Timeless toys: Dr. Phillips dermatologist doubles as yo-yo historian
Walking through Dr. John “Lucky” Meisenheimer’s yo-yo room is like walking through a museum dedicated to the iconic toy.
Old advertisements and photos depicting children of yesteryear playing with the toy adorn the walls alongside display cases housing more than 10,000 yo-yos of different brands, sizes and colors.
Meisenheimer, 60, lives in Dr. Phillips. His lakeside home is the site of Lucky’s Lake Swim. He’s a board-certified dermatologist and Mohs surgeon, a professional swimmer and a member of the Screen Actors Guild. He also happens to hold the Guinness Book of World Records title for World’s Largest Yo-Yo collection.
“It’s a toy that I refer to as a multi-generational toy,” Meisenheimer said. “If you say the word ‘yo-yo,’ grandpa’s played it, dad’s played it, kids played it and even great-grandpa has played it. So, everybody knows the yo-yo.”
In addition to collecting them, he also is considered an authority on yo-yos and their history. Meisenheimer is the author of “Lucky’s Collectors Guide to 20th Century Yo-Yos: History & Values.” A copy of that book is in the Smithsonian Institution.
He’s not only a yo-yo historian but also the owner of one of the oldest pieces of artwork depicting the toy.
Meisenheimer frequently browses eBay looking for yo-yos and yo-yo memorabilia to add to his collection. A few years ago, he saw a vase listed as an, “old Chinese vase, broken, but repaired, skeleton playing a yo-yo on it,” he said.
“It was a ‘buy it now’ for $800, and they said it was 150 years old,” Meisenheimer said. “I thought, ‘Well that would be a nice piece to have in the collection.’ I wasn’t real excited about the price, necessarily, but I asked my wife if that could be my Christmas present for that year.”
The ornate vase is decorated with gold, floral-like patterns outlined in red throughout. Two serpentine dragons surround the center, which depicts three skeletons dancing on clouds. One skeleton appears to be playing with a yo-yo. Cracks throughout the vase are held together with metal staples.
When he got the vase, Meisenheimer discovered lettering on at the bottom of it that he thought were Chinese characters. He sent photos of the lettering to his sister-in-law, who is from mainland China, to help with interpretation. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to interpret the lettering because they were actually Japanese characters. This discovery was just the beginning of more unexpected surprises from Meisenheimer’s Christmas present.
Meisenheimer’s sister-in-law then reached out to a friend, who was a museum curator, to find out more information about the vase. That friend informed Meisenheimer that the age in the online description of the vase was off — by a few centuries.
“She wrote me back and said, ‘Well, I can’t tell you how old it is, but I know the dynasty that it came from ended 500 years ago, and it started 1,100 years ago,’” he said. “So that means now this vase has become the oldest piece of art that depicts a yo-yo.”
A few years after finding out about the age of the vase, he got a call from the television show “Extreme Collectors” regarding his yo-yo collection. He told the individuals with the show about the vase and they traveled to his home to check it out. The host of the show — who dealt with Asian antiquities — told Meisenheimer the vase was repaired about 200 years ago.
“Somebody thought it was valuable enough 200 years ago when it came over here to America to repair it then,” he said, adding the host was able to identify the age of the repair based on the metal staples used to fix the vase.
The host then told Meisenheimer that the vase was worth much more than he paid for it.
“I thought, ‘Well it’s probably worth $2,000 to $3,000 — a lot more than I paid for it,’” Meisenheimer said. “He said, ‘it’s worth $80,000.’”
Meisenheimer added that the $80,000 price tag is just the value of the vase itself. The host was unable to put a value on the fact that the vase is one of the oldest artistic depictions of a yo-yo being played.
“He said, ‘That’s museum-quality stuff, and all bets are off,’” Meisenheimer said. “In my mind, it’s priceless and I’m just glad I have it and am able to display it for the yo-yo community to be able to see (it).”