black Cat collectible?

Tom Wilson:
Well, that would be hard. I mean, I’ve got a lot of things that I think is really cool, but I kind of liked oddities, the things that people have never seen. And so I got one thing hanging in my office. I’ll talk about that. That is maybe the most prize collectible, but it’s neat because it never got made. So Black Cat used to send out sample kits and in those sample kits were com items. And then sometimes for whatever reason, this particular item they were not able to get a valid DX number, so they weren’t able to make it.

Tom Wilson:
And it brings a lot of questions. Everybody’s like, “What does it do?” Well, it starts with the regular size crackling ball that works up to [inaudible 00:14:10] size ball but is a crackling ball and basically you hang it. And I think it’s hilarious because the Chinese are always misprinting things. It’s supposed to say “Best when well hung,” and it says “Best when well hug.”

Chris Noland:
Donkey tail.

Dave Guccione:
Donkey tail, exactly.

Chris Noland:
Donkey tail. Yeah, there you go. So-

Dave Guccione:
Yep. Wish they would’ve made that.

Tom Wilson:
I was sad when it didn’t get made because I know we could have sold them like crazy, but it’s just one of them things. So I’ve got two items in my collection that never got made. And then I’ve got some things that just really only lasted a year or two. There’s a lot of stuff that you can talk about, but I loved the odd things. The things that you bring conversations [inaudible 00:15:06] the talk. I love all the little novelty stuff because I’m always looking forward to what’s my Christmas present going to be this year. [inaudible 00:15:17] Black Cat bobblehead.  Come and buy on the Black Cat website right now.

Dave Guccione:
That’s right.

Chris Noland:
Well, when we come up with ideas for what kind of merch and things that we can do, we always have Tom in mind.

Dave Guccione:
Absolutely.

Chris Noland:
What would be a good collectible for Tom and his collection?

Dave Guccione:
Black Cat bobblehead available on Black Cat threads, right?

Chris Noland:
That’s right.

Dave Guccione:
There we go. There’s the plug.

Chris Noland:
Limited quantities.

Dave Guccione:
Hey Tom, I have one more question. Let’s talk about the Pyro swap meet in Joplin. Tell us about that and then about any other swap meets you’re aware of, so people who maybe want to try to get into collecting, they could kind of start to do a little bit of research and kind of work their way into the community.

Tom Wilson:
Well, the job from the Pyro swap meet started nine years ago. It started just with a handful of old collectors. We just wanted to get together. And of course, we have the space here before fireworks season gets going. It’s usually in March. And it started with probably 20 people and it grew to… The year before the COVID, I probably had almost a hundred people here. Wasn’t able to do it last year. This year I did it on a very anonymous level because COVID still not completely gone and I wanted just to know that I had trusted people that I could trust to wear their mask, social distance, be safe. But yes they still had fun. A lot of people had missed getting together and we haven’t been able to.

Tom Wilson:
The other swap meets that I know about. I mean, PGI has a big collectors’ event every year. You can meet collectors from all over the country. Going back to the job from Pyro swap meet this year, I had people from New York, I had people from Michigan, people from Tennessee, people from Florida, Las Vegas.  Yeah, all over the country. And PGI is the same way. There’s a guy named Al and he has a swap meet in Indiana usually in the month of April or early May. And I heard Tela the swap meet’s getting started out on the east coast. I know that they have a lot of obstacles they have to overcome. Nice thing about being in Missouri, everything’s legal. And what I mean by that is everything that’s legal for the consumer public is legal for you to collect. So I do have certain regulations. I don’t don’t allow anybody to bring in the old cherries or the old BMAT because, well, those are regulated.

Dave Guccione:
Right. They’re prohibited. Right.

Tom Wilson:
And they’re prohibited. So that being said, I try to keep a tight reign on our meet because, well, it affects our business. So history is very important. I’ll throw this little plug out there. There is some stuff. Unfortunately, it’s not displayed but it’s part of the Mancino collection in the Smithsonian. And you can go to the Smithsonian site and you can pull up a log and you can see what they have stored away basically, which is unfortunate to me because not actually display where people can see it. But one of the things that… If I can’t display it from time to time, what’s the purpose in collecting it? And so I’m very thankful to my boss for giving me some space that I can just swap stuff out from time to time so that when people come in here, they see something different.

Chris Noland:
Well, what’s real cool, Tom, is not only with that collection but you’ve come up to the showroom up here and we’ve gotten pictures of some of your items that you’ve kindly brought up to show. And we’re actually doing a Throwback Thursday or a Flashback Fridays on Instagram where we highlight some of those items that Tom has generously brought up for us to take a look at, and we highlight those every week. We’re doing it now throughout the season. And it’s pretty cool. But thanks for joining us today, Tom. We really appreciate it.

Tom Wilson:
Oh, you’re welcome.

Chris Noland:
And our first guest down.

Dave Guccione:
Tom Wilson, Mr. Black Cat.

Chris Noland:
Mr. Black Cat.

Tom Wilson:
Thanks for having me. One last comment. Look in the Winco catalog in the firecracker section, you’ll see a picture of some of my firecrackers.

Chris Noland:
That’s true.

Dave Guccione:
And for those consumers who are not in the fireworks business, you can actually go online to wincofireworks.com and there is a PDF version of the catalog you could kind of dig through and find. Cool, Tom. Hey, thank you very much. We really appreciate it. You guys have a good one, okay?

Chris Noland:
Thanks, Tom.

Tom Wilson:
You too. See you guys.

Dave Guccione:
Right, see ya.

Dave Guccione:
Well, that was Tom Wilson from Black Market Fireworks, Mr. Black Cat. Who would have thought that there was somebody that enthusiastic about fireworks collectibles?

Chris Noland:
I had no idea.

Dave Guccione:
Well, Tom’s a friend of mine and obviously I’m in that group, so I’m aware of it. But no, I learned something from Tom every time I talked to him about fireworks. It’s great.

Chris Noland:
Yep. He’s very knowledgeable for sure. But that wraps up another episode of Get Loud with Black Cat Fireworks. Gooch, anything else?

Dave Guccione:
No, man. I think we had a great episode this time around and we look forward to doing the next one.

Chris Noland:
Yeah, like we mentioned, if you want to check out our Instagram, follow us on Instagram, we got some Throwback Thursday stuffs, some Flashback Fridays, and also for any official Black Cat apparel, check out blackcatthreads.com. We’ve got three or four new t-shirts coming your way here soon in gearing up for the season. So thanks again.

Dave Guccione:
All right, we’ll see you next time. Thanks a lot.

Dave Guccione:
Well, that wraps up another Get Loud with Black Cat Fireworks podcast. On behalf of your host, Chris Noland and Dave “Gooch” Guccione, go out and light some fireworks. We will talk to you real soon.