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Once-common item now a collectible

They once served a much-needed purpose – insulation of first telegraph, then telephone and power lines – and probably cost no more than a few cents each.

Nowadays, these glass items are collectibles, worth anywhere from 50 cents to as much as $5,000.

Roy Hale, a member of the Dixie Jewels Insulator Club, brought some of his own collection of insulators to share with members of the Greenville Lions Club Monday.

“They started out with wood as an insulator for telegraph lines, but by the mid-1800s, they found glass was the best insulator,” Hale said. Threads inside the mold-poured glass allowed them to be screwed onto wooden pins that held them in place.

During the ’60s and ’70s, when utility poles were being moved and discarded, people started seeing the glass objects as bits of history, Hale said.

“That’s when the insulators started becoming collectors’ items. And they come in an amazing variety of shapes, sizes and colors – blues, greens, oranges, purples, browns, blacks, and more,” Hale said.

He said a fellow collector purchased four glass insulators at a flea market in Cherokee, N.C. and paid $40 for the group.

“A couple of weeks ago he sold one of them for $5,000. Now, that will never happen to me,” Hale said with a smile.

He said his own collection included the “very common” translucent blue and green insulators, which go for 50 cents to $1, along with one in a more rare “7-Up green” shade that was worth $7 to $10. An unusual insulator dubbed the “Mickey Mouse” (due to the ear-like shape of its top) has a higher value of $50 to $60.

Hale also has milk glass and porcelain insulators in his collection, along with a large insulator that looks like an old-fashioned lamp.

“This would have been used for a high voltage situation, up to 44,000 watts,” he said.

According to Hale, porcelain insulators of a different shape are being used with utility poles today.

The employee of Alabama Power says he enjoys meeting other collectors and seeing what else is out there in the world of insulator collectibles.