Friday, October 3, 2008
KLM Airlines First/Business Class Souvenirs
(2 KLM Delft Houses from our 2007 return flight home)
If you've ever taken first or business class on KLM airlines,then I'm sure you're familiar with the Bols blue delft houses. My partner and I have travelled on KLM twice. In 2002 to London,England then again in 2007 to Stockholm,Sweden. With both trips under our belt, that would give us a total of 8 delft houses together.
Unfortunately, we currently only posses 2 which were from our last returning flight home in 2007. I remembered even being surprised to find them still in our carry on bags when I unpacked. Usually, during the excitement of being on vacation and the need to save luggage space for shopping goods, who actually cares about some cute but silly souvenir? Especially from an airline? At least that was our opinion.
So naturally, we either left them in our hotel rooms or tossed them aside when we exited the flight. Neither of us cared for the alcohol content(red wine and absolute martini lovers)inside the houses.
The funny part is that my partner Dan's parents have travelled with us on both trips using the same airline. They kept all of their souvenirs. In fact, Dan's mom was disappointed to learn we discarded most of ours when she visited our home and noticed the only 2 remaining sitting in our kitchen cook book shelf. She has always appreciated the little collectibles and believed they were somehow special. Of course, we didn't take her seriously thinking her "hoarder" personality was kicking in.
Well, it turns out good ole mom was right! When this article appeared in the Wall Street Journal, we immediately got the "I told you so" phone call. Good eye and instincts Mom!
(Article from the May 31, 2008 Wall Street Journal)
The Ultimate Dutch Status Symbol: House-Shaped Booze Bottles
Jet-Setters Hoard, but Avoid Drinking, KLM's Freebies; The $1,000 Cheese Building
By DANIEL MICHAELS
AMSTERDAM -- On a recent KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flight, a business-class passenger stood up and addressed the cabin: "If anyone doesn't want their house, I'll take it," recalls another traveler, Mieke de Boer.
KLM's houses portray Dutch landmarks such as Rembrandt's home and the Anne Frank Museum.
For 56 years, KLM has handed out a coveted souvenir: small ceramic replicas of historically significant houses filled with Dutch gin and topped with a cork. Many people can't get enough of them. The rarest houses -- given only to honeymooners -- can trade for upwards of $1,000.
"It's crazy the lengths we'll go to," says Ms. de Boer, a South African who has collected some 300 houses and displays them at home in a house-shaped cabinet. On her recent trip, she asked the flight attendant to start distributing houses near her seat, in hopes of getting first dibs.
Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez once requested a full set of houses as partial payment for writing something for KLM's in-flight magazine, says Ken Wilkie, the magazine's longtime editor. KLM refused because it only distributes the trinkets aboard its planes on intercontinental flights, and then only in business class.
Mr. García Márquez's literary agent (herself a house collector) said the story sounded about right to her.
KLM's houses -- which portray Dutch landmarks such as Rembrandt's home, the Anne Frank Museum and a brothel in Amsterdam's infamous red-light district -- hark back to a more generous era of air travel. Once upon a time, airlines lavished passengers with logo-emblazoned playing cards, tote bags and cigarette lighters. Today, as carriers cut costs amid soaring fuel prices, KLM's gin-filled minihouses are a rare frivolity to survive.
Read more about the miniature houses and their history at Theo Kiewiet's eBook, "The KLM House Collection Visited."
When KLM started offering first-class passengers the crockery in 1952, industry rules capped the value of airline handouts at 75 cents. But there was no limit on booze. So KLM marketers camouflaged their presents as liquor bottles.
The three-inch-tall, edifice-shaped vessels quickly became a hit because only high-fliers got them. "The more houses a guy had, the more successful he was," says Nanette van der Laan, a Dutch TV producer, who recalls her parents' friends in Holland displaying the houses like trophies in the 1970s.
"Those houses were the ultimate status symbol of the international jet-setting lifestyle," she says.
In 1993, when KLM eliminated first class, it started handing out houses in business class instead. Despite pressure to cut costs, the houses have survived. When Air France bought KLM in 2004 to create Air France-KLM SA, some French bean counters suggested jettisoning them, company insiders say. That idea never got off the ground, and Air France executives say it was never seriously considered.
"KLM has cut down on everything from magazines to soap," says Lex Van Hessen, a Dutch sausage-casing producer who has flown KLM for 35 years and has the house collection to prove it. "But the houses they never touch."
KLM has produced almost a hundred different models since 1952, making them the industry's longest-running marketing gimmick, says John Brindley, an aviation historian. The next one, the 89th house in the series, will debut on Oct. 7, the airline's 89th birthday. The real-life building it will replicate is a secret.
The bottles are made using the same glazing process as the famous blue tiles produced in the Dutch city of Delft. Each holds about a shot's worth of genever, a Dutch style of gin distilled by Lucas Bols BV since 1575. Last year, when Bols opened a museum in Amsterdam celebrating its nearly half-millennium of existence, it devoted an entire room to KLM houses.
Delft resident Lisette Grannetia says she has built a thriving business snapping up the houses at Dutch yard sales and reselling them online. At a gift shop in central Amsterdam, tourists pay almost $40 for houses similarly sourced. Amsterdam resident Theo Kiewiet runs a Web site where he peddles a guidebook to visiting all 88 houses. Several Dutch Web sites, including KLM's, also let sellers and buyers haggle for the houses.
Only special-edition bottles trade for $1,000 or more, such as one once given to honeymooners, which is shaped like the Dutch royal palace, and another portraying the 17th century Cheese Weighing House in Gouda. When Princess Christina of the Netherlands sold her 210-house collection in 1996, it went for more than $10,000 at Sotheby's in Amsterdam.
All 88 houses remain on offer, but KLM carries only about 30 on each flight, so serious collectors jockey for first pick. "It's always great to schmooze the flight attendant, because some people don't take theirs," resulting in leftovers that other travelers can nab, says Keith Kenney, an American aerospace executive working in Amsterdam who has collected 78 houses. He figures he will have the full set by the end of summer, either by traveling or buying the ones he lacks. "I'm just anxious to complete the collection," he said.
Donald Reid, an Irishman who travels widely for work in the oil industry, admits to occasionally strong-arming fellow passengers. "If you put enough pressure on people, they'll give you theirs," says Mr. Reid, who built a display case in his kitchen for his collection and decorates his bathroom with extras.
But few collectors match Mr. Van Hessen, the sausage-casing maker. His 1,500-house collection is so big that most of it sits in boxes. "And I'm not even a drinker," Mr. Van Hessen says.
Good thing, because for a home to hold its value, it must remain full of its original Dutch gin. "If you take the cork out, there's no value at all," says Ms. Grannetia, the yard-sale scout.
Satisfying house-hunters can be tough. Former flight attendant Marisca Kensenhuis recalls an incident five years ago when a KLM airliner accidentally took off without its cargo of houses. The pilot radioed ahead to arrange for houses to be available at the landing gate in Amsterdam, where business-class passengers waited patiently to collect their booty.
"Even though they could exit first, they weren't getting off until they got their houses," Ms. Kensenhuis says.