It all started with a casual remark by Fishs Eddy founder Julie Gaines as she flippantly observed, “No one goes to a diner and thinks of the mug they are drinking out of.” This offhanded comment reveals Gaines’ categorical approach to collecting dinnerware: nothing is too precious or too common for the Fishs Eddy museum. Started by Gaines during the pandemic at the iconic store, located just south of the Flatiron Building at 19th street, the home goods mogul considers this museum-within-a-store her secret homage to American material culture and manufacturing history.
Untapped New York Insiders are invited to experience an intimate tour of the Fishs Eddy museum with Gaines reviewing her collection to-date on two upcoming dates on Wednesday, July 6 and again on Wednesday, July 20 – both beginning at 5:30 PM onsite. These tours are free for Untapped New York Insiders, and new Insiders can sign up and get their first month for free with the code JOINUS.
The store—founded by Gaines and her partner Dave Lenowitz—was named after a small upstate New York hamlet called Fishs Eddy. This attitude to idiosyncrasy and the spirit of discovering hidden treasures pervades both store and museum, as there are pieces from as early as World War I contained within the beloved store’s museum space. From hospitals to hotels, there are plates paying tribute to iconic historic events along with referencing American manufacturing centers across the United States. Gaines reflects on two of her most beloved treasures: a commemorative plate from LaGuardia airport, and another plate originally from the fashionable original Astor House.
Behind the Scenes at Fishs Eddy Hidden Dish Museum
Gaines notes that the wide-ranging collection of dishes and glassware in the museum’s collection pay homage to the Bowery as a restaurant supply district, where the collection got its humble beginnings 35 years ago. While browsing King’s Restaurant Supply on the Bowery in the late 1980s, the couple found thousands of handmade dishes made in the United States from the early 20th century. High brow and lowbrow dishware alike filled the walls of the supplier’s sub-basement, and Gaines and her partner took as much as they could get their hands on, finding a new mission in preserving vintage dishes with unique histories in the process.
Objects on view in the tiny but well-loved museum contain references to society events, military history, even corporate emblems. These historical items document lived histories of restaurants, homes, diners, even train cars. The collectors formed their vision for this collection by viewing the latent histories contained within each of these objects: how they were used, who used them, and where they were made. Gaines sees the legacy of American manufacturing, a since depleted industry, documented across the museum’s incredible collections.
This historic collection has a future home, Gaines speculates, back near the Bowery. The Fishs Eddy owner hopes to establish a 501(c)3 that will be able to relocate these artifacts in a larger collection documenting material and visual culture related to American—and New York City—history. The owner’s goal is to create an experience aligned with the Tenement Museum, speaking to the uniquely New York City experience of, say, diner mugs. The dynamic histories contained within each object speak to America’s culture and industry over the last 100 years in depth.
On July 6 at 5:30 pm, Untapped New York Insiders will have the rare chance to engage with these historical artifacts with Gaines herself, learning the histories behind each unique piece of dishware filling this remarkable and eclectic collection. This event is free for Untapped New York Insiders. If you’re not a member yet, join now (and get your first month free with the code JOINUS).