Category Archives: Advertising

A Bank Statement: Book-Shaped Money Bank, ca. 1920s

In the first half of the 20th century it was common for independent banks to encourage the opening of new accounts by giving away promotional book-shaped money banks. The thinking was that inspiring clients, particularly children, to fill these small units would result in similar behavior in terms of depositing one’s savings at the local bank branch.

Constructed of a steel box with a lockable door panel and bound in embossed vinyl to create a book-like cover, this piece would go virtually unnoticed on a bookshelf… in an era when people could manage a whole shelf of books.

Though relatively easy to come by, money-bank books generally have considerable wear to the corners and outer casing. The key is usually missing, making it more of a display piece than anything functional. Remarkably, this example is in exceptional condition, with its key and original packaging intact.

Clocking Out: Automotive Dealership Neon Clock, ca. 1940s

At Dorset Finds, we have one philosophy: The only thing better than an extra-large vintage clock is an extra-large vintage clock that lights up! (Come to think of it, we also subscribe to the philosophies that he who hesitates is lost, and there is never an occasion where three-quarter-length pants are appropriate.)

This timepiece, which dates from the late 1940s–early 1950s was likely manufactured by Neon Products, Inc. of Lima, Ohio.

In the 1930s, the Ohio-based advertising sign maker ArtKraft adopted a technique (innovated by the Claude Neon Company, in France) of bending colored tubes of glass and filling them with light. ArtKraft grew rapidly, and with increased demand, a couple of its tube-benders started their own operation, Neon Products, Inc. Neon Products went on to produce pieces for clients such as RCA, Dr. Pepper and Zenith. In addition to creating signs, the company also introduced lines of neon clocks.

This find, measuring 22 inches across, originally hung in John Howard’s Car Store in Somerset, Penn., and was given an update in 1980 when it received a hand-painted addition to the center of the clock face. Other than that, its features remain original and unadulterated. Best of all, the neon is unbroken and the clock keeps good time.

Special thanks to Jeff at Let There Be Neon in New York for his neon clock expertise.

Charge of the Light Brigade: Eveready Flashlight Battery Display, ca. 1940s

National Carbon Co., which released the first commercial dry-cell battery in 1896, purchased the American Eveready Co. in 1914. Eveready’s founder, Conrad Hubert, invented the first flashlight in 1898, and the accompanying D-size battery, released the same year, became an instant necessity. Easy, convenient and safe, this new handheld product was relatively inexpensive, reliable and allowed for directed light without the production of heat or flame.

At Dorset Finds, we’re rather partial to 20th century advertising pieces. This item, a tin lithograph display stand, lacks some of its original luster. The red panels that once burned bright have dulled to a mustardy hue. There are areas of heavy pitting and scratches, but this is somewhat expected given its utilitarian function. More importantly, one can make out all the text, including the Eveready slogan of the day, “They Last Longer.” All the components are straight, and the wonderful, hinged sections maneuver correctly: The sprung header-sign moves forward and back into place; the bottom drawer slides in and out using the original curved handle; the inner tray can be raised and lowered (presumably to restock the battery supplies); and the pressed front, made to look like rows of batteries, clicks perfectly into place to shield the inventory that remains behind.

High Voltage!: General Electric Custom Display Cabinet, ca. 1920s

There are times when an item is so far gone, condition-wise, that rather than restore it to its former glory, the only route forward is to transform the piece into something altogether different from its intended purpose.

Such was the case with the recent acquisition of a brass, General Electric Company “Curve Drawing Voltmeter” cabinet. When found, the brass frame suffered from a sloppy layer of black paint and one of the side glass panes was missing. Importantly, the hinged door still possessed its original glass with frosted General Electric emblem.

The brass box had its paint stripped away, and a new piece of glass was cut to replace the absent one. A mahogany base was created (thanks to the good folks at Brooklyn Design + Fabrication), and a full grain leather pad was fabricated, then fastened to the floor of the unit. It now operates as an elegant display case that drips with character.

