It seems as though Boise has always been a fun town. In the years before World War II, Boiseans were buying drinks at The Big 4 Bar at Main and 7th streets. The motto on the bar’s matchbook: “A camel can go eight days without a drink. Who wants to be a camel?”
Residents were trading metal tokens for cigars at the Up To Date lunch counter — the Main Street space that became Nick’s Shoe Shop and now houses the city’s Sesqui-Shop.
A ham radio operator named Dick Frazier transmitted as the “Foghorn of the Foothills.” Diners strolled Downtown, tucking into ravioli made fresh daily at the Spanish Village restaurant, not far from The Big 4 Bar.
Tangible evidence of this and other Boise daily life will fill the city’s Sesqui-Shop exhibition space beginning on First Thursday, Jan. 3, and continuing through Feb. 2.
The “Collect Boise” exhibit is part of the city’s celebration of its 150th anniversary in 2013. The show will feature artifacts shared by Boise collectors and citizens, such as matchbook covers from old dives, ancient shop receipts, glass milk bottles, postcards and architectural remnants from long-lost buildings.
Rachel Reichert, Sesqui-Shop operations manager, is curating with an open-door policy, she said. Space is limited but she intends to display as many items as possible. She’s fielded a lot of phone calls during the past few weeks from residents offering up artifacts, and there’s a rumor that someone might bring a stone gargoyle from the original City Hall at 8th and Idaho.
Reichert will accept items until 4 p.m. Saturday.
Boisean John Mutch is sharing many of his Boise treasures, including his matchbook covers. Each is like a miniature billboard advertising hotels, shops and bars — or restaurants such as Fong’s Tea Garden, an old-style Chinese place that stood like a time capsule in the Adelman Building at 6th and Capitol until the 1970s.
Some have pin-up girls and slogans. Club 807 was a place, claimed its matchbook poet, “Where everybody has a good time.” The matchbook art form reached its high point in the 1950s, Mutch said.
He also is lending his QSL cards, the postcards ham radio operators exchanged when they made radio contact with each other. His cards date from 1924 to 1978, and they bear addresses from as far away as England. Unsurprising for Idaho, one card has an anthropomorphized spud.
But Mutch’s specialty might be tokens.
“Anything that goes with a token, I like,” Mutch said.
Small currency was in rare supply in the West in the first part of the 20th century, so everyone from bakers to bartenders came up with an alternative — exchanging metal tokens for small purchases.
Between 1900 and the end of the Korean War, around 200 Boise businesses used metal tokens, said Mutch. As recently as the early ’70s, he remembers walking into the old Bouquet Bar Downtown and exchanging a dollar for some tokens.
Tokens were also a way people could enjoy gambling. Local law enforcement frowned on gambling for money, but it couldn’t say much about gambling for tokens, which technically were not money.
Sixteen Boise tokens from Mutch’s collection will be on display at the Sesqui-Shop.
‘A LITTLE PAINTING’
“My mission is to bring things home to Boise,” said collector Mark Baltes, who’s loaning several of his old Boise postcards. He’s found most of them on eBay.
“A Boise artifact doesn’t have as much meaning when it’s sitting in Missouri,” said Baltes.
The old cards are in the public domain, a boon for an artist like Baltes who translated several of them into “Penny Post Card,” his enamel-on-steel mural on the Idaho Street side of Boise City Hall. “Each postcard is like a little painting,” he said.
Pam Sorensen is also on a mission to bring Boise items home. A lifelong Boisean, Sorensen has a long family history in the city. Her family owned a jewelry store and the Boise Ice Cream Co. that became MeadowGold Dairy. Her father, Sherm Perry, owned furniture stores here for 30 years. A building named for him on 9th Street is being renovated to house the 10 Barrel Brewing brewpub.
Sorensen is loaning several souvenir plates with images of beloved spots like the old Natatorium on Warm Springs. She’s loaning several old-school glass milk bottles, including one from Boise Ice Cream Co.
“I love to collect Boise. And I love the thrill of meeting other collectors,” said Sorensen.
Anna Webb: 377-6431