Meet the Man With 40k Pieces of Airline Memorabilia in His NYC Apartment

His vast collection is housed in just one impeccably organized bedroom.

September 15, 2014, 8:57 AM
PHOTO: Marvin Goldman holds one of the world's largest collections of El Al Airline memorabilia
Marvin Goldman holds one of the world's largest collections of El Al Airline memorabilia. He estimates he has between 30-40k pieces in his collection.
Marvin Goldman

— -- Marvin G. Goldman has accomplished much in his life so far. In addition to a 43-year career as an international attorney, he'll be married 50 years this month and is the father of three kids. He's perhaps best known for holding the world's largest collection of El Al Airlines memorabilia, with an estimated 40,000 pieces in his collection. He's the author of two books on El Al.

Perhaps most striking to a visitor to his Upper West Side apartment is how he's managed to confine his vast collection to just one impeccably organized bedroom.

Goldman took his first El Al flight in April 1978. He is, at heart, a collector and an airline buff, but his motivation behind choosing El Al wasn't just the "wonderful service" he enjoyed. It was partially because El Al memorabilia was harder to come by than many other airlines'.

"I was collecting airline postcards, at first," he said.

But Goldman noticed at the collector's convention he attended each year, put on by Airliners International, that there were so few El Al items compared to other airlines.

"I figured, 'Well, it must be somewhere,'" he said. "It was a challenge, which I liked."

That realization changed not only the course of Goldman's life, but the way the airline preserved it's history. Until Goldman came along, the airline hadn't been cataloging its items.

"They didn't know what they had," Goldman said. "Through collecting and researching and cataloging, I was able to reconstruct the airline's history."

Over the years, he has written two books on El Al: "El Al: Star in the Sky," published in 1990, and 2008's "El Al: Israel's Flying Star."

The bedroom in his apartment that's used to house his collection is large enough to hold a large desk, several chests of drawers and display tables. Somehow, the entire collection fits in. Drawers are filled with china and utensils used throughout the airline's history. Closets are filled with flight attendant uniforms and captain's coats. Models of El Al planes are on display on shelves. Posters from the airline's 65-year history hang from the walls. And there's binder after binder of old tickets, advertisements and more.

PHOTO: One of Goldmna's many historical El Al airline posters.
One of Goldmna's many historical El Al airline posters.
Marvin Goldman

The piece he's most proud of was also one of the hardest to get. It's a blue, enamel hat badge worn by the airline's first pilots in 1949 and features a flying star, the airline's first logo. It was only used for two years. He had only seen it in photos, and thought he might be able to get it from a former El Al pilot he visited on New York's Long Island. But he learned the pilot had just recently thrown his out. Eventually, Goldman came to the piece through a former advertising executive from the airline. He thinks it may be the only one left. At the very least, no one else in his circle of collectors has one.

PHOTO: The most prized item in Goldman's collection is this blue enamel hat badge worn by El Al's first pilots.
The most prized item in Goldman's collection is this blue enamel hat badge worn by El Al's first pilots.
Marvin Goldman

The other collectors of El Al memorabilia are not his competition, he said. In fact, they're friends and advisers.

"We trade pieces and information," he said. "It's very helpful."

Still, he couldn't help but point out his collection was the largest.

Some items are almost jarring. Goldman has several ashtrays on display. It's a reminder of just how much airline travel has changed. Others came to him in the most unlikely fashion. That was the case for a piece of china he found at a Sheraton in Jerusalem. It was on his table and was being used to serve pats of butter. Goldman thought the colors looked familiar and he turned it over; sure enough, the El Al insignia was on the back. The hotel let him take the piece home.

Did he miss his professional calling?

"Of course, I would have loved to have been a pilot," he said. "But I enjoyed my work, too."

These days, he flies on El Al about once each year. He doesn't any superstar status that an average flier has never even heard of, he claimed, though "the airline has done some nice things for me."

Goldman lights up when he speaks of all the people he's met as a result of his collection.

"We have friends all over the world," he said. "Almost any country we visit, we have friends to see."

Surely, that must be the best part about his passion -- not the pieces he's collected, but the friendships he's made?

"No," he said. "The items are the best part."

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