Barn to Table: Reclaimed Custom Table, ca. 1890s/1910s

It can be a delight when seemingly random items come together to form a unifying, functional object that echoes its past while reimagining the piece for a sustainable future. Not only do we preserve a piece of history by salvaging and repurposing, we lend to it new life.

Messrs, Morse, Williams & Co., known as the Morse Elevator Works, was founded in the late 19th century. Demand for their freight elevators was intense due to their use of superior safety devices and automatic hatch doors, features uncharacteristic for the period. Their reputation won them not only product orders from across the country, but from overseas as well. Stephen A. Morse, who supervised manufacturing, was also known to mechanics the world over for his invention of the twist drill.

Established in 1911, the Burke Machine Tool Co. of Ohio produced large, heavy-duty milling and drill-press machines and corresponding bases.

Shying away from heavy, oversize objects isn’t part of the Dorset Finds mind-set. In fact, if it’s too large and too cumbersome to transport back to the workshop, it generally gets snapped up faster that you can say, “lower back pain.” That said, the prospect of combining three weighty items seemed a little daunting on first consideration.

The goal: Join two, solid oak, antique Morse signs (which were originally housed within the framework of a factory’s freight elevator) along their flat edge to make a seamless tabletop and attach to this an early-20th-century, cast-iron Burke pedestal base. With some help from the woodworking mavens at Brooklyn Design + Fabrication, coupled with some reflective days spent scrubbing, repairing and refinishing the dark timber surfaces, a new, custom dining table was born.

We’ve Lost The Spark: Auto-Lite Service Parts Toolbox, ca. 1950s

Utilitarian items like vintage toolboxes are always a joy to unearth. Sure, in the case of this example, the box’s purpose was to also act as an advertising piece, but fundamentally, this steel cabinet sat in a workshop to hold — and keep separated — spark plugs and related parts.

Auto-Lite (Toledo, Ohio) originated in 1911 when a couple of small parts companies began producing buggy lamps. By the 1930s it had become a prosperous automotive-components business, and in 1935 Auto-Lite undertook an endeavor to create its own ceramic spark plug. In no time, leading carmakers such as Chrysler, Willys, Packard and Studebaker were adopting the brand’s spark plugs. (Interestingly, Auto-Lite carries on today, outlasting all of these once-promising automotive manufacturing heavyweights, with the exception of Chrysler.) Aside from spark plugs, the company also made radiator grills, door handles and hubcaps.

The blue toolbox pictured is in very good shape structurally, and the graphics, though distressed in points, are still clear and clean. Inside the drawers are several metal dividers used to partition sections for various small components. Also present are two boxed, dead-stock,  ball-bearing gears.

The Coke Trade: Coca-Cola Ice-Cooler Chest, ca. 1930s

The global ubiquity of Coca-Cola is undeniable. Whether or not you approve of the carbonated drink and its domination within the beverage market, Coke has forged a significant place in the consumer’s consciousness in a way never seen before. (Apple Inc., stay tuned…)

Coca-Cola’s genesis and history have been widely documented and discussed, but its consistent immersion deep into the pop-culture fabric is what’s most fascinating. Across every decade and medium — whether via film, music, art or television — this brand has evolved and grown while managing to stay in step with its consumers.

If you believe the marketing, Coke is an experience rather than just a drink. It’s an accompaniment to your favorite meal, the reward you give yourself for mowing the lawn. It’s the pick-me-up you depend on during your mid-afternoon slump, the drink you share with family members during celebrations and a fixture in your hand while at the movies on a Saturday night.

Prior to electric refrigerators, Coca-Cola coolers like the one above were common fixtures in corner stores and gas stations. (Glass) bottles were placed within the zinc interior and cooled with ice. The consumer would help themselves to a cold one, remove the cap using the affixed opener and, when finished, deposit the empty container into wood crates held by the steel shelf below.

