2016 | News

Chevy Chase Resident Seeks Unusual Record: World’s Largest Donkey Memorabilia Collection

Bernice Rabin estimates she has well over 1,000 items related to the animal

share this

Bernice Rabin, a 79-year-old Chevy Chase resident, holds a Democratic donkey stuffed animal in her dining room.

Joe Zimmermann

When Bernice Rabin first started collecting, she was bored, recently jobless and not too happy with Republicans.

She had just been fired from a job in Pennsylvania for what she said were politically motivated reasons, and her friend gave her a figurine of two donkeys pulling a cart that was made in U.S.-occupied Japan.

“I looked at those two, those little donkey things, and I thought, ‘I’m going to start collecting this,’” said Rabin, wearing a blouse decorated with Mexican donkeys. “That was the beginning of this crazy thing.”

In the early 1980s, Rabin, 79, began to pick up donkey-related memorabilia from souvenir shops, antique stores and anywhere else she could find them, until the assemblage of asses hit a critical mass, filling wall space and display areas in nearly every room in her Chevy Chase home.

With the impressive collection, Rabin now has her eyes set on the Guinness world record for the largest collection of donkey-related items. Estimating she has well over 1,000 items, she hopes to trounce the current record holder, who as of 2004 had 690 items.

Rabin's collection includes hundreds of items, everything from ceramics to old menus. (Photo: Joe Zimmermann)

Rabin, a proud Democrat, didn’t particularly care for the farmyard animal before the collection began, seeing it more as a symbol for the party that stood for the same social justice issues she believed in. But she’s grown fond of the creatures: Around the house are pictures of her—displayed in commemorative donkey frames—posing with live donkeys on her travels.

Her collection spans continents and centuries. She’s picked up donkey placards from Europe and an ostrich egg painted with a donkey in Curaçao. She has stuffed animal donkeys from recent Democratic National Conventions and a bookmark with a donkey from the Spanish American war.

Collecting the beast of burden has never been a hardship for her—Rabin said it’s brought her joy, getting her through hard times and giving her something to always be looking for. Her family has tolerated the abundance of burros too, although she says her children don’t want to inherit the collection.

A stuffed donkey that doubles as an ash tray sits on a display shelf in Rabin's home. (Photo: Joe Zimmermann)

Some of Rabin's favorite items are political memorabilia, such as this Clyde's poster. (Photo: Joe Zimmermann)

The donkeys are arranged by theme in the house she shares with her husband Richard: with donkey ashtrays in the dining room, donkeys playing instruments arranged on the piano, a corner dedicated to donkey-headed Nick Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Elsewhere she has folk art, clothes, a baby carriage blanket, novelty postcards, glassware, paintings, prints, toys and cigar boxes all bearing images of donkeys.

All told, Rabin guesses she’s spent around $25,000 to $30,000 on the donkeys in the nearly 40 years she’s been buying them.

With such an investment, Rabin is hoping to get recognition from Guinness. She doesn’t doubt that she can beat the record, but needs two witnesses—including one animal expert—to count her collection before it’s official.

Rabin, who hopes to eventually sell her memorabilia, said she’s content with the size of her collection, but it’s hard to resist picking up a good donkey when she sees one.

“I’m not looking anymore,” Rabin said. “Although I will [look again]. I know I will.”