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Flight bags are no barfing matter

By Nick Easen for CNN

Art and culture -- reflected on an air-sickness bag.
Art and culture -- reflected on an air-sickness bag.

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(CNN) -- Before groping for the air-sickness bag, think again. In-flight lined paper bags are becoming collectors' items.

Online auctioneer eBay has a section for unused bags from Austria to FIGAS airlines in the Falkland Islands, which are in "mint and very fine conditions."

There are even dedicated Web sites, including the Air Sickness Bag Virtual Museum, which has bags from airlines, trains and ships -- and even some from outer space.

"I don't use them for their intended purpose, I just leave them at home in binders," says American Steven Silberberg, who runs

"The most expensive bag I've ever seen sold was for $220. It was a Court Line Aviation bag, a company that folded in 1973," he told CNN.

The jewel in his collection of 1,279 bags is the "Emesis bag" from a space shuttle, which is made from fabric. Then there is the Chinese military air transport bag -- a masterpiece of art and calligraphy.

Social trends and sensibilities are reflected in the designs of bags, says Silberberg.

"In the U.S. motion sickness is somewhat taboo. Combine this with cost cutting, and you have plain, uninspired bags," he says.

"Scandinavian bags are beautiful, since they see utilitarian items as an opportunity for artistic expression and this commitment is reflected on their bags."

Silberberg also believes that air sickness bags are art, an opinion disputed by others.

"They are works of graphic design, and while it is possible to discern quality, which expresses its purpose with aesthetic power. It does not make it necessarily a work of art," says Dr. Greg Thomas from the Fine Arts Department of the University of Hong Kong.

"Although it depends very much on how an object is presented and interpreted, it is conceivable that some people may interpret air-sickness bags in an artistic way."

Across the globe there are several hundred collectors of air sick bags, with a small group who have collections in the thousands.

"Most collectors are in their 40s and 50s, since younger people haven't traveled that much. Germany has the most collectors by far, followed by the UK and then the U.S.," says Silberberg.

He is not the only one to view sick bags in a new light. Earlier this year British low-cost airline EasyJet teamed up with Klick Photopoint so in-flight bags can also be used to mail film for developing.

The airline no longer pays for its bags and gets money from Klick for distributing them on its flights.

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