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What’s He Smiling About, Anyway?


Washington Post Article



Text of Article:


October 10, 1992

Where That Grin Is Still In

Have a Nice Day! One Guy’s Monument to Smiley Face

By Peter Gilstrap

It’s round. It’s yellow. It’s locked in a perpetual grin of enlightened peace, of blissful ignorance, or something.

It is the Smiley Face.

The token that defines in a glance that hedonistic, willy-nilly decae we now refer to as “The ’70s.” The flaming ocher visage demanded of us only one thing: to “have a nice day.” If you lived through that era, the ubiquitous Face is no doubt etched deeply somewhere in your brainpan. But what happened to all those T-shirts, mugs, lunch boxes—all that stuff that the Smiley Face adorned? Where have all the good vibes gone?

To the Smile Face Museum, naturally. At Mark’s house. In his basement.

That’s Mark Sachs, 46, curator, collector, owner and operator of the collection exhibited in his Silver Spring home. In his spare time he manages a telecommunications company in Washington and is married with two children. They have, presumably, day after happy day. The museum will celebrate its grand opening tomorrow and will be one Saturday a month thereafter. Admission is free but you must call 301-588-3933 for an appointment.

Sachs wanders among the tables covered in dark cloth, tables strewed with items of all description and material, baubles linked only by the cretinous, sunshiny simper of the Happy Face. He’s got more than 350 of these things, gathered over five years. Why, Mark, why?

“I always liked smiley faces,” says the Baltimore native. “I wanted to collect something, but was intimidated because that usually means spending a lot of money on something like Fiesta Ware. Everything here is probably worth about $29 total.”

He gets the majority of the objets de leer from friends who discover them in locations the world over. “More and more stuff keeps coming, and people send pictures too. Obviously there’s a lot of smiley face stuff that won’t fit in the mail.” And the main reason there’s plenty of  stuff is simple: The smiling yellow face has never been copyrighted. Anyone anywhere can slap that beaming mug on any product and hope for the best.

You enter the museum and are engulfed by an odd feeling; you’re stepping back in time to a simpler, more compassionate decade; you have a strange urge to, well, try to teach the world to sing. In perfect harmony. Caught in an unblinking scrutiny of a million lifeless, black dot eyes that are silently willing you into happiness, you begin the tour. Here’s just a sampling of what you’ll find:

A still-sealed “Talking Toast Imprint” from 1986—with a five-year warranty—that will brand your bread with the Smiley Face (hereafter referred to as SF), though “it only works on white bread,” says Sachs. A glow-in-the-dark SF ball; its package reminds you that “It glows, it smiles, it’s your friend.” A genuine rawhide dog-chew (it’s still brand new and not yellow—yet) in the shape of the S.F. Numerous clocks, some with the “Happy Day” legend. And tying the SF to the religious community, a “Smile—God Loves You” puzzle complemented by a license plate from Heritage USA (ex-estate of the fallen Jim Bakker) that says “A smile is contagious—let’s start an epidemic.”

Not all the faces are so chipper; there’s a large, early ’70s candle emblazoned with a face that has a real bummer of an expression. Inscribed beneath is “Sad is Bad.” Right on.

Despite the size of his collection, Sachs still has one major item on his wish list. “The toilet seat. The Smiley Face toilet seat,” he says. This time he’s not grinning. “I’d kill for a SF toilet seat, and I know they’re out there.” He’s hot on the scent.

It doesn’t take long before all this inane smiling becomes a little irritating, but Sachs has the potential fall out sussed. “I keep it all safely away from my everyday existence,” he says, grinning. “My wife is supportive and my kids are really excited about the museum, but it can’t become an obsession that takes over our lives.”

So Mark Sachs’s Smile Face Museum is not the result of a lifelong obsession, nor is it a moneymaking operation. “There isn’t any deep philosophy behind my collection, I just wanted to collect something fun,” he explains. “Times are kind of rough now, and I think maybe the faces are ready for a comeback. When it comes to being happy, I think the time is always right.”

Right you are, Mark. And by the way, have a nice day.


The Smile Face Museum