Skip to main content

Deliciously kitschy and 'Crap Souvenirs'

By Marnie Hunter, CNN
updated 9:18 AM EDT, Mon October 15, 2012
A genuine Sphinxamid! Not even the pharaohs had one of these! -- Captions are from "Crap Souvenirs" author Doug Lansky. A genuine Sphinxamid! Not even the pharaohs had one of these! -- Captions are from "Crap Souvenirs" author Doug Lansky.
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Luxor, Egypt
  • "Crap Souvenirs" features photos of some of the world's kitschiest trinkets
  • The book features photos of Sphinxamids and smoking frogs
  • A souvenir has to reflect a place beyond being emblazoned with its name, author says

(CNN) -- I recently became the proud owner of a bobblehead moose magnet. The jaunty little guy sports a Nova Scotia T-shirt, and while made in China, he reminds me of a lovely Canadian adventure lacking only in a real moose.

Doug Lansky knows all about the draw of those touristy retail emporiums packed to the ceilings with tacky T-shirts and plastic bric-a-brac. He's the author of "Crap Souvenirs: The Ultimate Kitsch Collection." The book, released this month, features more than 150 tchotchke photos, some of which Lansky collected from travelers online. He's still collecting photos of these gems on his website

CNN asked Lansky to explain his terminology. He provided the following answers via e-mail:

What's a "crap souvenir?"

For starters, I want to be clear that "crap souvenir" is just a snarky way to say "awesomely kitsch." These are a collection of entertaining souvenirs that are, you might say, so bad, they're good. It was hard to find a litmus test for tacky -- nearly all souvenirs possess an element of tackiness. (Finding kitsch-free souvenirs is a far more difficult task.) In the end, it was a gut reaction. I suppose I was looking for something that invoked an emotion that landed somewhere between a cringe and a laugh.

Is the photo better than the vacation?

What criteria did you consider for an "awesomely kitsch" or remarkably crappy souvenir?

It was almost more difficult to define what was a souvenir. Sure, it's French for "to remember," but that doesn't help the selection process much. Your first thought, like mine, might be that a souvenir is a memento you bring back from a trip. Seems reasonable, but consider the example of a German tourist who picks up an iPad while visiting New York's Apple Store. He might consider it a souvenir of his visit. And his device is a souvenir for him, but iPads in general aren't.

So, Rule 1 is that it has to be a souvenir on its own standing.

Rule 2: It should be an object on sale to the public. There may be a life-size polar bear in a cowboy hat and hula skirt standing in front of a tourist shop that makes for memorable souvenir photos, and one could argue that any item is for sale if you make the right offer, but if it isn't specifically there to be sold, it doesn't count.

Travel Snapshots: Not-so-kitsch souvenirs

Rule 3 is a bit more complicated. It should be tied to a location. One way is simply to print the name of the town, city or country on it. But that would also qualify any random object that says "Made in China." So it has to be tied to a place in a way more substantial than being outsourced for production. In lieu of a printed location, the item might include national colors or depictions of a famous icon or be made of well-known items endemic to that locale. This was my working guideline. However, after all this reasoning, there were a few exceptions that were simply too deliciously kitsch to pass up.

What's the tackiest souvenir you've ever come home with? Share your finds in the comments section below.

Part of complete coverage on
CNN recommends
You don't have to be an adrenaline junkie to take a dare.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Fireworks are fantastic and human endeavor has its place, but sometimes Mother Nature outshines any performance we can produce.
updated 2:09 PM EST, Sat February 22, 2014
They're almost unbelievable. Impossible blues, electric greens, depths as clear as glass -- all bathed in blinding sunshine.
updated 10:11 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Check out the photos readers have shared and submit your own.
updated 5:25 PM EST, Fri January 17, 2014
Earth never stops surprising us. Every corner of the planet offers some sort of natural peculiarity.
updated 10:58 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Not many cities evoke as many instant associations as Las Vegas.
For 24 hours, we made the world's busiest airport our destination and found a world unto its own. Join us on our journey. What you see will surprise you.
updated 3:34 PM EDT, Tue August 13, 2013
Beaches along the coasts of the United States call to shoreline explorers year-round.