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Man has a collection of more than 3,200 plane sick bags


Steve keeps his sickness bags in binders (Picture: PA Real Life)

Nothing is off-limits when it comes to collecting.

A former IT consultant has collected over 3,200 aeroplane sick bags after becoming enchanted by them as a student 40 years ago.

His favourite ‘barf bag’ came from a NASA space shuttle.

Steve Silberberg, 60, from Massachusetts, USA lives with his partner Madeleine Rys, 55.

Steve says his penchant for sick bags was a ‘litmus test’ for his relationships in the past – he has always got on best with women who can see the funny side of his eccentric obsession.

He said: ‘It’s not that I would lead with it and say, “Hi, I’m Steve, I’m the sick bag collector”.

‘But I would find that women who would shake their heads and say, “Why do you do that?” were typically someone I would not relate to very well.’

Madeleine, who has been with Steve for 11 years, was nonplussed when he first told her about his collection a few months into their relationship.

‘It did not turn her away and I’m glad about that,’ Steve said. ‘She’s amused by it but has no interest in getting involved.

‘When anyone shows interest in my hobby, she thinks it’s crazy but she just accepts it and says, “Yes, I’m with the barf bag guy”.’

Steve isn’t even the world record holder for this bizarre collection (Picture: PA Real Life)

Steve dabbled with more conventional collections when he was young, such as coins and stamps.

But he was inspired to start amassing sick bags in 1981, when he was 20 and studying.

He said: ’40 years ago, I was taking a six-hour flight from Boston to San Francisco to visit my brother.

‘It was a long flight and lonely and I saw the bag in the seat back in front of me.

‘And I thought, “Wow, this seems like a unique thing. I bet nobody else collects these”. So I decided to grab one. And it started that inauspiciously.’

Soon his friends began bringing him bags they’d picked up on flights, too.

Steve’s display of bags (Picture: PA Real Life)

By the end of college 18 months later, Steve had accumulated 30 to 40 bags and had started to seek out more original models, writing to air companies and asking friends of friends who travelled far and wide to pick up specimens from abroad.

Then in the late 90s, the internet made this all much easier.

Setting up a website in 1997 to catalogue his collection, he realised there was a whole world of fellow aficionados out there.

Explaining why he first set up the site, Steve said: ‘What’s the point of having a collection if you can’t share it with the world?

‘It’s a point of pride and making the website was also not a terrible way of improving my computing skills as the web was pretty new at that time.’

Within a year of being online, Steve found 20 other collectors, one of which he met up with.

He said: ‘It made me think I have kindred spirits all over the world and thought it was a great opportunity to increase the size of the collection.’

Steve keeps his sickness bags in binders (Picture: PA Real Life)

Steve now has a huge collection of 3,231 bags from around 150 countries, and has 50 more bags waiting to be put into his system.

The barf bag community, which he believes is around 250 people globally, can talk on his website to trade in bags.

However, only 100 bags of the ones Steve owns did he actually get from flights he’s taken.

He mainly finds new vomit catchers by making like-for-like swaps with others.

‘The age and country of origin and application of the bag can make it more rare,’ Steve explained. ‘I also take into account if the airline is still in business and size of the fleet.

‘If somebody I’ve been trading with for 20 years wants a rare bag and can only give a common bag in return, then I may do it anyway because I’m usually quite free and open about swapping.

‘But normally you would want to trade a rare bag with another rare bag,’ he said.

Air Berlin bag featuring actor Elyas M’Barek reading ‘puke quietly’ (Picture: PA Real Life)

Some bags are available on eBay and Steve has spent up to $35 dollars (£26) on interesting finds.

He sometimes picks an airline for a flight he is making on the basis it will help with his quest for new bags.

‘Once I chose a specific Sky Air flight to Chile because I didn’t have a bag from them before,’ he said.

As a result of all this effort, Steve’s collection is truly global.

He said: ‘I have bags from almost every country.

‘There’s a few places I can think of that I don’t have, such as Burkina Faso – but I’m not really sure what their national airline is.’

And he even has bags from countries that no longer exist.

‘I have a sickness bag from Ceylon from around 1966, before the island became known as Sri Lanka,’ he said.

Sickness bag from a NASA Space Shuttle (Picture: PA Real Life)

But vast as Steve’s collection is, he still has some way to go to beat the sick bag collecting Guinness World Record holder – Niek Vermeulen earned his title in February 2012, with his hoard of 6,290 bags at the time from 1,191 airlines from almost 200 countries.

He is also not sure his collection is worth much.

He said: ‘For insurance purposes, I think it would cost 10,000 dollars [£7,485] to replace but in terms of what someone would pay for it, I’m not sure if it has any value at all. They’re just sick bags after all.

‘I thought it would be a good way to meet women but it’s not! Why do I collect? Why do people collect at all? There’s an aesthetic to it and it’s satisfying.

‘It means I can focus my urge to hoard on just sick bags so I don’t hoard everything else.’

He continued: ‘Sadly, I can never seem to spend enough time with the bags.

Steve’s oldest bag from 1959 (Picture: PA Real Life)

‘Not that I would spend all day every day – but you know, there are family obligations and work obligations that get in the way.

‘I usually spend around three hours a week on the hobby, cataloguing them, scanning them, working on the website and communicating with other collectors.’

His dream is to have a museum for his collection.

‘I currently keep them in about 30 three-ring loose-leaf binders in my closet but one day I dream of having enough space to make a museum for them.

‘There’s lots of empty commercial property after Covid-19, I’d like to share a commercial property to display them.’

‘I’m not obsessed and I’m not a hoarder but I just like them like people like ice cream.’

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