Launched in 1931 as the consolidation of several existing hobby journals, Hobbies billed itself as “the magazine for collectors.” Through his magazine, Lightner became a key figure in promoting the concept of hobbies in the US. While he advocated for every kind of hobby, from collecting match books and cigar labels to whittling wood, Lightner himself had the means to amass a substantial personal collection of fine and decorative art, natural history specimens, and Americana.
In 1934, Lightner opened a unique museum in Chicago. Housed in a grand Romanesque mansion on Michigan Avenue, Lightner intended for this “new Museum of Hobbies [to] be unlike anything in the world.” A substantial portion of the collection consisted of art and objects purchased from many of Chicago’s grandest Gilded Age mansions during the Great Depression. Lightner acquired artwork and objects, light fixtures, stained glass, and architectural fragments, from estate sales prior to demolition.
In an essay introducing the museum to the readers of Hobbies magazine, Lightner described in vivid detail how his collections would be presented. In the glass and china room, cabinets would display “various types in this line such as Wedgwood, Staffordshire, Meissen, Majolica, Sevres, and the early American glass from Sandwich, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, etc.” Additional rooms were to be filled with treasures from the Near East, while other galleries were dedicated to brass and bronze, “as well as [a] hall of Wood Carvings.”