This cooler was manufactured by Westinghouse in the late 1930s, while the the Starr “X” bottle opener has a patent date of 1925. Though thousands of these ice chests were manufactured, many were scrapped over the years, and it’s become common to restore these pieces to within an inch of their life. Fortunately, this example is in excellent unrestored condition, and what flaws it has it wears with pride.

Sleep the Clock Around: Western Union Clock, ca. 1920s

In 1855, the Western Union Telegraph Company was formed by two rival companies who understood that consolidation was their best means to move forward. Western Union, which became the dominant force in telegraph service, owned more than a million miles of telegraph lines by the turn of the 20th century. Though now a thing of the past, telegrams were the state-of-the-art, go-to communications method in an era when messages would arrive via an out-of-breath delivery boy on his bike.

This 14″ x 14″ clock originally hung in one of Western Union’s offices, and while it’s in great condition and keeps good time, its appeal is more than just aesthetic.

After removing the heavy-gauge steel plate from the back of the clock to inspect the mechanism, I noticed a note pinned to the inside of the wood casing. The writer, age 80, describes seeing this clock in his local branch back in the 1920s and he’s left both his and his wife’s names at the bottom. Remarkable, no?

Heavy Medication: Illuminated Drugs Sign, ca. 1940s

Here in the U.S., drug stores can be spectacularly confounding. Walking the aisles, one can find vitamins, supplements, bandages, ointments… or speak to a medically trained expert, qualified in dispensing hundreds of varieties of pharmaceuticals. Then again, at the same store one can grab a pack of cigarettes, a Snuggie and a 4 lb. bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Perhaps the business model is based on the consumer abusing one set of “products” and then remedying their ailment with another set?

Here we have a double-sided, lighted advertising sign that would have hung outside a drug store in the 1940s. The casing is wood and the glass areas possess hand-painted lettering that has gradually dried out and peeled, leaving a beautifully distressed window through which the porcelain light sockets can be seen.

This item is currently available for purchase at Modern Anthology.

The Sum of All Parts: New Departure Tool Box, ca. 1940s

A place for everything and everything in its place. Isn’t that the instruction Moms collectively passed down to their youngins?

New Departure Manufacturing Company started business in 1888 as a maker of doorbells before shifting gears (yes, a lame pun) and moving into automobile, motorcycle and bicycle parts. More specifically, coaster brakes, wheel hubs and precision ball bearings. (Incidentally, brothers Albert and Edward Rockwell also formed the Yellow Taxicab Company in 1909 but that’s a story for another post).

Toward the end of the First World War, the company was acquired by General Motors who accurately surmised the value of their bearing components.

This rather large tool kit (25″ x 12″) managed to weather many bike shop-related storms over the years and surprisingly still possesses clear graphics and only mild pitting of the steel. Under the hinged top is a storage section for larger tools and parts while below, two ample drawers reside, each with divided sections for smaller components.

Dirty Dozen: Mid-Continent Petroleum Sign, ca. 1920s

The Mid-Continent Petroleum Corporation was established in 1918 and the Tulsa, OK offices became the company’s headquarters in 1925. In 1933, D-X gasoline was introduced and service stations were branded with, “Diamond Gasoline Motor Oil”. Throughout the 1980s and 90s their network of stations were again re-branded as the familiar, Sunoco.

This twelve foot long sign is one that hung outside the Tulsa, OK headquarters for a couple of decades before being removed in the 1950s when Mid-Continent merged with Sunray Oils. The story goes that after this, the sign was stored for more than fifty years in the rafters of one of the company’s Oklahoma plants. With the rise in collectibilty of gas and petrol related items over the last decade, the provenance surrounding this piece is fascinating and raises the question of what else could be out there just waiting to be discovered.

The sign itself is steel with gold-leaf lettering, surrounded by a solid wood frame. Some of the lettering, especially around the word, “petroleum” has faded with time but overall, this historic gas collectible is in excellent condition.

