A Toast to Travel

Retired journalist displays shot glasses from around the world

Leslie Boyd has hundreds of shot glasses in various modes of display.
Photo by Karin Strickland

The history of the shot glass is murky, but one popular origin story says a small vessel used to be placed in the middle of the household table, where diners could dispose of buckshot picked from that night’s meat or fowl. In another urban legend, shot glasses were used in the Old West to catch leaking liquor from bullet-pierced saloon barrels.

Avid shot-glass collector Leslie Boyd, a retired newspaper journalist, doesn’t worry about fact checking these stories. She just knows she loves her shot-glass collection and what it represents: fun trips and people who are important to her.

The collection is kitschy, colorful, and has nothing to do with pewter sugar bowls.
Photo by Karin Strickland

“I pinched pennies as a single mom, when my kids were young. If we got the chance to go somewhere on vacation, I told them I couldn’t get everyone T-shirt souvenirs, but we could get a shot glass and refrigerator magnet, which probably added up to $5,” she recalls. Consequently, Boyd amassed sizable collections of both. 

Because of the portability of the magnets, she says, her grown kids have swiped their favorites over the years. “The shot glasses, though, I still have. I own about 350 to 400 of them and keep them in our family room. Spice racks mounted on the wall are the perfect way to display them; each holds about 50.” A few have broken over the years, but the fun, funky collection remains mostly intact.  

Here Germany, the UK, New England, and the Southwest are represented in miniature.
Photo by Karin Strickland

A typical shot glass holds about 1.5 ounces of liquor, is made of glass or pewter or porcelain, and varies amusingly in shape and design. “Some have little handles that look like beer mugs,” says Boyd. All have an undeniably kitschy charm; aside from their obvious function, their job is to announce the character of a place. Her son picked one up in Texas “that was much bigger than the typical shot glass,” she says, “because, of course, everything’s bigger there.”

Photo by Karin Strickland

Boyd has been collecting for more than 40 years. The shot glass seems like the ideal collectible for someone like her: down to earth and not the least bit precious. Her New Englander mother had a wishful determination that she should gather, of all things, pewter sugar bowls. “I’d get one from her for Christmas or my birthday,” recalls Boyd, “and, like clockwork, she’d follow my opening of the gift with a hearty, ‘It’s pew-tah, dah-ling!’” (Thus Boyd’s feelings of affection when she sees her pewter shot glasses: “I always think of her.”)

Photo by Karin Strickland

Over the years, friends and family have deepened the meaning — and the scope — of her collection. “They’d bring one back to me from wherever they went, so my collection spans the globe,” she says. “I’ve got glasses from nearly every state — Maine, Texas, California’s Route 66 Museum, the Sanitary Fish Market and Restaurant in Wilmington, and glasses from the Southwest … Albuquerque, Sedona,” she lists. “I’ve got an interesting one from Jamestown with a round base that resembles stemware, a Sun Studio shot glass, and another favorite that features Elvis waving from a pink Cadillac.”

Photo by Karin Strickland

Boyd’s collection includes shot glasses from classic American destinations — Yosemite National Park, the Grand Ole Opry — and lesser known attractions, among them the La Brea Tar Pits of Los Angeles. She even has one that commemorates the 25th anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens, which she used recently to toast the late friend who sent it to her. And naturally, the Massachusetts native displays at least one Red Sox glass.

Boyd bought shot glasses on her world travels to Ireland, England, and Scotland. She’s been gifted with glasses from Athens, Paris, and Prague. She always wanted one from the Vatican, but, she quips, “They didn’t sell any, can you believe it? I got over it and settled for one from Rome.” She also treasures one her friends brought from Mexico that she christened with their other gift — a jug of roadside tequila. 

As for a shot-glass-collectors’ subculture, Boyd confirms that it does exist, albeit informally: “A couple friends collect, too. We don’t trade them, but we exchange photos and give them as gifts.”

Boyd is a fervent healthcare activist. She’s on the NC State Coordinating Committee of the Poor People’s Campaign (a bipartisan nonprofit that demands social change for low-income Americans) and adcovates statewide and nationally for healthcare reform, fueled by her son Mike’s death from colon cancer in 2008, when he was only 33. Without health insurance, he couldn’t afford a colonoscopy, a procedure that aids in early detection of the disease. Boyd occupied the Senate — and got arrested — in 2016, during the failed attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. 

Despite all this, she still managed to buy a shot glass from the Senate gift shop.  

Boyd admits it’s an obsession. “But I can control it if I want to,” she jokes. She adds that she doesn’t want her collection to be anyone’s albatross after she’s gone. “I’m considering passing it on to my niece Shannon, who enjoys them. I just don’t want them going to anyone who won’t love them like I do.”