Vintage Noisemakers

It’s the one night of the year when most of us cut loose and release our din from within. New Year’s Eve, one of the most festive of holidays, is also the noisiest. Leigh Bishop of Fox Chapel collects many of the contraptions that people have used to go honk in the night on New Year’s Eve—or on any night, for that matter.

It all started romantically enough almost 18 years ago, when Bishop was strolling though a Paris flea market and spotted a tin noisemaker with a wooden handle. The bright, bold colors drew her in, and the happy sound of the beads clinking inside the hollow metal made her smile. A collection was born.

Since then, Bishop has found noisemakers everywhere she has traveled, in 48 states and in Canada, Mexico and Australia along with several stops in Europe.

While tin, rattling noisemakers with wooden handles are her favorites, Bishop also likes tin horns. Both are most often painted with festive scenes of New Year’s Eve, sock-hops, black-tie dances and parties. These are images of “innocent days gone by,” Bishop says, and it is this nostalgia of the mid-20th century that appeals to her. “These noisemakers were always used on cruise ships, at parties, on the happiest occasions. Just imagining the people using these to celebrate is fun.”

Some of the most collectible of these tin noisemakers feature images of world’s fairs, Halloween and clowns. Bishop also collects “ratchet” noisemakers and wooden models used to advertise nightclubs such as the Chez Follies, Paradise Restaurant and Hi Hat Cocktail Club, all in New York.

Another group of Bishop’s favorite racket-makers are “crickets,” thumb-sized tin toys that make a loud click when pressed. They were often used as advertising novelties, and Bishop’s collection includes crickets for Buster Brown Shoes, Calvert Whiskey, Drakes Cakes, Parrott Shoes and Roach Kill. There are seasonal crickets, too, including ones for Christmas and Easter, and political crickets. Her clear favorite here is one picturing President Richard Nixon with the caption, “Click with Dick.” Some of the oldest crickets are stamped metal made to look like their insect namesakes, and these are often the loudest.

For as much fun as they are, and as happy as Bishop is to allow visitors to give in to the irresistible temptation to shake, rattle and blow, the noisemakers can be, well, kind of annoying if overused. “When people pick up one of the crickets, I tell them, ‘OK, you get one click and that’s it.’ You can really drive someone crazy!” Bishop says with a laugh. And although she is a kindergarten teacher of 19 years with Pittsburgh Public Schools, these are clearly too valuable to be playthings for little ones anymore, though she does sometimes bring in some less-valuable samples for the kids to enjoy.

Bishop is always on the hunt at antiques shops, flea markets and online for new noisemakers and is very picky about the ones she brings home. “I look for good condition, no rust or chips, wooden handles, of course, and colors that go with my decorating.” Seeing all the noisemakers collected together, beautifully displayed and grouped by type, is festive in itself, even without hearing them ring out—or using them to ring in the new year.