The Drugs Don’t Work: Rexall Drugs Porcelain Enamel Sign, ca. 1940s

Rexall Drugs, perhaps best known for their “Rx” symbol which has since become synonymous with drug prescriptions, began in the early 20th Century and grew to incorporate 12,000 franchised stores before declining in the late 1970s.

This 6′ x 4′  double-sided sign, manufactured by the Ohio Thermometer Co. dates back to the 1940s, but given the gloss of the enamel, you’d never know it. Apart from a couple of chips here and there, it all looks well preserved. The original steel hooks are outreached, ready to hold this gem of advertising memorabilia up once again.

Big Red: Six Foot Lighted Arrow Sign, ca. 1940s

It’s always exciting to find something rare that against all odds, survived the test of time – and the lure of the junk yard – unscathed.

This 72″ lighted red arrow sign was manufactured in the 1940s by the United Neon Sign Company of Los Angeles, CA. and originally hung outside a New York motel.  The fact that it was removed from the building’s exterior and stored for several decades is nothing short of miraculous.

It’s been rewired to now run on a standard household plug and once lit, the impressive double-sided rows of 60 bulbs blink in repetition.

Indian Giver: Indian Motorcycle Advertising Sign, ca. 1930s

I’m not a motorcycle guy per se but Indian motorcycles are an iconic name in motoring history as well as being timeless pieces of Americana.

Indian made bikes from 1901 to 1953 and in the 1910s, they were the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer.

The 3′ x 2′ steel sign would have hung in a garage or dealer from approximately the 1930s. Despite the condition issues (some pitting and some surface rust) it was found in good overall shape. The heavy gauge steel is straight as an arrow and the factory drilled screw holes are clear.

Figure H: 6 Foot Metal Letter

It wasn’t so much a question of do i want it, but rather, where am I going to put it? New York apartments aren’t spatially forgiving – especially when it comes to losing footage to accommodate a 6-foot letter H – but this one needed to come home with me.

Originally this “H” hung on an exterior wall of a hotel – initially thought to be a lodgings called the Heartbreak Hotel – but regrettably it was found not to be the case. (I’m not one to let the truth get in the way of a good story, so if you can keep a secret, so can I).

A Stitch In Time: Telechron Shop Display, ca. 1950’s

Finding this Telechron clock display, “Gold Jerry!” was the first thing that came to mind.

You can see why. This display unit or “Time Table” really has everything you look for in a collectible.

Condition: So often you find something great but the side is bashed in or the advertising text has worn away or it’s just missing one of its components that make it what it is. This example is correct right down to the original donut-shaped glass shelf. Both the shelf and double-sided header sign rotate. It’s missing the additional wall clock holder but that doesn’t affect the overall appearance. The only thing better than finding something like this in mint condition is finding it with age appropriate wear. This one’s seen some battles and come out looking all the better for it. Sweet rust…

It’s a quality brand: Telechron sold millions of clocks by the middle of last century and produced too many iconic designs to go into here. They consistently defined their era’s design aesthetic.

It’s practical: Who’s got space for stuff that only looks pretty. This stand is 29″ x 21″ and very usable in a home, bar, store etc.

May I Buy a Vowel?: Porcelain Enamel Metal Letters, ca. 1940s

These porcelain metal letters were dug up recently in Nebraska and you can almost feel the weight and quality of these from the pictures alone.

There’s been a solid trend in recent years towards decorative letters and you don’t have to look far to find newly manufactured, industrial-looking letters sold by larger chain stores. In some cases these copies actually look pretty good and are generally about the same price as vintage ones.

The difference becomes clear though when you pick up a heavy-gauge steel letter with a porcelain or enamel skin. Aside from the weight, these older letters and signs also sit rigid with no flexing of the metal. They spelled out a business name and were manufactured to be fastened to the outside of a building so they needed to be able to withstand all weather conditions without rusting.

Older porcelain letters and signs have yet another remarkable attribute in that despite the decades of hostile weather they may have endured, they polish up to a high gloss without much effort.