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Alex Shear, 73, a collector of American kitsch

Mr. Shear’s famous collection comprised some 100,000 items assembled over five decades.
Mr. Shear’s famous collection comprised some 100,000 items assembled over five decades.Photos by Fred R. Conrad/New York Times/file 1996

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NEW YORK — They were all his Rosebuds: the vacuum cleaner shaped like a rocket ship, the toaster shaped like a piece of toast, the suitcase with an electric iron in the handle, the potato mashers (he owned about 500), the tin soldiers, the fallout-shelter sign and the gasoline-powered pogo stick.

When Alex Shear died in New York at 73 this month, he left behind a collection widely described as one of the largest assemblages — quite possibly the largest one — of pop-culture artifacts in private hands, with holdings so vast they once spanned 11 storage facilities in three states.

Shear said his collection was a window into the American soul, built from the literal stuff of life.

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