When six-year-old Mike Hiscano received a handful of Miami-theme postcards from his father's friend Seth Bramson, he was bitten by the collecting bug. Thirty years later, pack-rat extraordinaire Hiscano owns 2000 Miami-related postcards and a prodigious amount of other memorabilia pertaining to the city. "I've always had a strong sense of home in Miami because I'm the first person in my family to be born here," Hiscano explains, speaking on a cordless phone while wandering from room to room in his townhouse-cum-warehouse. "The history of the city has always intrigued me. It's nice to trace its evolution through all my cards."
Miami, at a little more than 100 years old, is a mere tyke compared to other major U.S. cities, but that doesn't stop history buffs here from trying to preserve their own little piece of it. Hiscano, a security supervisor for the Dade Public Health Trust who goes by the nickname "Miami Mike," is not alone in his hobby. He is one of approximately 50 enthusiasts who make up the Miami Memorabilia Collector's Club. Established in 1991 by a quartet of locals -- educators Alan Crockwell and Bramson, Associated Press photographer Al Diaz, and college administrator Sam La Roue -- the club claims members ranging in age from early twenties to nineties.
During the day they work as television producers, schoolteachers, and cops. But in the evening, particularly on the third Monday of each month, they turn into amateur historians, gathering together to talk, trade, and sell Miamiana. Some scavenge for fragments of buildings. A few own a clutch of plates from the now-defunct Royal Castle restaurant chain (along with items from Henry Flagler's Royal Palm Hotel, among the most sought-after china for Miami collectors). One member even bought and restored a 1932 Coral Gables city bus. In addition to his eight photo albums containing vintage postcards, Hiscano, the club's publicity director, has a stockpile of monogrammed silverware from Florida hotels -- the Royal Palm, the Biltmore, the Fontainebleau. "You never know who ate off these pieces," he notes. "It could have been Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Andy Warhol."
In addition to holding regular meetings, the club publishes the monthly newsletter Looking Back, and once a year, in conjunction with Dade Heritage Days, it presents a special open-house display. This year's event takes place on Monday and celebrates the centennial of the Spanish-American War. "We've culled through our collections and have dug up anything we have dealing with Miami's relationship with Cuba going back 100 years," says Hiscano. "I'm going to show some old, fun Cuban maps, postcards, and brochures. Other collectors who have stuff dealing with the war will bring their items out too."
According to Hiscano, owing to continual buying and selling, treasures can be found through patient searching at yard sales, thrift shops, flea markets, and antique shows. "The first thing I do when I go to another city is go straight to their thrift and antique shops, because that's where you can really see the soul of a city," he explains. "If something is in lousy condition, don't bother buying it -- unless it's the only one that exists."
Although a great majority of this city's residents hail from elsewhere, new Miamiana collectors pop up every day. "[The hobby is] blooming at a wonderful rate," says Hiscano. "Some people get into it only as an investment, but there are a lot of people who are into this just because their heart is here. I'm definitely one of those."