Northwest NEWS

April 17, 2000

Front Page

Five hundred tops hop, bop, whirl, and twirl

Allan Rumpf

Allan Rumpf (above left) enoys taking his collection of tops to area schools and demonstrating them to students. His collection will be at the Woodinville Library through the end of April, with a hands-on demonstration planned for April 29 at 2 p.m.
Photo courtesy of Allan Rumpf.

by Bronwyn Wilson

   In bright kaleidoscopic colors, Allan Rumpf's tops represent thirty-seven countries in a display at the Woodinville Library this month. The fanciful tops range in all shapes and sizes, from a teeny quarter-inch spinner to a top that's downright huge.

   Rumpf's largest top comes from Malaysia and has a circumference about the same as a bowling ball and weighs just as much. "It's very heavy," Rumpf says, pointing out that it has a spinning record of an hour and forty minutes. "Spinning tops is a serious sport in Malaysia," he adds.

   Though Rumpf, a Duvall resident, seems fond of them all, his favorite top comes from China and is fashioned from a gourd. No bigger than an egg, the top is decorated in a detailed scrimshaw-like painting, describing a story in elegant pictures. Another elegant top in his collection is an early-1700s top from England, whittled from bone.

   His tops from Japan are eye-catching. One is daintily adorned with a gold eagle, and another is in the shape of a train with all its parts spinning. One amazing Japanese top has a woodcarving of a little person inside, which pops up jack-in-the-box style from centrifugal force.

   The Flying UFO top from China is the most technologically advanced with two batteries, a microprocessor, and five LED lights flashing in numerous patterns. A variety of advertising yo-yos, one engraved "L.L. Bean," plus a wonderful hodgepodge of gyroscopes, including Bill Nye's "Science of Spin," adds an American flavor to Rumpf's collection.

   Allan Rumpf began collecting in 1976 after reading an article describing two art students who crafted custom yo-yos from exotic wood. The article went on to explain that what began as a gimmick for the students turned into a marketing bonanza. "I can do that," Rumpf remembers saying to himself.

   He made up a batch of his own hand-crafted yo-yos and sold them at a church craft sale. Turning yo-yos and spinner tops on a lathe is a natural for Rumpf, as he's enjoyed the hobby of woodturning since junior high.

   A member of the Seattle Chapter of American Association of Woodturners, Rumpf explains, "Fellow woodturners make tops, because it's a wonderful way to use up scraps."

   But there's another reason that tops interest Rumpf. Before retiring in 1993, Rumpf was an avionics instructor for the Boeing Maintenance Training School. He used a spinning top to demonstrate gyro theory. When one of his students offered to swap his top for one from Iraq, Rumpf agreed, and his collection took off.

   His co-workers began looking for tops in their travels and brought them to Rumpf. "I told other instructors not to forget their top priority," Rumpf deadpans with a pun.

   In 1994, a brochure announced an upcoming Seattle Japanese Cultural Festival. Under the heading of Koma (which means top in Japanese), the brochure noted a display of 150 tops from a collection of 8,000 owned by Yoshihito Fujita, curator of the Fujita Koma Museum in Japan. Fujita appeared on television spinning one of his tops on a Samurai sword and Rumpf knew he had to meet him.

   At the festival, he introduced himself to Fujita's wife. She introduced him to her husband, who not only traded some tops with Rumpf, but gave him his unique collection of forty miniature tops.

   Today, Rumpf owns 500 tops and delights in showing children how they work. The third graders at St. Monica Catholic School on Mercer Island and students in Carnation schools love to have Mr. Rumpf visit their classrooms. In handwritten letters along with crayon artwork, children write to Rumpf thanking him for demonstrating his tops.

   Rumpf mentions that the first tops children played with thousands of years ago may have been acorns. "There are things in nature that could be spun," he says. "And people were playing with yo-yos before Christ."

   Meanwhile, anyone age seven and up, interested in seeing Rumpf's tops twirl, whirl, hop, bop, and even whistle, can sign up at the library for a 2 p.m. demonstration on April 29. Rumpf will show how various tops perform. And--time permitting--kids, moms, dads, and grandparents will have a go at it themselves.

   To register by phone, call the Woodinville Library at 425-788-0733.