Antique folk art advertising pays off

Farm Forum

Collectors like advertising signs and packages. In the 1950s when restaurants began decorating with old signs, they wanted material from the 19th century with graphics that featured husky women in period gowns and large hats or scenes with horse and buggies, high-wheel bicycles or old cars and buildings. But collectors and their collections got older, and by the 1980s, a younger group was buying advertising from the 1930s to ’50s, with scenes of happy housewives wearing aprons while making cookies with their children or landscapes with new cars, airplanes or trains. While old advertising was expensive and hard to find, ’50s pieces turned up at garage sales and flea markets for very low prices. Today there are collectors who hunt for recent rock posters, advertisements and packaging by artists like Andy Warhol or Peter Max. It is the design that catches the eye and attracts collectors. Some wonder if ads, packages and shop signs are going to be valuable in the future. Go back to the mid-1800s, when store signs often were simply pictures because many people could not read. A cigar-store figure represented a shop that sold tobacco, and a cutout wooden board shaped like a shoe or a red and white barber pole were instantly recognized by customers. These signs are now classed as “folk art,” and many sell for thousands of dollars. Great graphics that tell a story, products that represent the past, and nostalgia keep advertising collectibles selling well, even though the ads are getting younger.

Q I am a retired U.S. Air Force sergeant. Sometime during my 20 years of service, I received a chrome-plated “Camp David” Zippo pocket lighter. The front has a black engraving of the camp’s entryway, with a rope-like circle around the image. I understand it has some value. True?

A Zippo lighters were first made in Bradford, Pa., in 1932. When smoking was more socially acceptable than it is now, lighters were popular souvenirs. The military, as well as U.S. presidents, purchased them to give as souvenirs to servicemen and visiting dignitaries. Camp David was built in the 1930s and was used as a presidential retreat starting in 1942. But it wasn’t called “Camp David” until 1953, when President Dwight David Eisenhower renamed the retreat after his grandson, David Eisenhower. Other marks on your lighter may help you date it. A lighter matching yours, made in 1972, is for sale online with its original box and insert. The asking price is $45.

Q My mother-in-law gave my daughter a vintage dress that has a label inside that says “Harvey Berin, designed by Karen Stark.” My mother-in-law was a music instructor at the local high school and put on musicals every year. This dress was donated to her to use in the musicals. When she retired, she gave the dress to my daughter to wear to the prom. Can you tell us anything about the designer and maker of this dress?

A Harvey Berin started his clothing business in 1921. He is known for his cocktail and evening dresses made from the 1940s until 1970. Berin bought dresses in Paris and had the designs adapted by designer Karen Stark, his sister-in-law. He approved the designs before the dresses were made. First Lady Patricia Nixon wore a gown designed by “Karen Stark for Berin” to the 1969 inaugural balls. The dress is now in the Smithsonian. Berin closed his business in 1970.

Q I have a blue-and-white ironstone platter with a floral border and a center scene of a horse-drawn stagecoach with several men riding on top. It’s marked “Coaching Scenes, Made in England by Johnson Bros., a genuine hand engraving, all decoration under the glaze detergent & acid resisting colour, ironstone, Passing Through.” I would like to know what it could be worth.

A Johnson Brothers was founded in 1883 in Hanley, England, and is still in business. In 1968 it became part of the Wedgwood Group, which became part of WWRD in 2009. The word “detergent” is a clue to age. Although the first detergents were made in the 1930s, they didn’t become popular until the 1940s. Johnson Brothers introduced its “Coaching Scenes” series in 1963 and continued producing it until 1999. Dishes were made in blue and white, pink and white and green and white with different center scenes. “Passing Through” is the name of the scene on your plate. Value of your plate: about $35.

Tip: When putting on earrings in front of the bathroom mirror, be sure the sink stopper is closed. Don’t risk dropping the jewelry down the drain.

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