Frisbee collectibles still flying high 

Antique Detective

by Anne Gilbert

Little did I know when my husband and I bought a Christmas tree farm, on top of a North Carolina mountain in 1994, that it was also an international Frisbee golf course. What were all of those concrete slabs that dotted our mountain? They were of course "tees" for disc golf. We weren't even familiar with what "Frisbees" were and that it was a serious sport, formalized in 1970.

Mars platter copy (photo courtesy Marvin's Flying Disc Collection)

Frisbee golf has grown into an international sport and discs made in the 1970s are serious collectibles. These days it is known as "Disc Golf" and there are disc golf courses in every state of America and around the world.

We learned that as a working Christmas tree farm, previously owned by Bill and Sue Boylan, the first rounds were played in fields of waist-high hay and knee-high Christmas trees. Each year the Boylans improved the course by adding permanent baskets and concrete pads, but the original course design stayed the same.

Frisbie Pie pan. (Private collector)

Historically, discus throwing is an ancient sport dating to the first Olympic games in 776 B.C. in Greece. They were made of unwrought bronze and iron. Their standard size and shape was similar to the 4 lb. 6.5 oz. discs used in today's Olympic games. Over the centuries a variety of games using a discus were popular.

Fast forward to 1871 when William Russell Frisbie opened the doors of the Frisbie Pie Company in Bridgeport, CT. The earliest four-inch pies were sold in unmarked tins. The only tins marked "Frisbie" are the standard 9 ½" to 9 ¾" grocery store variety and the original restaurant size of 10 ¾". Since the company was in business for 90 years, there are many variations. What is amazing is that any have survived along with the original pie safes.

Disc golf evolved beyond just casually tossing pie tins and became popular in 1939. It really took off when the first plastic "flying discs" were created by two former World War II Army Air Force pilots, Warren Franscioni and Walter (Fred) Morrison, in 1946. Made of rock hard plastic they weighed nearly 6 oz. By 1953 they were marketing a softer, polyether plastic disc called "Frizby."

International Disc Golf championships became a serious happening at Dartmouth College in 1954.
Frisbees were first mass-produced in 1957 under the Wham-O brand, when Morrison joined with Wham-O Mfg. of San Gabriel, CA. Since then, millions of Frisbees have been sold and several thousand types have been created by many different companies.

Frisbee patent 1967, filed by Ed Hedrick on behalf of Wham-O. (photo courtesy U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)


I interviewed Victor A. Malafronte, the original World Frisbee champion in 1998. He is still winning tournaments and has been collecting Frisbees and Frisbee memorabilia since 1968. He's narrowed his collection from more than 2,000 to around 600 items. He is the 1981 Master World Champion, and a charter member of the Frisbee Hall of Fame.

Since he wrote his book The Complete Book of Frisbee in 1998, he has seen a growing collector interest.

"This isn't your father's Frisbee anymore. It's gone from a toy to an international full medal sport," he said. And he pointed out, "The spelling of the name isn't even the same. It's gone from Frisbie to Frisbee."

Malafronte recalled that when he was a member of the student Berkley Frisbee Group in 1968 that Frisbee trading was a big thing. One of his first "big finds" at the flea market was a Pluto Platter. It was engraved with the names of all of the planets of the Solar system and the company name "Wham-O" appeared on the disc three times. The price was 25 cents. As the first example of seven eventual Pluto Platters it could sell for $900 today in mint condition.

Collecting Frisbees requires plenty of research, Malafronte said, especially when there are nearly 25,000 variations of collectible Frisbees and 20 classifications of disc types. Collectors tend to specialize in one or more classifications.

Wham-O Pluto platters, original style valued at $600. (Marvin's Flying Disc Collection)


Some of the examples are:

How should a collection of Frisbees be displayed and cared for?

It's easy for the glow-in-the-dark collector. One wall lights up. Keep them out of direct sunlight.
It's a no-no to stack discs one on top of the other. This will cause them to warp and scratch, especially if they have any kind of decoration.

"Store each disc in a plastic bag, "advises Malafronte. "If a disc needs cleaning a mild detergent and soft cloth or sponge will do and wash around any labels."   

Today, there are Frisbee golf tournaments and courses all over the U.S. and the world. Malafronte's book and price guide has been updated and is the only book on the subject.


Anne Gilbert has been self-syndicating the Antique Detective to such papers as the Chicago Sun Times and the Miami Herald since 1983. She has authored nine books on antiques, collectibles and art and appeared on national TV. She has done appraisals for museums and private individuals.