Every morning, Mary Walker ignores the 300 citrus-fruit squeezers displayed throughout her Sherman Oaks home and reaches instead for a can of tomato juice.
"I really don't like to hand-squeeze oranges," she admitted, burying her face in her hands with a embarrassed laugh. "I tend to drink tomato juice."
Walker's embarrassment is understandable. She's the founding member and national president of a 150-member group that calls itself the National Reamer Collectors Assn. It is a club whose membership is rising, she said, as people come forward to profess their obsession with citrus-fruit squeezers--reamers--after years of "closet" collecting.
"I know," said Walker, 44. "When I tell people that I collect reamers, they kind of look at you and say, 'What's that?' What most believe to be a basic orange-juice squeezer--that cone-shaped kitchen gadget that extracts juice when an orange half is twisted into it--is really called a reamer.
"It's kind of a comical thing to look at: the cone, the shape, the name. Reamer. It's a funny word."
Walker found herself collecting reamers after an interior decorator put several of them in her home to use as candy and soap dishes. Walker discovered they made good ashtrays and went out looking for more.
"After I had about 75, I had to admit to myself that I was a collector," she said. "When I first started, I honestly thought I was the only person in the world who collected reamers. It wasn't something I tended to talk about, because I had this fear people would think it is a silly thing to collect."
But she and her brother-in-law, Allan Roberts, 54, of Northridge have about $200,000 invested in their collections. Roberts, the regional director of the club, has 800 reamers in his kitchen, living room and den.
In 1980, 45 people, most of whom Walker and Roberts had met while collecting reamers at antique shops, assembled in St. Louis and organized the collectors' association. Since then, membership has tripled.
What compels people to collect reamers is the same impulse that attracts people to any collectible, Walker said: "They don't make 'em like they used to."
Except for electric juicers and "cheap glass" or plastic imitations now manufactured, Walker said, the reamer fell victim to frozen orange juice around 1940.
"Between 1920 and 1940 were the heydays for reamers," Walker said.
In her first of two books on the subject, "Reamers, 200 Years," Walker explains that the first reamer was made in France in 1767 from nickel, silver and porcelain. The first reamers made in the United States were patented in 1865.
Until about 1900, reamers were mainly sold as part of sets of dishes. They were used primarily to squeeze juice from lemons and limes for seasoning. But that changed in the early 1900s, when the California Fruit Growers Exchange began its "Sunkist" campaign to urge Americans to drink orange juice, Walker's book states.
Walker estimates that more than 2,000 colors and styles of reamers were manufactured during their boom years, mainly by East Coast glass companies. There were reamers made to set atop glasses, reamers to place atop pitchers and reamers made to look like clowns, fruit, frogs and monkeys. There was even a reamer made in the likeness of Ben Franklin.
They were made of pink, amber, green and Depression-era glass, as well as delicate china.
Many reamers are lovely to look at, but some are less than functional.
"If you try to use most of them," Roberts said, "the juice squeezes everywhere but inside the container."
Reamers that were once purchased for pennies now sell for $7 to $400 each, depending on their rarity, according to a price list in Walker's second book, "More Reamers." Most seem to hover between $50 and $75 each.
She and Roberts said, however, that they have been offered up to $800 for several of their pieces.
"But, you know, you can still buy these reamers for $5 somewhere--at a garage sale, a swap meet," Walker said.
Roberts said that although California has the most collectors, the West Coast is the hardest area to find reamers, because most were manufactured in the East.
Will electric juicers, the kind found in the gourmet section of department stores, ever be found in collections?
"They are all plastic," Roberts said. "I don't know if plastic will ever be rare."