Out of this World – Collecting Old UFO Memorabilia

This 1956 flying saucer mechanical bank by Duro Mold sold for $405 in November 2018.

In 1947, a pilot named Kenneth Arnold was the first person to widely report a sighting of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs), which he described as “saucer-like.”  The U.S. Air Force carried out a series of classified investigations and eventually declared the sighting a mirage, but the public wasn’t buying it.  Soon, reports of UFOs were everywhere – and they continued at a steady pace into the 1960s.  Some were certainly hoaxes, weather balloons, or meteorites.  But it was also the height of the cold war; so sightings might easily have been spy satellites, test rockets, or secret military aircraft.  Or, yes, even something truly unidentified.   Naturally, pop culture prevailed and major merchandising followed.

This is a great collectible genre because it is unusual, somewhat campy, and hard to find.  The most sought-after (and expensive) are the authentic period pieces that were created during the peak of the frenzy. They need to be at least 50 years old, preferably with the words “UFO” or “Flying Saucer” on them somewhere.  And by the way, mid-century items that are just coincidentally shaped like flying saucers (such as light fixtures, Frisbees, or casserole dishes) don’t count.  

Here are 5 of my vintage favorites:

  1. Flying Saucer Bank by Duro Mold. Made in Detroit, this 1956 mechanical bank shown in the photo above has it all, including a spring-loaded mechanism that is cocked by pulling back a lever. When the top red button (the alien pilot’s head) is pushed, the coin is released to spin around the disc and into the bank.  The best part is the embossed bottom panel, which includes a long statement explaining that the design was based on photographs, careful research, and “hundreds of reports from various people.”  It is usually missing the clear plastic dome over the button and the key to open the panel (to retrieve the coins).  Complete banks that also include the original signature box and the instruction booklet can sell for up to $800.

An early 1960’s postcard shows the Braniff International spaceship exhibit at the Freedomland theme park.

  1. Freedomland Braniff UFO Souvenir. From 1960 to 1964, Freedomland USA was a 200-acre theme park in the Bronx, New York. It was dubbed the “Disneyland of the East” with 40 rides as well as 200 shows and exhibits. Braniff International Airways sponsored a walk-in exhibit shaped like a spaceship where participants enjoyed a simulated trip into outer space. The park experienced financial difficulties from the start, including a lawsuit filed by 10 people who were injured on a stagecoach ride less than a week after it opened. It operated almost continuously in debt and finally filed for bankruptcy after only a few short years when it was completely demolished.

    This early 1960’s Braniff UFO souvenir sold for $106 in September 2017.

    Collectors covet a (now rare) three-inch metal flying saucer souvenir that was sold at the Braniff exhibit.  As a crossover collectible, it also appeals to those who seek Braniff and theme park memorabilia (when Braniff Airways ceased operation in 1982, their merchandise also became desirable).  Photos, blueprints, advertising, and any other remnants of the mysterious Freedomland park are highly sought after. 

1950’s Coventry Ware Flying Saucer salt and pepper shakers came in a range of colors. This set sold for $36.95 in 2018.

  1. Flying Saucer Salt and Pepper Shakers. Coventry Ware (not to be confused with the modern dinnerware company) produced ceramic figurines, vases, and table accessories in Barberton, Ohio, from the 1930s to the very early 1960s.  Their UFO salt and pepper shakers were especially cool because they had the words “Flying Saucer” written upside down in a messy, flowing glaze.  The shakers had cork stoppers underneath and came in a variety of 50’s colors including turquoise, teal, and “Martian grey.”  These don’t pop up very often, but they are amazingly affordable and can usually be found from $25 to $35.

This mid-60’s Cragstan lying saucer toy sold for $250 in March 2018.

  1. Cragstan UFO Toy. Cragstan imported several kinds of Japanese tin lithographed toys in the mid-1960s. This 10″ flying saucer is a favorite because it looks super retro and is a bit harder to find.  It is battery operated with a disk inside that lights up and spins around, projecting images of stars on the globe.  The ship itself also twirls around and scoots along the floor.  A small plastic spaceman that comes with it is usually missing.

These quirky Saucerian publications date from 1953 to 1970.

  1. Saucerian Publications. A number of UFO magazines and periodicals peaked in popularity during the 1950s and 1960s. Established publishing companies such as Dell, Signet, and Whitman produced some of them, but many others were just amateur offerings with stapled bindings.  Most didn’t last more than a few months.  But one of the more interesting enterprises was founded in 1953 by Gray Barker (1925-1984).  Barker’s line included books, magazines, and pamphlets that focused on UFO sightings and encounters, many published using the company name Saucerian in various formats.
    Barker is best known for his 1956 book They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers, about government “men in black” who were covertly sent to silence outspoken UFO advocates.

    Recent evidence has indicated that Barker was skeptical of most UFO claims and wrote exaggerated stories about them totally for financial gain.  In fact, he sometimes participated in hoaxes and frauds to deceive investigators and promote the sale of his work.  Saucerian publications are fun because of their high level of absurdity, often appealing to the fringe element.  Most can usually be purchased for $25 to $35 each, but a 1953 copy of Barker’s first Saucerian fanzine can sell for over $400.

Liz Holderman is a Worthologist and accredited appraiser who specializes in books and collectibles.

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