Knock, knock. Who's there?
At a number of hotels, the best reading material hangs from the doorknob - the cheeky and clever "Do Not Disturb" sign.
Although the Jekyll/Hyde door accessory still retains its ultimate purpose (keep out/clean up), these days it imparts its message with style and humour, a little ha-ha ringing through the hallways.
For example, at Borgata in Atlantic City, guests are either "Tied Up" or needing a "Tidy Up." At the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego, interlopers know to stay away: "Not now. My ego needs a rest." Many banners wink-wink at the business going on inside.
Edoardo Flores is an expert in the art of DND designs. The 71-year-old Italian, who lives outside Turin, has collected thousands of examples both on his own travels and from friends' trips. He displays the souvenirs at his e-museum, www.freewebs.com/dndcollector.
We contacted Edoardo about his passion, reaching him in Thailand, where he was picking up 22 new artifacts.
Q: How did you become interested in "Do Not Disturb" signs?
As with most collections, it started quite by chance. Initially, I took some as souvenirs from the places I visited for work. A colleague saw them and said that they would make a nice collection. From then on, I made it a point to keep any signs that I found.
Q: How did you come across so many collecting opportunities?
I travelled quite a lot during my 32-year career as a training specialist with the International Labor Organization of the United Nations. During this time, I visited (and even lived in) many interesting countries, such as Bhutan, Iraq, Burma, Pakistan, Fiji and many, many others. But my collection started at a late stage, and I therefore missed many excellent opportunities.
Q: What was the first sign you took?
One of the first signs I remember taking was from the Holiday Inn in Islamabad, around 1991. It wasn't particularly attractive, but it had the name of the hotel, which is the reason why I took it.
Q: Do you ask for permission or sneak it into your bag?
I generally don't have any complexes about taking the ordinary paper signs, as I consider these consumable materials that are easily replaced. It's a different story for the more sophisticated or special signs that I know have a higher cost for the hotel. In this case, I always ask to buy them. In a few cases, they can be found on sale in the hotel souvenir shop. Sometimes it is impossible to acquire them.
I must be clear that I don't encourage stealing, and I always encourage others to ask the hotel staff before taking anything.
Q: About how many signs do you take per year?
It varies quite considerably. I don't usually stay in so many different hotels, and the biggest contributions come from friends who travel or from exchanges with other collectors.
Q: How big is your collection, and where do you keep it?
My collection numbers nearly 8,000 pieces from about 180 countries. Owing to the different shapes and sizes, I haven't found a simple way to store them, such as in albums. I keep them in large envelopes or in filing boxes, divided by country.
Q: Have you ever considered opening a Do Not Disturb museum?
Unfortunately, I don't have the facilities to create a museum, but I have sometimes thought about it. If I could find a suitable place to permanently display my collection, I would even consider donating it.
Q: What's your approach to collecting?
Whenever I enter a hotel room, the first thing I do is look behind the door for the DND sign. I get very upset when there isn't one. At times, I would even want to change hotels if this happens.
Q: Do you have any guidelines or rules?
My first rule is that the signs should come from hotels or cruise ships. All of these are valid independent of their design or quality. There are lots of unrelated signs/door hangers that I avoid. I don't keep the "make up room" signs, breakfast menus, "collect laundry," etc.
I also want to avoid turning my hobby into a business. I don't sell the signs I obtain, and I have often made donations to people wishing to start a collection. I also try to avoid buying signs at unreasonable prices. I have sometimes used eBay, but most of the sellers are not collectors and are only out to make money, often for very common material.
I also found several persons who, for different reasons, collected some signs and offered to donate their collections to me, in one case amounting to nearly 1,000 pieces. I always try to exchange with other items of their choice, if I can get hold of them.
Q: Any funny stories about taking a sign?
A friend had an embarrassing experience when she took a wooden sign from an Asian hotel and was stopped while in a taxi and asked to return it. Another friend stole one from the door opposite his room and later heard shouting when someone tried to enter.
Q: Do you ever pass on a sign?
I never leave anything behind except in cases where I know that I already have many doubles. I have to remember my other collector friends with whom I exchange.
Q: Which countries or hotel chains have the most unusual or interesting designs? Any favourites?
The most attractive pieces are without doubt the ones from Asian countries. These are often artistic handcrafted pieces reflecting local culture and traditions. Other very interesting ones are the vintage signs, mostly from the United States, that have very creative and amusing graphics and messages. Also from the US, there are many attractive signs from the various casino hotels and Disney hotels.
From a collector's viewpoint, I usually look for signs from famous or exclusive hotels and resorts, those linked with historical events or famous people. For example, I have one sign from the hotel Domus Sanctae Marthae in Vatican City where the cardinals are lodged when taking part in the conclave to elect a new pope. I obtained it thanks to a good contact within the Vatican.
Q: Which countries' signs are on your wish list?
There are obviously some very hard-to-get countries, many smaller or less accessible countries in Africa, such as Somalia, Sierra Leone, the Comoros, etc. Some of the island states from the Pacific and from the Caribbean. I would also like to find old signs that can shed some light on the origins of these signs.
Q: Do you see yourself collecting DND signs forever or will you move on to, say, hotel notepads?
I have no intention of retiring from this hobby in the near future. I tried starting other travel-related collections; I have several hundreds of airline spoons (the metal ones with logos) but have set them aside. I recently started collecting hotel key cards (the magnetic type) and have collected many in a relatively short time. I also keep many other collectibles, but mainly for the purpose of exchanging for DND signs.
- The Washington Post