At Phil Miller’s house in Greenfield, it’s “Sugar” this and “Sugar” that, but Phil is not sweet-talking his wife Terry of 36 years. (He has another nickname for her he won’t divulge.) He is talking about what may be one of the oddest collections I have ever seen. And I’ve seen my share: mousetraps, water sprinkler heads, ceramic frogs, business cards, candy bars, Batman memorabilia, bars of hotel soap, and even celebrity hair.
Phil’s collection really is the sweetest. How about 10,000 packets of sugar, every one different, and some as many as 80 years old? It all began in 1978 when Phil (who, by the way, is a diabetic) came across a unique packet in a cafeteria featuring a U.S. president. Intrigued by that one, he scavenged the restaurant for the rest, then completed the set with the help of the manufacturer. Why would someone want to amass sugar packets, sachets and cubes? I asked that question to Phil and Terry. I didn’t get a lot of good answers.
In 1992 Phil created a website which, he is quite proud to say, was the first site for sugar packet collectors, known officially as sucrologists—a fancy British term for these hobbyists. Now, there are dozens of sucrose sites for people seeking their next sugar high by finding that special one (or series) they don’t have. Most aficionados are willing to trade, but typically there isn’t much buying and selling. “I did buy one,” says Phil, kind of sheepishly, but generally this a very inexpensive hobby, great for the entire family.
The truth is, of course, that many of the packets in his stash were not collected in the traditional sense, but stolen in the legal sense. “If you ask a waiter if you can take a sugar packet, he’ll look at you oddly. It’s easier to just put it in your pocket.” Many of Phil’s favorites come from friends and family who have graciously sent them from distant places, making his supply very international.
All the packets are empty (sugar-free, if you will) and arranged neatly in huge three-ring binders, nearly 20 of them. They are all categorized and labeled, with names including Asia, France, Antiques, Restaurants, Travel and Transportation.
If you take some time to look through his collection (something not many have done, except Phil—and even he doesn’t do it very often), you will see that additions have slowed down the last few years. Apparently, new packets are not created in the U.S. much anymore. “After a several-million run, a company like McDonald’s might issue a new series,” says Phil, “but it doesn’t happen very often.”
Phil says there is not a Honus Wagner sugar packet, a reference to the legendary Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop of the 1920s, whose face on one baseball card is now worth almost $3 million dollars. In fact, when really pressed for the value of his collection, Miller pauses for comic effect as he calculates the worth. “Nothing,” he says, “absolutely nothing.”
If you want to check out his website, go to www.the.millerfamily.name/sugar. If you would like to own his sugar packets, consider what he told me: “My kids argue about who doesn’t have to take the collection when I die.”