Would you believe me if I told you that there is a man out there who collects air sickness bags? That he has over 1700 different ones? Yes, it appears that pretty much anything can be the basis for a collection and a hobby. No one knows this better than Magni R. Magnússon, owner and proprieter of the famous Hjá Magna (At Magni’s) on Laugavegur 15, a store that will provide almost anything to any collector.
“Everyone collects things,” explains Magnússon. “The best rule is never to throw anything away”.
Hjá Magna has been a Reykjavík institution virtually since it opened in 1979, and the man with a penchant for certain airline products has been but one of thousands of customers over the years. Morgunblaðið once snapped Hillary Clinton coming out of the shop, but Magni doesn’t normally like to boast about the stars who shop there, “I don’t keep a guestbook.”
Hjá Magna specializes in collectibles of all sorts, with an emphasis on stamps, coins, and maps from Iceland and abroad. Bring in something from home, and the jovial Magni will give you a valuation of it. If you happen to have a first edition Icelandic postage stamp (from 1873-76) it is now worth about 20,000 GBP. If you want to buy, mint edition bank notes and other items are for sale at much better prices than at the main souvenir stores.
Of course, one can’t run a business in Iceland based on coins and stamps alone. Hjá Magna is also the place shrewd Icelanders go for games, puzzles, and cards. Icelandic Scrabble and Monopoly are perpetual big sellers, but you can always find the newest game craze here. For tourists, there is a great selection of postcards and perhaps one of the best smaller souvenirs of a trip to Iceland: playing cards. Icelandic playing cards have been around since the 1930s, so they weren’t created specifically for a big mass market, and they are available in styles from the Christmas elves to the sagas to whales.
What is it like be an institution in this little country? “Well, you need to behave and can’t have any scandal,” Magnússon says with a twinkle in his eye. (He says this slightly wistfully – or perhaps mysteriously. I make a mental note to search the archives of Séð og Heyrt for some juicy stories…)
So now, after over 40 years of scandal-free existence, Hjá Magna is closing its doors on 1 October. Will there be a sale to mark the occasion? “No, I think I’m going to raise my prices!” jokes Magnússon. “Business has doubled since I announced my retirement.” There will still be a games store at Laugavegur 15, though; Magnússon has sold to a young couple who will keep much of the same stock.
Nevertheless, it’s the end of an era. We’ll miss you, Magni.
Hjá Magna, Laugavegur 15, 101 Reykjavík, 552-3011.